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Ever since the invention of the photographic motion-camera (as against the still-camera which took quite a while for it to take one single image), man (and woman) has always sought to capture something that no-one else has ever seen before.  And with the world getting smaller each day, the last place you'd start looking for interesting places to film would be in a desert.  However, unlike other remote areas such as the Middle East where there may be a few palm trees about, the Australian Outback can literally change overnight with a welcome thunderstorm or two whereby it provides an unlimited scope of imagery just waiting to be immortalised.

The stories about Australia's own backyard are as broad as the landscapes they take place in and this DVD hopes to exhibit these various elements of outback society, as well as what it took for the adventurous filmmakers to bring them to the screen.  Life in the outback is often cruel and harsh, but the rugged beauty that it provides is second to none.  This collection of re-edited programs has been selected from the Film Australia archives.

The Heart Of Australia (1928)
There is a standard disclaimer on this DVD about these programs containing images of persons who may be deceased - most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders believe that watching them is a form of disrespect by the viewer as well as spiritual unrest for the persons portrayed onscreen.

Episodes
A brief rundown of the choice selection of films financed by the Federal Government's company Film Australia.

The Heart Of Australia (6mins) 1928
A promotional piece about life in the outback, showing both white man and the local aboriginals of the time.
School In The Mailbox (7.5mins) 1946
Living in the outback was so remote that schooling was most effeciently handled by correspondence in the mail, to which this film describes its activity.  A decade or so afterwards this method was improved upon by utilisation of CB Radio contact between teacher and student, unfortunately there is no equivalent film for this here.
Journey Of A Nation (7mins) 1947
As was common knowledge in Australia, our entire rail system had two different gauges (track-widths) which severly hampered rail-transport for obvious reasons.  This documentary sought to address this issue for the Government to possibly rectify, which ironically is the entity that financed this film-project in the first place.
Outback Patrol (11mins) 1952
This is a look at one of the local law-and-order enforcers of the day, and even now they have the unenviable task of policing this rugged land across the many remote tribal and farming communities in their particular region.

Where Dead Men Lie (1972)
Thylungra: Sports Day In The Outback (3mins) 1960
A quick look at what a sports event would be like when rural Aussies have a go at it - a pity that there isn't another filmed insight into my favourite annual tradition of Tuna Tossing at Port Lincoln, though.
Desert People (6mins) 1966
An aboriginal family living in the desert who must dig for water - this film acknowledges the many skills that Aboriginals have mastered over thousands of years from living on the land.
Where Dead Men Lie (14mins) 1972
One of the first scripted productions to portray life in the outback rather than just collating some candid shots that will form a story.  Famed cinematographer Dean Semler helms the camera for one of his early forays into film.
Living Way Out (11.5mins) 1976
An examination on the lives of people who decided to take up residence in some of the most inhospitable country in the world, and why they do it.  This production shows how a mining community has developed in the far north-western region of Western Australia - this is also an unintentional laugh at the time that fashion forgot (the 70s).
Outback Supply (12mins) 1977
If you thought it was bad enough driving a fully-fledged 4WD in the desert sand, imagine how much tougher it'd be with a fully-laden semi-truck.  A look at the life of a "truckie" who delivers essential items to those people who do not live near a convenient location such as the railroad or even a local shop.
Saturday (13mins) 1979
Another Dean Semler production which shows how people in a remote community look forward to their favourite day of the week.

