Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Friday, September 21, 2007


       Primitivism -- in its broadest sense, as an attempt to deliberately utilize antiquated methods and forms -- has been embraced by most of the arts over the last couple of centuries. Painting, sculpture, even music -- all have had their Primitivist adherents; but the term is applied only haltingly in reference to motion pictures, undoubtedly because the medium itself is of (relatively) recent origin, and the product of technologically advanced society. But if you ask me, primitive is as primitive does -- and the medium used has less to do with it than what you choose to do with the medium. If you look at it this way, then there are any number of filmmakers and films towards which the term could apply: Guy Maddin, Russ Meyer -- individual films like Begotten or The Fast Runner -- all could arguably be cited as examples of “primitive” filmmaking. And certainly a film that was made entirely by “primitives” could lay claim to such a title; a film like Ten Canoes.

       The genesis of the film is almost as interesting as the movie itself. Director Rolf de Heer had previously worked with actor David Gulpilil (Walkabout, The Proposition), and got to talking with him regards his Aboriginal ancestry. After hearing some Folk tales from Gulpilil, de Heer decided that he wanted to make a film set amongst the Aborigines -- one that would use an entirely indigenous cast, story and writers. The Films’ storyline is inspired by a well-known 1936 photograph of some canoeists paddling downstream and is really a story within a story -- some time before the Australian colonization, Ten men take a trip down river to harvest Geese eggs; as they undertake their journey, elder Minygululu tells his younger companion, Dayindi, a story; a very old story about a young man who coveted his elder brother’s wife, and what he was willing to do, to have her. The remainder of the film is largely this tale, with occasional cuts back to the latter day foragers as they progress in their hunt. The actors all speak entirely in their native tongue, and wear nothing but their native dress -- which is to say, darn near nothing. The film is narrated in english by David Gulpilil, who seems to be speaking from the P.O.V. of a present-day Aborigine; making the film, I guess, a story-within-a-story-within-a-story.

       Director de Heer rejects the assertion that he ‘s a white director making an indigenous story: "They're telling the story, largely, and I'm the mechanism by which they can." -- and de Heer was probably the best candidate for this role. An Australian national himself, over the course of his career he's made a series of iconoclastic and challenging films -- the best of which (and by far the most notorious, I might add) being Bad Boy Bubby; a personal favorite of mine. Ten Canoes is not just a feature film, but an attempt to bridge two diverse cultures -- associated projects taught young native aborigines how to use video recording and editing equipment; set up an interactive website introducing the people of Ramingining to the outside world; created a multi-media art/cultural exhibition; published a book and initiated a music preservation project. The film though, is how we’re most likely to interact with the world of Ten Canoes; and it’s quite effective on that front in its own right.

       Ten Canoes becomes available on DVD this Tuesday, September 25th, in a special edition that includes interviews with both the director and many of the cast, as well as a DVD-rom study guide -- for those who feel academically inclined regards their movie-watching habits. You can rent or buy it from the usual sources; worth a look, and as anthropology lessons go, it’s a decidedly enjoyable one.

Some links:

Palm Pictures webpage regarding this release.

The website for Dr. Plonk -- an upcoming feature film from Rolf de Heer.

Next post -- 09/28/07


Paula said...

That sounds amazing! Can't wait to check it out. And thanks for reminding me about THE FAST RUNNER, a movie I never got a chance to see when it was out, but now I can 'flix it!

grigorss said...

Ten Canoes is pretty unique, really -- the only film vaguely similar to it (to my knowledge) being The Fast Runner, I'd say; although on the whole I prefer the former to the latter, I like both enough to own them each on DVD though.

jonderneathica said...

I never heard of Bad Boy Bubby until I read this article, and now I really want to see it. I was surprised to find out that I can rent it through Blockbuster Online!