Making Settler Cinemas: Film and Colonial Encounters in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand
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Emerging fields like sound, affect, sense and dance studies that trace movement through alternative modalities. Ethnography, thick description, authorial reflexivity, and other methods from anthropology, which were later taken up by cultural studies, are helpful. Also, I think the study of form is newly important for media works that travel globally. For example, poor image quality may signify that a work has been copied many times true of digital media just as it was of analog!
Looking at canonical and non-canonical films from , Limbrick explores production, distribution, reception, and re-exhibition of films made across these three nations. The town almost has the quality of a ghost town-the only buildings of substance being the jail and the Stanley's house. Dead bodies are strewn across the landscape in the many scenes of massacre. The space is not sacred but "defiled and profane" Kollin The Proposition seeks in some way to enunciate the violence of the frontier and to come to terms with the trauma of the space.
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The film can be classed as one of Adrian Martin 's "haunted" films; a type of film that he notes makes it: "impossible for us to look at the land without sensing or reading traces of phantoms, crime, genocide, the dead [ Traditionally the dominant histories of Australian colonization have "shielded civilised people from the knowledge that murder and undeclared war were the reason they 'owned the land" Gibson The Proposition works against this.
Yet, even in the reworked history produced by the film there is still an erasure of the centrality of Indigenous dispossession to the process of colonization Dalziell. Davis suggests the "symbolic function" of Indigenous peoples in the ideology of the frontier is "to create the privileged and naturalised status of the settler" Davis, The Proposition explicitly represents the brutality and randomness of police violence directed towards Indigenous people.
It also represents the reciprocal violence of Indigenous peoples to colonisers and their enemies. These mutual representations of violence, albeit negatively, suggest the "negotiable, liminal, contested and transformative exchanges" between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples on the frontier Davis What the film lacks is a mechanism for acknowledging the power differential between the different groups, in their violence. Non-Indigenous violence needs to be recognised in terms of its genocidal intent and its refusal to recognise Indigenous sovereignty.
That these intentions underpin violence on the frontier is underplayed or ignored. The Proposition, set as it is in the period leading up to federation in , could easily have produced a nationalist narrative that re constructed the story of the emergence of the bush legend; or produced a narrative of a landscape that foretold the emergence of this future white national body. Rebekah Brammer notes the contrast in Ned Kelly and The Proposition in their representations of the coming nation Ned Kelly is romantic; The Proposition is not.
Though the latter does make it explicit how "strange" bodies are regulated and how they are eradicated when they "come too close to home", it produces no national body Ahmed. Earlier I quoted Hillcoat deploring the failure to explore difficult issues in much Australian historical film. Given this distaste I would suggest it is not surprising the film refuses to name or mark out a good nation or a history that provides the genealogy for a good Australia. There is no future Australian in the film.
For example, in the final section of the film, where the Burns gang brutalize the Stanleys in revenge for the death of the youngest brother, the violence is framed in terms of an Anglo-Celtic hatred. Burns is marked as Irish-in the brutal moment as he watches a member of his gang sexually assault Martha Stanley, he nostalgically remembers Ireland, through song. This violence is only curtailed when Charlie Burns arrives and shoots Simon and Arthur.
Rather than the conventional Western denouement where "the frontier moves, it passes, and what is left behind is no longer a frontier" Rose , what happens instead is that savagery overtakes civilization, the wild overwhelms the domestic. It is not certain at this point that anything good will emerge from the frontier. The film does not produce a narrative of a coming Australia, or at least not a narrative of a potential Australia that is anything other than bleak.
The Proposition is not a film about a nation. The idea of community it works with is clan, or family, marked by ethnicity. The two key-though imperfect-families are the Stanleys and the Burns-an Irish family and an English family. However, though they are nothing like the Burns, in this revisionist view of Australia, neither are they perfect. They are not represented unproblematically as the future of the nation.
Scenes of Martha Stanley retelling her dreams of being handed a baby by the dead Eliza Hopkins and her wistful reading of catalogues filled with children's clothing suggest that the couple will not have children. The reproductive national family-the Hopkins with their child-have been murdered. At the film's end the Stanleys are left in a blood splattered room; he is beaten to a pulp, she has been raped, their ability to procreate in doubt.
