Melbourne: From Page to Screen

State Library of Victoria

The lost child complex in Australian cinema: Predestination

Terrie Waddell, La Trobe University

This paper will argue that the lost child motif, an Australian complex since colonization, is projected and amplified through cultural storytelling. As conduits for this particular psychological fixation, cinema, television and literature ensure that the lost child remains central to a sense of collective identity. Although we glimpse depictions of childhoods caught by varying degrees of distress in both film and the Australian literature from which it is adapted, we also find lost child trauma embedded and inflated in adaptations from more classical sources – Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Justin Kurzel, 2015), Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck (The Daughter – Simon Stone, 2015) and Robert A. Heinlein’s short story, All You Zombies (Predestination – the Spierig brothers, 2014). In each of these films the complex remains a guiding force that stimulates the dramatic tension. Key central characters are unable to develop beyond the restricting limits that the external and inner lost child places on memory, perception and behaviour. This is a dilemma that twin brothers Peter and Michael Spierig capture so powerfully in their noir, American accented, yet intrinsically Australian themed thriller. Of the films mentioned above, it will be argued that Predestination, filmed in Melbourne and funded through Screen Australia, Screen Queensland and Film Victoria, best encapsulates memory, acknowledgement, and capture by a spiralling entanglement with past, present and future selves that constellate around an enduring connection to an unanchored inner lost child.

Terrie Waddell is a Reader/Associate Professor of Media Arts, La Trobe University. Her research focuses on the relationship between screen media, literature, gender, popular culture and psychology. As well as chapter and journal contributions, she has authored and edited: Eavesdropping: The Psychotherapist in Film and Television (co-editor Routledge, 2015), Wild/lives: Trickster, Place and Liminality on Screen (Routledge, 2010), Mis/takes: Archetype, Myth and Identity in Screen Fiction (Routledge, 2006), Lounge Critic: The Couch Theorist’s Companion (co-editor, ACMI, 2004); and Cultural Expressions of Evil and Wickedness: Wrath, Sex, Crime (editor, Rodopi, 2003).


Monkey Grip‘s Melbourne: between novel and film

Naomi Stead, University of Queensland

Monkey Grip (1977) is, as well as being Helen Garner’s first published book, often considered to be a defining example of her particular mode of diaristic, observational, first-person, essayist writing. It is also a defining book about Melbourne, in a particular place and time – a portrait of bohemian share house life in the city’s inner North in the late 1970s, it is equally about the place and its people, the culture and its setting. Set at the height of a radical counter-cultural movement fusing punk music, art, and drugs, the book is also about feminism and motherhood, sex, collective living and romantic (if doomed) love. Scenes of live music performances and parties are interspersed with accounts of bike riding around the city, and swimming at the Fitzroy Baths. The book is a well loved Australian classic, even as it continues to pose questions about literary genre, and the relation between fiction and non-fiction, autobiography and narrative.

Ken Cameron’s 1982 film adaptation of the book, starring Noni Hazelhurst (who won an AFI award for her portrayal of Nora), Colin Friels, and Chrissy Amphlett, was screened at Cannes that year in the Un Certain Regard. The screenplay was adapted by Cameron working with Garner herself, and the film arguably suffers from remaining more of a textual than a visual story. The extensive use of voice over is often awkward and wooden, and some of the dialogue is improbable. As Janet Maslin wrote at the time in a review in the New York Times, the film is a ‘solemn soap opera,’ where the ‘visual personality’ of the film is ‘snappy and distinctive,’ but this stands ‘painfully at odds with the vacuity of the material’. Despite the story’s intimate association with Melbourne, the film was largely shot in Sydney.

So, the Melbourne which is the setting for the book (a place evoked through impressionistic literary description) is distinct from the Melbourne of the film (a place shown via a compelling visual style, which is nevertheless somewhat undercut by a residual writerly sensibility). This paper explores the two accounts, the discrepancies between them, and asks what larger issues might be at stake in the relative (and arguable) failure of this translation from book to film.

Naomi Stead is Professor of Architecture at Monash University. She is editor of the book Semi-detached: Writing, representation and criticism in architecture (Uro, 2012), was from 2011-2014 co-editor of Architectural Theory Review and from 2012-2015 co-editor of Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research. Her scholarly work has been published in anthologies including Critical Architecture (Routledge, London, 2007), Architecture and Authorship (Black Dog, London, 2007) and Architecture, Disciplinarity and Art (A & S Books, Ghent, 2009). She has published in scholarly journals including the Journal of Architecture, OASE, Performance Research, and JAS: the Journal of Australian Studies. Naomi is widely published as an art and architecture critic, having been commissioned to write more than 50 articles in the Australasian professional architectural media, with her work appearing in Places, Architecture Australia, Architectural Review Asia Pacific, Monument, Artichoke, (Inside): Interior Design Review, and Pol-Oxygen. She is currently an architecture columnist for The Conversation and Places Journal, and received the Adrian Ashton Award for Architectural Writing from the Australian Institute of Architects in 2008.


Film, literature, place: Monkey Grip and Melbourne’s Inner North

Emily Potter, Deakin University & Kirsten Seale, University of Technology Sydney

In this paper, we look at Ken Cameron’s 1982 film adaptation of Helen Garner’s 1977 novel Monkey Grip and its inter-relation with the inner-northern Melbourne suburbs of Fitzroy and Carlton. This paper uses Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory to propose an assemblage that takes into account, and can account for, complex material and affective connections between film and place. We are interested in rethinking the network of Cameron’s film, Garner’s writing and Melbourne as something beyond a mimetic reproduction of place. Instead, it is an assemblage where literature and film are active in producing place in a material sense. Through this assemblage, Monkey Grip becomes what we call a ‘worldly text’. In saying this, we argue that texts are practices that are ontologically generative. Film and literary texts participate and have multiple, real and material effects in the extra-textual domains within which we live and through which our lives are assembled. To explore this concept of the ‘wordly text’, we investigate how images and affects from Monkey Grip influence understandings and formations of place in Melbourne. More specifically, we discuss how Garner’s novel and Cameron’s filmed iteration can be understood, together and separately, as reflexively participating in processes of urban transformation in Fitzroy and Carlton.

Emily Potter is a Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies at Deakin University. She has published widely on questions of literary and creative engagements with place and the environment. Her publications include the co-­edited collection Ethical Consumption: A Critical Introduction (Routledge, 2010) and the co-authored book Plastic Water: The Social and Material Life of Bottled Water (MIT Press, 2015). Her monograph Field Notes on Belonging: Australian literature and the politics of place is forthcoming with Intellect in 2017.

Kirsten Seale teaches Interdisciplinary Design at UTS. Her research looks at the intersections between making, place, and urban culture and sociality. She is the author of Markets, Places, Cities (Routledge, 2016) and co-editor of Informal Urban Street Markets (Routledge, 2015). She has been published in Meanjin, Cultural Studies Review, Media International Australia and Text.

Kirsten and Emily are currently collaborating on a project examining how literary texts produce place in material and grounded ways.