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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Stone Bros. Film analysis by Kirstin McKenzie

I had planned to review two films; Samson and Delilah and Stone Bros, however the word limit made me focus on just one film. I chose the work with the lower profile – the 2009 production Stone Bros. Written and directed by Richard Frankland, this work is a great example of contemporary Indigenous Australian comedy feature film.

Frankland is a Gunditjmara storyteller from South-Western Victoria who has produced international award-winning works in music, theatre, literature, film and documentary making (Arts Victoria, 2010). Stone Bros is one of his recent major works and is a funny heartfelt story told through an Indigenous Australian lens. Frankland also wrote and directed the 2000 short film Harry’s War and is from the fourth generation of Indigenous men to serve in the Australian army (Australian Screen, 2010).

The comedy is fresh and quirky without being slapstick or predictable. As Frankland (Korff, 2010) states, “With this film I'm hoping we give licence to all Australians to laugh with us, not at us behind closed doors.” The film certainly is funny but I also found there were many poignant moments which touched me more deeply. The most memorable is when the two main characters, cousins Charlie and Eddie ‘stole’ their rock from the University’s museum collection in Emerald, Queensland. While the scene was cleverly choreographed to be comedic, the underlying message was strong and symbolic – Indigenous people taking back (or reclaiming) what is rightfully theirs.

There are other references in the film which also spoke to me, including the comment by Eddie (who is ‘not as black as Charlie’ and is struggling with identity while trying to connect with his Aboriginal heritage), ‘It’s not just culture cuz, it’s home’. This dialogue reinforces Aboriginal worldview of land and people and its belonging. Other dialogue that references important issues is the comment by cousin Reggie (a singer/performer struggling with his sexual identity). Reggie says, ‘We do all the work and some white fella makes all the money’. The reference to exploitation of Aboriginal people by non-Aboriginal people highlights the continuing struggle for Indigenous autonomy in Australian society.

Langton (in Grossman, 2003) says that in Aboriginal artistic production, she has observed the process of incorporating the non-Aboriginal world into the Aboriginal worldview. There is evidence of this in Frankland’s work, for example, the representation of Aboriginal magic and witchcraft which provides much of the comedic material in the film.

Another interesting and clever motif used by Frankland again relates to land. In the dialogue between Eddie and Charlie’s wife, Eddie complains to her that he is, ‘Sick of walking in circles and is going to walk the land’. She responds, ‘Walking the land is constructive’. What is interesting (and clever) is that the film reveals in the end, that by walking the land, Eddie has in fact walked in a circle. His personal journey to find cultural significance leads him home to his people, family and country. What I found especially poignant was the giving of the rocks by the elder uncle to the young boys towards the end of the film. To me this symbolised the respect and wisdom of the elder people and their caring for family and the younger generations. I knew that as with Eddie and Charlie, the rocks were given to the boys to help them complete their journeys by bringing them back home to family and country.

Probably the most uncomfortable (and funny) scenes in the film for me as a non-Aboriginal audience were those played by non-Aboriginal actor Peter Phelps. His portrayal of a police officer desperately immersing himself in Aboriginal culture made me question my own journey for cultural knowledge. Like Phelps’ character, I feel like an outsider who, without Aboriginal heritage, can never truly belong. What makes Aboriginal culture so appealing to me, however (and this was certainly the over-arching theme in the film) is the strong emphasis on family connection and the responsibility of sharing and caring for people and belonging to country.

One last (but not least) important message I received from Frankland’s film was rendered by Charlie’s character. During the scenes between Charlie and Vincent, Charlie (the stereotypical clown/comedian) is forced to face the root of the pain he keeps covered with his comic antics. Vincent proffers some Italian words on love and in doing so, opens Charlie’s eyes. Vincent accuses Charlie of being a ‘slut’ because he is ‘alone and in pain’. According to Vincent, ‘You don’t lose your pain by throwing it around’. A close-up camera shot of Charlie’s face reflects the depth and breadth of his pain – a strong visual representation of social injustice.

In one of the scene’s featuring Charlie’s sexual antics, he is asked to don a condom and in response to the white item he remarks, ‘No man’s gonna colonise my cock’. He then suggests covering the condom in chocolate sauce. While this may not be the most appropriate platform to express my thoughts during that scene, I will be honest and share my (albeit very personal) view. Semen – the impregnating fluid produced by male reproductive organs – is colourless, in every man. I don’t know if Frankland even considered this, but his film impressed upon me the shared humanity of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Those who refer to people in terms of colour do so in ignorance because black and white has no colour.

REFERENCES:

Arts Victoria. 2010. Richard J Frankland. http://www.arts.vic.gov.au/content/Public/Arts_In_Victoria/Victorian_Arts_Overseas/Export_Guide/2007/Richard_J_Frankland.aspx (accessed April 30, 2010).

Australian Screen. 2010. Indigenous film and television. http://aso.gov.au/titles/indigenous/written-directed/ (accessed April 30, 2010).

Korff, J. 2010. Stone Bros. http://www.creativespirits.info/resources/movies/stone-bros.html (accessed April 30, 2010).

Langton, M. 2003. Aboriginal art and film: The politics of representation. In Blacklines: Contemporary critical writing by Indigenous Australians, ed. M. Grossman, 109-124. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

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