Classic Review by Hamish Downie
Recently, Ozflix, Australia’s answer to Netflix opened for business. It promised every Australian film ever a kind of commercial library or preservation society. And perhaps someday, if they are successful enough, they may be able to deliver on the promise. But, for now, there is a limited number of films, which is even more limited if you are an international fan. As an Australian living overseas this is extremely frustrating, but this also gives me (and hopefully you) a chance to discover some forgotten classics and films that never got their chance to shine. So, here, if it’s popular enough, I hope to review the films that are available to international audiences.
The first of these is “Backroads”, the first feature film of Phillip Noyce, who is perhaps most well-known internationally for his spy thrillers like “Patriot Games”, “Salt”, and “All clear and present danger”, as well as “Dead Calm”. “Backroads” tells the story of Jack (played by the late, great actor, Bill Hunter, in his first leading role) and Gary (Aboriginal activist Gary Foley), a pair of lowlives, one a white Australian, one Aboriginal, who steal a car and go on a road trip around the Australian Outback and find trouble after trouble. If that sounds vaguely familiar, that could be because many Australian directors make their debut with a road movie in the Australian outback, as it is relatively cheap to produce and provides incredible production value with the stark Australian scenery. As an added bonus, up until recently, the Australian Tourism Commission would often give films money if they showcased the country – in case you ever wondered why famous Australian sights randomly show up in our films.
Now, I have to admit, I’d never heard of this film until looking for something to watch on Oxflix. This is despite the world-famous director, well-known Australian actor (perhaps most well known to American audiences in the film “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” or as the Dentist in “Finding Nemo”), and a pedigree that includes being shown at the Cannes Film Festival. You could say it’s been overshadowed by other 1970s debuts by Australian directors like Peter Weir’s “The Car that ate Paris” (known on IMDB as “the Car that ate people” for some unknown reason), and George Millar’s “Mad Max” (which I’m sure needs no introduction). Like the aforementioned two films, “Backroads” presents a darker side of the Australian countryside and bloke/mateship (male) culture. Unlike those films however, this presents a realistic look at black/white relations in Australia (and not much has changed in 40 years since the film was released), and the boredom of living in the country. I’m not sure if this is a film which an American audience could embrace, as it has a bit of a language barrier with a lot of slang which is particular to our country. On the other hand, perhaps the Arizona audience for this website might find a lot of similarities in the way the film presents life in the countryside.
The film itself is probably a little on the slow side for today’s audiences, and the editing can be a little choppy in places, but it’s a film that deserves it’s classic status thanks to the frank discussions on racism and the mirror it holds up to Aussie bloke culture, which is still relevant today. There’s some great performances, and thanks to the improvised dialogue, very naturalistic.
Overall, this is ideal for a slow Sunday afternoon. So, throw a couple of bucks Ozflix way on this forgotten little classic. It’s only 57 minutes, so it’s not going to take a large slice out of your life if you dislike it.
My one downside to the viewing experience is directed at Ozflix. If you have to close down the page, you can’t return to the same spot as you left the film (which I’ve admittedly gotten used to on Netflix). As far as streaming services go, it’s a pay as you go service, which at this stage with such limited numbers of films available to international audiences, is probably for the best.