(WARNING: the IMDB.com summary of this movie is a sick travestry. It only describes the last 5 minutes of the movie! Avoid at all costs.)
This movie’s advertised as one of the finest and earliest gems of the 1970s Australian New Wave. Now just pick any ten minute stretch of it at random, and I think you’ll feel as if you’re watching a TV movie. Certainly the score is on that level. It was no surprise to me to discover, then, that the director Ken Hannam had a long career in TV before making this, his first movie.
I don’t think this movie completely escapes that feel, and yet there are several moments where this is a fine independent-like film, and overall it has the decent effect of putting you in a particular, unusual place you’ve never been. The movie features Australian sheep-shearers circa 1955, out in the interior scrubland, nothing around but bush and sheep pasture.
Featured throughout are the shearers, tough laborers who strive to shear as many sheep as possible each day, which is brutal work. Several of them are hired by a man who contracts out the shearing job. The shearers work on a farm owned by the sheep-owner, who has a kind of upper-management relationship with his working-lcass hands.
Things go bad that way. This is partly a management vs. labor movie, sympathetic to the poor shearers, whose live is filled only with their work, drink, bad food, and cramped quarters. There’s nothing to do there, except these men make it work.
The actors looked as if they really learned sheep-shearing. The movie’s better sequences depict that. There’s no doubt a lesson for young and independent filmmakers: every place has its peculiarities that would fascinate all others. We identify with the shearers through their ordinary lives depicted, sweat-filled, smelly (we imagine), work and sleep and that’s it. It’s a great vicarious experience because most of us have never had it, and yet we feel as if we are there with them.
Unfortunately, the movie exists only in a grainy, blurry print, far from even DVD-level quality. If it’s truly an Australian classic, someone needs to clean it up — perhaps a rich Australian patriot?