Living Way Out (1976)
The Land Of The Lightning Brothers (13mins) 1987
A two-fold analysis of an Aboriginal tribe who not only produce their own authentic indigenous artwork, but also help preserve their ancient ancestral rock-paintings for generations to come - have a chuckle at the special-FX.
The Last Great Cattle Drive (12mins) 1988
A somewhat standard look at driving cattle from one place to another - City Slickers this ain't!
The Story Of Rosy Dock (9mins) 1995
A stop-animation production using clay and other materials that apparently portrays a visual impression of a Henry Lawson writing (whom is our most famous poet, best known for The Man From Snowy River).  And although unmentioned on this DVD, I remember that there was an extensive TV series made with similar-styled animation of Aboriginal artwork explaining the Dreamtime, which was developed on computer for broadcast on SBS.  None of these are quite in the same class as Aardman Animations ... actually, they're not even that close.
Bush Mechanics: The Rainmakers (14mins) 1999
This is an extract from a TV series that shows factual methods set against fictional stories of how outback people handle the difficulty of keeping a car running when there are no Midas centres around (that's a vehicle repair-shop facility to you Yanks and Brits).  This series was entirely produced on DV tape, although I wish the whole series was on DVD.  But for now, this is a fun look at every person's nightmare when a car is literally torn to pieces with butchered brake-pads and whipped-up windscreens being tacked onto the car just to keep it "on the road".

Video
All segments are exhibited in a 4:3 frame, although some are presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio (including all the interviews).  As you would expect, the quality here is extremely varied from the grainy and dusty 8/16/35mm film-stock variety right up to the latest in digital technology.  So just to keep things simple, all of these productions are easy to watch with sufficient encoding rates to keep everything within reasonable viewing parameters.

The Land Of The Lightning Brothers (1987)
Black levels are quite good even in the earliest of films, then in the first colour productions the hues tend to come off as muted and unnatural.  Focus is variable with the worst offenders being the middle of this collection, but this is purely because of the age of stock as well as the filming and storage conditions of the time.  Bush Mechanics however shows an extremely well-rendered image with intercuts of 16mm-filmed footage purposely sped up to provide what the filmmaker calls a "Charlie Chaplin" look to the events onscreen - intentional of course.

Audio
This goes from being as scratchy as a mozzy bite to clean as a whistle.  All dialogue is intelligible regardless of the source and the surrounds only get a workout in the Bush Mechanics segment.  The subwoofer is not used.

Extras
What should have been an easy-to-navigate DVD has been hampered by a finicky control system that makes it difficult to locate exactly the content you are after.  Basically, you have to start at the beginning and flip through the various pages to locate each group of films, then when one is selected you must wait to play either the film or the interview - this could have been better handled as there are only 14 films in total and unless you are totally familiar with the layout, then you'll be lost for the first couple of hours.  The supplemental material is still well worth seeking out as there are many factoids to enjoy about how and why certain films were produced.

There's a Preview of the whole DVD that sets up the show for anyone not already familiar with its content.  There are also Stories: Interviews with the Filmmakers that are only available when you have selected the particular film that each belongs to - and within these selections are half-screen text Biographies of each filmmaker.  A solitary Making-of exists for Where Dead Men Lie which shows the real way of making films, not with today's wimpy use of computer-based methods.  And finally, a DVD credits roll which gives thanks to those who put this selection together.  Unfortunately, there are no subtitles but for the burnt-in ones in Bush Mechanics.

Bush Mechanics (1999)
Summary
This is rather an unusual subject matter to be making a video production of ... the making of outback filming ... let alone the films that show the outback itself.  However this goes to prove the benefit of the DVD format and why VHS could never hope to muster the same accolade.  This is definitely a good way to start off your Australian cultural history lesson ... to discover a side of Australia that probably only Paul Hogan has managed to popularise in the last 20-30 years (although I guess Steve Irwin has taken up the slack on this stuff nowadays).  And if you would like to venture further into some genuinely Aussie movies, I'd thoroughly recommend Rabbit Proof Fence and The Tracker, both of which ironically host the same Aboriginal actor, David Gulpilil.

Well, apart from the unwieldy navigation system (which loses a point in the Extras category) I'd recommend this DVD title simply on its historical value alone ... although there are some really rough diamonds here among the gems.  So park yer backside on the tuckerbox, take the weight off your billabongs and follow the spray of remotes to the idiot box for a walkabout into the country that is Oz-land.  Later cobber.


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