It is the three Irish brothers who enact the "disappearing tribe" role.
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There are various shots of Charlie and Arthur on outcrops. The rest are dead or dispersed. Unlike the Burns and Stanleys, Indigenous peoples are not represented in terms of community of family. Yet, even in this isolation, Indigenous peoples are actively negotiating their survival in the frontier space of The Proposition. Queenie and Two Bob as members of the Burns gang have found themselves a place in this family.
The Proposition attempts transformation from the unspeakable to the ordinary Gibson It seeks to move frontier violence from the margins to the centre. Implicit in Gibson's notion of the transformation of trauma is the suggestion that this transaction has a cost. In The Proposition it is the marginalised Irish family who seem to have to bear the cost of colonialism -Charlie Burns must bury one brother and kill the other. The English couple, the Stanleys, are battered but alive.
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As the film moves towards its violent conclusion, the Indigenous peoples have actively absented themselves, moved themselves to the margins. Tobey, the servant in the Stanley household, leaves the house just before the violent "shoot out". He moves himself to a safe place-he is not to be part of the brutish and deadly violence that will take place in this site.
Yet, in voluntarily walking out of the potential national space of the white household, he walks out of history and into the unknown see also Dalziel's reading of this scene.
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In some ways Tobey voluntarily dispossesses himself. The film, The Proposition, fiercely contests the dominant Australian narrative of unproblematic colonial and economic expansion. It explicitly links the colonial process with the suffering of Indigenous peoples, bringing into view the barbaric racism of various white individuals both towards one another and towards Indigenous peoples.
Yet it is also a film about the cost of colonisation for "white" people. In the end the political critique provided in The Proposition of the white colonization of Australia and the destruction of Indigenous peoples and cultures collapses back into a story about white men struggling for redemption.
The narrative becomes one about how good men good white men , "stained" by contact with these "racial 'other[s]"' can achieve whiteness again Meyer In this text it is Irish-ness, an identity that has historically been made "black", that is the site of pain and loss. As noted earlier, the final film credits centralise Indigenous peoples and colonial violence with the use of historical images. These montages implicitly suggest that even though in the film's narrative they have been pushed to the margins, it was Indigenous peoples who continued to suffer the systemic violence of colonialism on the frontier.
However, the final credits are a little viewed part of a contemporary film. This film invites viewers to recognise the cost of colonialism-the blood that was spilt in forming a nation or settling the land. Hillcoat's claims of the varieties of violence considered-not just white on black and vice versa, but white on white, black on black-suggests a recognition of the complexity of the frontier allegiances.
In The Proposition, the blood that seeps into the "badlands" of the nation is white blood, non-white blood, Indigenous blood, and non-Indigenous blood. Yet the blood the viewer is perceptually asked to worry about is mostly white blood. In the film's final scenes in the Stanley's house-the site of civilisation, the tamed land-it is the blood of the Irish Arthur Burns that literally seeps into the garden bed to nourish the roses. The blood of the un-named Indigenous men who have died throughout the film does not mark this space of possibility.
Indigenous blood is seen only in passing. This is not a film about dispossession. John Hillcoat said he always wanted to make a Western and in some ways he has made a classic Western-one where Indigenous peoples are the back-drop in front of which non-Indigenous peoples shoot it out to see who owns the land and what the shape of the nation will be. The final scene with the two Irish brothers, one dead, one alive, facing west; the film's final words a question about a bleak future is a powerful image of the ambivalence of the Australian past, present, future, but it is one that still sidelines Indigenous peoples.
Ahmed, Sara. Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Postcoloniality. London: Routledge. Brammer, Rebekah. Cawelti, John. The Six Gun Mystique. Cenere, Phillip. Collins, Felicity and Therese Davis. Australian Cinema After Mabo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, , Print. Collins, Felicity. Dalziell, Tanya. Davis, Richard. Deborah Bird Rose and Richard Davis eds. Dislocating the Frontier: Essaying the Mystique of the Outback.
