1990s Melbourne on Screen

RMIT University, Building 80, Level 10 – Room 80.09.11

Mapping l’amour fou across Melbourne: the mid-90s cityscape of Angel Baby

Fincina Hopgood, University of New England

Michael Rymer’s acclaimed debut feature Angel Baby (1995) set a doomed love affair against an unforgiving Melbourne cityscape of rain-soaked streets and chilly underpasses, claustrophobic housing commission flats and stark, shiny shopping malls. Most memorably, it presented the iconic West Gate Bridge as a site of both hope and optimism, and despair and loss. Starring Jacqueline McKenzie and John Lynch as Kate and Harry, who meet at a support group for consumers of mental health services, Angel Baby documented the effects of policies of de-­institutionalisation at a time when mental illness was becoming more visible in the community, with a corresponding demand on support services and public housing. This cinematic time capsule of 1990s Melbourne still resonates with audiences today, in large part due to its empathetic portrayal of living (and loving) with the symptoms of schizophrenia. Angel Baby anchors the viewer’s attachment to Harry and Kate in a depiction of Melbourne that reflects their emotional states and their dreams of a future together. Drawing upon a research interview conducted with cinematographer Ellery Ryan, whose work on this film received the AFI Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography, this paper will discuss how Angel Baby‘s interior and exterior locations are used to enhance the viewer’s empathy for Harry and Kate and to present a portrait of Melbourne that is both geographically specific and emotionally universal.

Fincina Hopgood is Lecturer in Screen Studies in the School of Arts at the University of New England and an Honorary Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Prior to her appointment at UNE, Fincina taught a range of Australian Film subjects at RMIT, Monash and Melbourne universities, and she was Australian Cinema Co-Editor and Book Reviews Editor for Senses of Cinema from 2005 to 2011. Fincina’s publications include chapters in edited collections on Australian cinema, articles for Screen and Adaptation journals, and features for Metro Magazine, The Age and The Conversation. Fincina’s research focuses on empathy and portrayals of mental illness on screen. She is developing a project in this interdisciplinary field with colleagues at the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University Bendigo, in partnership with mental health organisations SANE Australia, The Dax Centre, Mind Australia and the Hunter Institute for Mental Health.

Affectively Trapped and Fetishized: Early 1990s Melbourne through Movement and Stillness in Proof

Diana Sandars, University of Melbourne

From the opening title sequence, Proof (Jocelyn Moorhouse 1991) constructs Melbourne as a cityscape felt, rather than seen, as the surface space of textures of emotions and inescapable memories. For the blind photographer, Martin, the central protagonist in Proof, Melbourne is a threatening, destabilising landscape of textures and sensations felt but not seen. It is a gendered world fossilised by his photographs and controlled by women who have mediated and manipulated this world for Martin since childhood. Defined by Moorhouse’s tactile, distinctly 1990s Melbourne filmmaking sensibility, It is a cityscape that can be understood through Laura Marks’ concepts of haptic visuality and the fossil.

Haptic visuality is a concept derived from a process where the cinematic apparatus allows, “the eyes themselves [to] function like organs of touch” (2000, 162). It is an augmentation of Vivian Sobchack’s embodiment theory, the comprehension of film through emotionally-driven bodily sensation. In Proof, this sensory appeal facilitates a fossilised engagement with inner city Melbourne, where the cinematic fossil acts as a signifier of a past originary source, a relic that is now coveted as a fetish. Proof itself operates as a fossil of 1990s Melbourne, replicating for the contemporary spectator the fossilising function of Martin’s photographs within the diegesis – the tension between a fetishistic attachment to the past and a desire for movement away. The fossilising function of the film itself is derived in large part from the highly emotive and culturally historicizing function of the 1990s Melbourne band Not Drowning Waving used on the soundtrack. I argue that this affective fetishistic appeal driven by the soundtrack, affectively traps Proof’s contemporary spectator in this nostalgic moment. Through this highly affective engagement Proof calls into question the function of memory, stillness and movement as theorized by Mulvey and Henri Bergson, not just of an individual, but also of a city and its historical cultures.

Diana Sandars is an honorary fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne, Australia where she is currently coordinating a course on Australian Film and Television. Diana also lectures at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and has published chapters on Ally McBeal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Disputed Melbourne: The Contested Spaces of Geoffrey Wright’s Romper Stomper

Duncan Hubber, Federation University Australia

Drawing on David B. Clarke’s concept of the “cinematic city,” this paper will investigate how Melbourne is represented in the 1992 film Romper Stomper (Geoffrey Wright 1992), and what this representation reflects about the city’s cultural character. Clarke’s writing focuses on the intersection of the city as a sociological entity and its construction in film. It suggests that urban and cinematic spaces are related, and (as products of modernity) have helped to shape each other’s meaning and aesthetic throughout the twentieth century. The paper argues that – as a piece of widely-consumed and highly-acclaimed cinema – Romper Stomper reconfigures the city as a dystopia.

Wright’s brutal tale of neo-Nazis running amok in the western suburbs challenges Melbourne’s self-concept as a successful multicultural society. The film instead depicts a city marked by divisions, contested spaces, and conflicting identities. The violent, disillusioned youth who populate Wright’s Melbourne perceive their neighbourhood as an ethnic battleground, and have bought into a social narrative of us-against-them. The skinheads’ attempt to halt the perceived invasion of Vietnam immigrants by marking the city as their own, through the use of graffiti, swastikas, and the image of a bulldog, which connects their identity to British imperialism.

Through the film, the main character Hando summates a brand of racist nostalgia, perhaps unwittingly held by the viewer; he points to a map of Footscray, and recalls growing up in the suburb when only true Australians (meaning white) lived in its streets. But of course, this is a fantasy Footscray that never actually existed in post­-World War II Melbourne, except perhaps in the minds of nationalists and conservatives. Potentially, the film teases out present-day anxieties surrounding the rise in neo-Nazi attendance at far right demonstrations, such as the Reclaim Australia protests in Melbourne’s CBD in 2015.

Duncan Hubber is a PhD candidate at Federation University Australia. His thesis, entitled “Digital Wounds”, focuses on the relationship between found footage horror films and screen trauma theory, and draws upon the writings of Alexandra Heller-­Nicholas and Judith Herman. His other research interests include the cinematic representation of cities and urban spaces, and the collision of romanticism and postmodernism in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy literature. Duncan is a regular presenter at FedUni’s philosophy and cultural studies symposiums.