Film History as Cultural Myth-Making

As one of the most effective historical films, Gallipoli directed by Peter Weir not only projects on the screen the historical representation of the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli on April 25th, 1915, but also represent one of the key heritage myths of Australian national identity.

To begin with, the interpretation of Gallipoli should not be limited to a war or anti-war film though the series is based on authentic historical events. Along with depicting the significant event in the history of the First World War, Weir developed one of his favorite themes of behavior of individuals under the extreme circumstances for examining the local Australian stereotypes and shedding light upon the main elements of the concept of national identity.

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The film emphasizes the links between the personal and national destinies. The series portrays Australia as an isolated country and its citizens as innocent and enthusiastic population which believes in myths and the inevitable triumph of the good.

The director of the film utilizes the visual stereotypes of the Australian desert landscapes for producing the effect of isolation of the country from the rest of the world. The main protagonists of the film Archy Hamilrton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) contrast the desert landscapes with their youth, enthusiasm and love of life. Hatlof (1993) noted that “in Gallipoli he [Weir] stresses the unity of man and the landscape that is only seemingly hostile to man” (In quest of self-identity).

Another contradiction of the film is the opposition of the attributes of Australianness and Britishness as the opposition of the good indigenous population versus bad foreigners. Thompson (1992) admitted that “Peter Weir’s popular film Gallipoli convinced many Australian viewers that British officers were responsible for the unnecessary sacrifice of the West Australian Light Horsemen” (History and ‘Betrayal’: The Anzac Controversy).

Though this approach has been criticized by some historians, the film reflects one of the heritage myths of the Australian community based on the contradiction of the innocent Australians who fight against the enemies and are ready to sacrifice their lives to the ideology of national identity. Depicting the “bad” British soldiers and “innocent” Australian warriors, the film justifies the contemporary tendency of idealizing the participants of the events at Gallipoli.

Disregarding particular historical inaccuracies of the plot of the film, the representation of the historical events in Gallipoli does not contradict the existing evidence related to the campaign because the author shifted the emphasis to celebration of the idea of national identity and development of the national ideology.

As one of the effective historical films, JFK directed by Oliver Stone projects on the screen a larger heritage myth of American identity than a mere representation of the director’s version of the assassination of President Kennedy.

The release of JFK caused the debates concerning the role of filmmaking as the transmitter of cultural values and national ideology. The director made his documentary a well-structured narrative, beginning with the presentation of the background information and formulating a thesis for the whole work about the role of the President Kennedy in the history of the USA and other countries.

Telling a story of “bad guys’ who planned the assassination of the President and good guys who are trying to investigate the case and do justice, Stone expresses not only his own views of the development of the events but the opinion of a great number of his counterparts.

Actually, screening the developing the theme of the struggle of the good against the bad, the director of the film touches upon the theme of the war in Vietnam and President’s inclination to finish it before his murder.

Stone’s motivation for examining the assassination emerged specifically from his veteran status – he wanted to understand the policy of the war and to determine whether or not the conspiracy that murdered Kennedy was working in the interest of prolonging it” (Sturken, 1997, p. 70).

The director projected the radical myth concerning the dramatic consequences of the assassination for the following development of the events in the country, namely the continuation of the conflict in Vietnam despite the President’s plan to put an end to it.

Though the authenticity of the historical materials which became the basis for the film is debatable, there is documentation which supports the assertion that the Vietnam affairs became the precondition for the assassination of Kennedy. Romanowski (1993) noted that “thesis that Kennedy was planning a withdrawal of United States troops from Vietnam after the 1964 election and, subsequently, working to end the cold war, is credible” (Oliver Stone’s JFK).

The myth that if the President Kennedy had not been killed, the world would be better and healthier exists in the contemporary American society. For the purpose of correcting this crime, the director motivates the audience to prevent the same historical mistakes in future.

Along with expressing his personal opinion of the assassination of the President Kennedy, Stone used the historical documents and archives, making his interpretation of the historical events in JFK persuasive.

Reference List

Hatlof, M. (1993). In quest of self-identity: Gallipoli, mateship, and the construction of Australian national identity. Journal of Popular Film and Television, 21.

Romanowski, W. (1993). Oliver Stone’s JFK: Commercial filmmaking, cultural history, and conflict. Journal of Popular Film and Television, 21.

Sturken, M. (October 1997). Reenactment, fantasy and the paranoia of history. History and Theory, 36 (3).

Thompson, A. (December 1992) History and ‘Betrayal’: The Anzac Controversy, History Today, 43 (1).

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