Diprose, Roslyn. Gibson, Ross. Seven Versions of an Australian Badland. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, Hart, Carol. Heffernan, Jeanne. Keller, Alexandra. Kollin, Susan. Krausz, Peter. Langford, Barry. Film and History, Limbrick, Peter. McClintock, Anne. London: Routledge, McFarlane, Brian, "Outback and Brokeback. McIntyre, Stuart and Anna Clark. The History Wars. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, Martin, Adrian.
Meyer, Susan. Mitchell, Lee Clark. Westerns: Making the Man in Fiction and Film. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, Plantinga, Carl. Rose, Deborah Bird. Gillian Cowlishaw and Barry Morris eds. Canberra, Aboriginal Studies Press. Routt, William D. Smith, Paul. Engaging Characters: Fiction and Emotion in the Cinema. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Schafer, Roy. Autumn, : Slotkin, Richard. New York: Atheneum, Stadler, Jane. Starrs, Bruno. Stoler, Ann Laura. Durham: Duke University Press, Weinberg, Scott.
Beneath Clouds. Ivan Sen. Black and White Dir. Craig Lahiff. Helen Leake and Nik Powell, Ned Kelly. Gregor Jordan.
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here Phillip Noyce. Rumbalara Films and Australian Film Commission, The Proposition. John Hillcoat. The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. Fred Schepisi. The Film House and Victoria Film, The Tracker. Rolf de Heer. Wake in Fright. Ted Kotcheff. One was the debate that emerged from the Mabo and Wik native title decisions, Bringing them Home and the reconciliation decade. The High Court recognition of native title made Indigenous land claims more visible and gave them a legal resonance they had lacked to date. The second was the "history wars" - a debate about the writing of frontier or early colonial history - especially the issue of the veracity of accounts of non-Indigenous peoples' violence and the incidence of massacre.
The history debates about violence reframed understandings of the ways the frontier experience and modes of land acquisition had occurred across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These debates unsettled historically stable beliefs about the peaceful transfer of land of many non-Indigenous peoples.
A third strand that animated these discussions was the post federal governments stance on the arrival of unauthorised potential refugees. One of the gang asks what it means and is told it is someone who hates all humanity. The gang member asks if this is what they are and Arthur says no "we are a family". This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.
Services on Demand Journal. Abstract This article analyses John Hillcoat's film The Proposition in relation to a spate of Australian films about violence and the post colonial encounter released in the early twenty-first century. Reading The Proposition Felicity Collins and Therese Davis suggest cinema can be understood as an "intimate public sphere of experience [ John Hillcoat said of his film: I have always wanted to make an Australian Western. As she argues: What is at stake, in Australia as elsewhere, is the necessity of remembering and "mourning" or "working through" a contested past-in ways that acknowledge, what Judith Butler calls the "unmourned losses" or "ungrievable lives" of the defeated, of those written out of nation-building histories Collins Locating The Proposition in Australia This section explores the ways in which the film is located or anchored in Australian culture and history.
This moors the film in Australia; as Limbrick puts it, "in a place like terra nullius" 73 The film can also be understood in relation to specific late twentieth-and early twenty-first-century Australian discussions around belonging, violence, land and history Collins. The soundtrack accompanying the set of historical images that begin the film features a child singing a traditional hymn: There is a happy place far, far way. Where saints in glory stand bright, bright as day. O how they sweetly sing, worthy is our saviour king.
Loud let his praises ring. Praise, praise for aye. The Frontier, Civilization and Violence Violence is the central motif of the Western: "the Western is in large part about violence and the rituals, protocols and moral negotiation that surrounds violence" Plantinga Family and Nation The Proposition, set as it is in the period leading up to federation in , could easily have produced a nationalist narrative that re constructed the story of the emergence of the bush legend; or produced a narrative of a landscape that foretold the emergence of this future white national body.
Conclusion The film, The Proposition, fiercely contests the dominant Australian narrative of unproblematic colonial and economic expansion. References: Ahmed, Sara.