Feature Film Analysis – Gallipoli (directed by Peter Weir)
Gallipoli, as the title suggests, is a portrayal of the historical event in which thousands of Australian soldiers went off to fight for their country. Peter Weir, the director of Gallipoli has not simply presented the facts about the war, nor has he tried to relay the story of this time, instead he has attempted to convey the legend of Gallipoli through the Australian’s feelings towards the event using pre-existing myths to portray this tragedy of war.
In this analysis the main method of approach to the study of the film will be focusing on the Australian cultural values and myths that are presented in Gallipoli and how they are conveyed through the use of film techniques and the elements involved. Overall through the study of the above it will be shown how Gallipoli works as a cultural text and how readers interpret these cultural meanings.
Gallipoli starts off being presented in circular narrative, revolving around the two central characters Archy and Frank in their two separate environments. By commencing the film in this way, viewers are given the opportunity to see the differences in character both in their overall appearance as well as their values and beliefs. The difference in the appearance of the characters can be read at a connotative level of meaning – Archy is the blonde hair, blue eyed, candid, innocent and naive “Noble bushman”. The clothes he wears are always light in colour (as is his complexion) symbolising his purity and innocence. Frank, on the other hand, is seen dressed in darker clothes, has dark hair and complexion, is cunning, worldly and a battler.
We see evidence of this opposition in the fact that Archy is still under parental and adult authority living in the outback, in contrast to Frank who is a city boy who does whatever he pleases. The first time that these characters meet, which is in a championship sprinting race, viewers are given clues as to the bond (’mateship’) that is going to be formed through the use of camera and editing. Sprinting down the track at opposite ends of the lane we see Frank (dressed in black) look over at Archy (in white) to check on the competition. From a subjective camera angle viewers then see Frank from Archy’s point of view and know that this is to show the determination to beat his opponent.
The other use of camera techniques that demonstrate the relationship between the central characters is the move from a long shot of Frank and Archy at opposite ends of the screen to the final shot of the race in which the characters are together in the centre of the screen – this mise en scene showing the closeness of Frank and Archy is used frequently throughout the film and will be discussed again further in the analysis.
Mateship as an Australian myth is quite dominant in the film, this occurring between all of the Australian soldiers and coming out even stronger in the bond between Archy and Frank. Weir has chosen to represent this mateship coming from the competitiveness of the Australian men. Archy and Frank are seen competing in their first scene together – the big race and from then on there are many more competitions (especially running) between them, always showing Frank just that little bit slower than Archy. For example to the camel man in the desert, to the pyramids in Cairo and to the water at Gallipoli. This is very important in the understanding of the final scene, when although they are not competing they are both running with determination – Archy to save his country, Frank to save his mate.
In the scenes where we see Frank and Archy crossing the harsh Australian desert we see the myth of mateship being strengthened as they depend on each other for survival. It is the mise en scene in these shots that demonstrates this friendship. Long shots have been intentionally selected to show the desert setting and have also succeeded in placing the two characters on centre screen in very close proximity to each other showing the closeness of their friendship. It is also in this desert crossing scenes that we gain an insight into not only as to the values that the characters hold but also into the dominant Australian values that the film is conveying.
“It’s not our bloody war – it’s an English war”. This remark from Frank was met with “You’re a bloody coward” from Archy. It is these few comments passed between the two that demonstrate that whilst Australia may hold a contemptuous attitude towards the British (Frank’s values), it is Australia as a country that they should be fighting for. Archy represents the films values of Australian patriotism and loyalty through his attitude towards the war, however also demonstrates the naivet of a lot of the men going off to the war when he tells the camel man that he doesn’t actually know what the war is about.
Overall in the characterisation of Frank and Archy, Weir has presented audiences with the stereotyped cultural myth males of Australia – Frank as the ‘Ocker’ (larrakin traits) and Archy as the ‘noble bushman’. This is shown to viewers through all of the above presentation of values as well as the way that they speak and act (Frank acting on impulse and Archy thinking things through, persistent).
The settings that are used are representative of many myths and values of the Australian heritage as well as being connotative of the action that takes place within them. Firstly, there are three settings and although they are all deserts, they all convey a different message. Starting off we (as viewers) are positioned in the Australian desert in which we feel at ease in because although it is harsh, it is familiar. This is presented through Archy as he runs across the baron land with no shoes on. He does get cut feet and de-hydrated but because of the use of subjective camera audiences see this through Archy and feel the same sense of determination and achievement that he does in accomplishing this.
Australian values of the land include the myth (particularly for the noble bushman) that Australians are at ease with nature and therefore when reading this film, we know that although Archy and Frank may struggle at times in crossing the desert that they will survive that challenge because they are “Aussie battlers”. The Australian desert (the vastness showed by a panning shot) is contrasted rapidly in the scene when we see Archy and Frank arrive at Perth station. The high camera angle shows that Archy is unsure and intimidated by the new and busy surroundings of the city compared to the valued openness and isolation of the outback, the audio here of trains, voices and the bustle of the city help make the viewers understand the limitation that Archy feels.
The next setting that Archy and Frank encounter is the Cairo desert. This presents no problem for the Australians as it is not nearly as harsh as the Australian desert. This ease is demonstrated by the friendly game of football between the soldiers and yet another race between Archy and Frank. However it is in this desert setting that we see more Australian cultural myths and values emanate as the Australian soldiers interact with the British and the native Egyptians. Myths of the Australian figure as being anti-authoritarian, anti-British and racist emerge in this setting.
Riding along on some donkeys we see several of the Australian soldiers salute and ridicule the British Officers by mimicking them with false accents and pompous attitudes showing that they are there simply to fight for Australia and not for somebody else’s war. This is also shown through the Australians ignoring instructions from the British during training sessions, they show complete lack of respect for the British and even more contempt for authority.
