One of the greatest things about Victoria is our love of culture and the arts. The success our local film industry reflects the passion many Victorians have for films that tell our own stories and explore what it means to be Victorian. A diverse array of both local and international productions have been created in this great state of ours.
Whether the film is a biopic (The Story of the Kelly Gang), drama (On the Beach), horror (Picnic at Hanging Rock), comedy (The Castle) or thriller (Animal Kingdom), Victoria has continued be be at the forefront of the Australian film industry. I took a look back through some of the greatest films made and set in Victoria and examined how the Australian film industry has developed over the years.
1. The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906)
Ned Kelly is Australia’s most infamous outlaw and died right here at RMIT (well, technically at the Old Melbourne Gaol next door), but did you know that he was the subject of the world’s first ever feature film? Although over half of The Story of the Kelly Gang has been lost over time, the remaining 30 minutes represents the dawn of the Australian film industry.
The century-old film depicts Kelly as a typical Aussie anti-hero and follows his exploits as a bank robber with his gang of thieves, including his infamous last stand at the Glenrowan Hotel. Filmed in then-regional Victorian towns like Heidelberg, Eltham and Greensborough, this silent film is a UNESCO protected treasure that rightly takes its place in Australian film history.
2. On the Beach (1959)
Nowadays we’re used to seeing Hollywood productions made in Melbourne, but this nuclear war romance was the first and the greatest. Based on Nevil Shute’s bestselling novel, it presents an alternative version of the Cold War resulting in the total annihilation of humanity, with Melbourne as the last surviving city on Earth.
On the Beach caused a huge stir and is to this day considered the time “when Hollywood came to Melbourne”, with stars like Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins calling the city home for the duration of the shoot. Filmed on location in the CBD, Frankston and Phillip Island, it provides a nostalgic look into Melbourne’s cultural past.
3. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Spooky and sophisticated, Peter Weir’s 1975 adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s fictional novel has since gained legendary status for being a terrifying tale of paranoia, obsession and beauty. As a pioneer of the Australian New Wave, Weir is often considered Australia’s greatest filmmaker, and Picnic at Hanging Rock the greatest Australian film ever made.
Set in the early 1900s, the film focuses on a group of teenage girls from an exclusive boarding school who go on a daytrip to Hanging Rock in the Macedon Ranges, only to have three girls go missing. The film showcases regional Victoria and the Australian bush as something both utterly terrifying and overwhelmingly beautiful.
4. The Castle (1997)
Hilarious and heart-warming, The Castle is one of the country’s most loved films. We follow the ups and downs of the Kerrigan family through the eyes of the youngest son, Dale. The Kerrigans live right next to Tullamarine airport. The Dad, Darryl, can’t understand how he bought the land so cheap and sees his home as his castle. But when a big-shot property developer wants to expand the airport, the Kerrigan’s whole street is in danger of being demolished.
So Darryl decides to fight for his castle and takes the developers to court. With endless quotable lines and a moving examination of a typical working-class Australian family, The Castle is a true classic that’s going straight to the poolroom.
5. Animal Kingdom (2010)
David Michôd’s gritty debut feature film was controversial and confronting from the moment it rocketed into Australian cinemas. Exploring the seedy underbelly of Melbourne, it follows orphaned teenager, Josh, who is sent to live with his grandmother and amoral uncles. We watch as he struggles to avoid falling into the family business of drug dealing, theft and murder.
The film not only garnered praise in Australia but was also incredibly popular overseas, thanks to Jacki Weaver’s Oscar nominated turn. The film is anchored by incredible performances from Weaver, Joel Edgerton and Guy Pearce; but it’s Ben Mendelsohn as Josh’s subtly creepy Uncle Pope who steals the show. Shot on location in suburbs like St. Kilda and Ivanhoe, Animal Kingdom makes Melbourne look dirty, gritty and insidious.
This piece was written for and published in RMIT Catalyst Magazine’s ‘Victoria’ Issue (Issue 6, 2015)