Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sunday Night at the Movies - 21 September

Now that Helen and I are living a "Foxtel kinda life" we're making movie watching a pretty regular occurrence. We've got the movie package, and it seems there is always something on worth watching. And if there isn't anything on at the moment, we have several things recorded thanks to our IQ2 (Australian TiVo). Life is grand. The movie reviewed this week is a British film called "A Town Like Alice" made in 1956. Thanks to Peter Cluff's fount of knowledge on all things WWII, Helen and I had been told about this film on several occasions. After we visited Alice Springs last month, we decided to give "A Town Like Alice" a shot. So, we found it quite fortuitous when the movie was on one of our movie channels last week.

I've also decided to list some of the best epic films ever made, if not THE best epic films. For a film to qualify as an epic, in my estimation, it has to have a rather large cast, take place over an extended period of time, deal with several different plot lines, and be a great film on top of all that. ENJOY!

Top Five Epics
1. Lawrence of Arabia (still my all time favorite film!)
2. Gone With the Wind
3. The Ten Commandments (1956)
4. The Godfather II
5. Heat

I Don't Think We're in Australia Anymore, Toto

"A Town Like Alice", made in 1956, tells the story of the British Empire at a crossroads. The plot follows a group of female British colonists living in Malaysia at the time of Japan's takeover during World War II. As the Japanese sweep into Malaysia, the British colonists are herded to a small building. The men are taken to prison camps and the women and children are forced to walk to Kuala Lumpur. Once they arrive at Kuala Lumpur, the women and children are given another group of Japanese guards and are told to walk another 80 miles to Singapore. As the women endlessly walk from one destination to another they slowly die of disease and exhaustion.

Along the way, Jean, the female protagonist, meets a young Australian soldier named Joe who labors as a truck mechanic and driver for the Japanese military. Joe tells Jean about his home in Alice Springs, a small desert town in the very center of Australia. His tales of Alice Springs begin to symbolize a positive future for Jean and Joe and a way for the pair to get clean from the cesspool of misery experienced at the hands of the Japanese.

"A Town Like Alice" is quite an effective and enjoyable film. The plight of the British women is made all too real with some timely deaths, especially the death of a mother of three young children. Jean takes on the role of raising these children after their mother passes away, but it is a crushingly poignant moment for those of us with small children. The love story between Jean and Joe is also effective with a more than satisfying conclusion. It is also great to see the town of Alice Springs as it looked in 1956. Honestly, it hasn't changed much.

Of extreme interest (especially where my current research in concerned) in this tale of WWII drudgery are how the Japanese and British empires are portrayed and even juxtaposed against each other. Before WWII, Malaysia was a colony of the British and had been since the late 18th century. The arrival of the Japanese challenged Britain's claim of control. As the Japanese scorched through Asia during WWII they proclaimed an "Asia for Asians". This really meant "Asia for Japan", as Japan was looking to make these countries colonies of their own. But after Japan was defeated, many of these Asian countries held fast to the idea of independence from their European colonists. In fact, Malaysia officially gained independence from the British in 1957, one year after this film was released.

Australia was also a colony of the British, and is most famous for the convicts that were transplanted there from Britain. But as Australia was filled with mostly British subjects (to say nothing of the Indigenous Australians), Britain allowed Australia to become a federation in 1901, effectively giving them independence. Why the history lesson? Well, if you've read this far, maybe you'll read a bit further...

In "A Town Like Alice" the conquering Japanese are portrayed as the Japanese were often portrayed in the 1950s. According to this film, the Japanese are just overgrown children. They strut around and make demands, and if these demands are not met then there is much yelling and threatening until the subordinates acquiesce. The Japanese are only in a position of power because of their overwhelming numbers and their cruelty, which knows no bounds. But, in a real crisis, the Japanese soldiers are only capable of throwing tantrums, like an overgrown child. The Japanese behavior towards women also belies their depravity. The British women and children are effectively tortured by the Japanese soldiers as they are made to endlessly walk from one destination to another without quarter.

The Japanese immaturity compared with the quiet dignity displayed by the British women proves that the Japanese are unfit to rule this empire they are carving out for themselves. Although they have might, the Japanese are hardly the modern and enlightened individuals that are needed to manage an empire comprised of impoverished peoples from far away lands. This film effectively banishes any claims the Japanese may have had on their proposed empire by displaying them as depraved and feudal tyrants.

In contrast, the land of Australia is seen as being a haven for the two lovers Joe and Jean. Compared to the hellish surroundings of the Malaysian jungle, the dust-bowl that is Alice Springs is portrayed as being a clean place with a bright future. Australia represents the positive efforts of the British empire to colonize properly. Australia has become a good, safe place where a hardworking individual can make a life for himself/herself. By this representation, Britain is vindicated in its empire building because of the positive outcome. Supposedly, the wholesale slaughter and exploitation committed to the Indigenous Australians at the hands of the Europeans is somehow different from the treatment of the Malaysians at the hands of the Japanese. I suppose the color of your skin and shape of your eyes makes all the difference in the world.
**1/2 Stars

- by dallas

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