Their racist attitudes are demonstrated on many occasions when they shove the natives out of the way, criticise the women as being disgusting (yet still use them for sex), ruin their shops without apologising for mistakes and sneer at their customs, e.g. Frank laughs at the belief behind the pharaohs. These values and attitudes appear as cultural myths whether or not they are true and they are represented very strongly as part of Australian film and Weir expresses them clearly in this film.
The last setting that is significant is that of the desert in Gallipoli. It is here that we realise the significance of the three deserts as each being a stage of Australia emerging more towards nationhood, Gallipoli being that final goal. It is in Gallipoli we see that there is a war taking place not just with the Turks but a private battle between Australia and Britain. The camera angles that are used are objective in that they follow the 180* rule and allow us (as viewers) to see the happenings from our own perspective, however because of our bond formed with Archy and Frank and our associating with Australian values created previously we tend to view from their point of view anyway. Everything that the camera shows us we look at from an Australian soldiers perspective because of the suture process in which we have already been “stitched” into a spectator position.
Gallipoli desert is not seen as friendly and is depicted as the enemy e.g. when we see Frank stumbling on rocks and falling down cliffs. It is this desert that sees the death of Archy because of the desert restricting Frank to stop the soldiers from running (also showing once again that Frank was that one step slower than Archy.) The camera shots that we see of the Gallipoli desert are low angle (from the trenches) making the land seem larger, intimidating and superior to the Australian power. Also we get a shot/reverse/shot when the boats are approaching Gallipoli, allowing us to see the mess of war before us and appealing to our emotions before we then see Frank and Archy’s reactions to the sight (site) back in the boat.
The oppositions that are presents in the film are critical in the way that we read elements of the film. The openness and isolation of Australia compared to the Cairo bazaar and the Gallipoli trenches makes readers aware not just of setting but the ugliness of the war itself – sound of silence in the outback are contrasted with the haggling traders, snake charmers, donkeys, explosions and screams penetrating the not-Australia. Readers can identify with the time and place of the film and make comparisons between the oppositions.
The poor representation of the British in Gallipoli is not only conveyed through the bad attitude of the Australian soldiers but also through the use of camera positioning and lighting. When in Gallipoli there are several scenes in which the chief British officer is seen from a low camera angle – this does make him appear superior, however the lighting on his features also makes him seem evil (shadowy) and once again is contrasted to the Australian seen in full light (honest, decent).The pulling focus in the scene in which Frank encounters the Chief English officer is close up and pulls Frank into focus to show his lack of trust and disregard for the man, when it returns to focus on the officer we know that he is being deceitful and we are not to trust him.
Technical and symbolic codes are used extensively throughout this film to create both cultural and film meaning. In the war trenches at Gallipoli viewers are not only encouraged to identify with the reality of the setting by the use of camera angles and what is shown but also by what is heard and how it is shown. For example the explosions that are heard combined with the shaking of the camera makes it seem as though we are really there, enhancing the diegetic effect and allowing viewers to identify with the action.
Extreme close ups are used more often at Gallipoli to build on the suspense and allowing viewers to read the tension and emotion surrounding the soldiers. Examples include hands preparing ammunition (this is the real thing), a final handshake (once again the value of mateship) and close ups of soldiers discussing the seriousness of war (showing fear and suspense). In a near final scene a close up of the soldiers placing their personal items in the trench and writing final letters (accompanied by silence) shows a mixture of their bravery and fear and the real drama of war. It is these final scenes (and especially the one in which Archy dies) that captures the Australian values of ANZAC’s and the ‘digger’ legend as being a true essence of Australian culture.
The high camera angle that is used when the men are being sent over the top of the trenches and out on to the battle field as well as the panning shot that is used repetitively has been constructed to show the futility of war. Weir is conveying one of the main messages of the film in the waste of young life and what an unnecessary event war really is. This message is also relayed when we see the Australian officer also re-thinking his values, he then turns and tells the camera (us) ” All right men, it’s time to go.” He knows their efforts will be wasted and they will all be killed anyway, this speech simply adding to the theme of waste and also to the negative ending that is to follow.
Symbolic codes that have been repeated all the way through the film come together in the final scenes as their true meaning is revealed. Archy’s motivational speech, the close up of running feet, the victory pose ending a race and the picture and sound of the whistle are all used in the final scene for the purpose of allowing readers to identify with character, the themes of the film and the Australian myths and values that the film represented.
“What are your legs? Steel springs. What are they going to do? Hurl me down the track? How fast can you run? As fast as a leopard. How fast are you going to run? As fast as a leopard. Well go do it then.” This small speech recited by Archy before he is going to run is suicide dash at the end of the film serves to demonstrate the true meaning of why Archy went to war in the first place. Echoing his determination to win prior races and do his Uncle proud, in this determination Archy knows he will not win but is going to give his best shot to do his whole country proud – the Australian value of patriotism and loyalty being conveyed. Gallipoli at this point presenting Archy to us as the embodiment of the Anzac myth, dying at the fault of the British.
Repeated images of the whistle blowing to start a race and shots of running feet throughout the film are used again in the final scene and it is almost as though the other shots were a foreshadowing (or even a juxtaposing) for this event. The whistle and feet symbolising the journey that Archy encountered and summarising his will and determination to do Australia proud. As in other Australian films (Breaker Morant, Sunday too far Away) the ending is negative with the death of Archy, however the final technique of a freeze frame allows viewers to see him remain on his feet in a victory stance (the same one we see each time he runs through the ribbon at the end of a race) and never fall. This adding meaning to the fact that Archy knew he was going to die but still felt he had accomplished something by going to war.