The Story: A British businessman commits suicide in the Austrailian outback, leaving his young son and daughter to fend for themselves. After surviving on their own for several days, they finally receive assistance from a young aborigine who is surviving his own “walkabout” manhood ritual, but civilization seems father away than ever…
How it Came to be Underrated: It’s a bit of a stretch to call this “underrated”, since it’s a fairly widely-acknowledged masterpiece amongst film buffs, but I’m always suprised by how many people haven’t heard of it.
Why It’s Great:
- Roeg made his name as an acclaimed cinematographer (Petulia, etc.), and this movie is beautifully shot, but what really stands out is the bravura editing. Look no farther than this slam-bang, mind-melting opening sequence, which has more meaning and story packed into it than a dozen other complete movies. Double click to watch in HD on YouTube:
- The performances are truly astounding, as well, especially Agutter, who’s had a respectable career but remains a bit of a cult figure (I can’t hear her name without thinking of Jack Davenport’s character on the brilliant UK sitcom Coupling who had a strange fixation on her.)
- This movie is an artifact of that very brief period where all the rules were out the window and even teen sexuality was not a taboo subject. Maybe that taboo is for the best, because it’s a subject that's virtually impossible to tackle in a non-creepy, non-exploitative manner, but when it’s hinted at sensitively, as it is here, it’s a reminder of what we do without when we declare such subjects strictly verboten.
- Other topics that it’s very hard to address in a smart, non-didactic way: race, imperialism, post-technological blight, etc. This is a compact little adventure film packed with a lot of big ideas. It’s got a lot to say and it uses very few words to say it.
Underrated Compared To: Roeg’s nutty Bowie epic The Man Who Fell to Earth.
How Available Is It?: It’s available to watch instantly, but I recommend the Criterion Collection dvd with a fascinating commentary alternating between Roeg and Agutter. Both are smart, reflective, and proud of their achievement, but they don’t exactly see eye to eye on everything. He talks about how liberating it was for her to spend so many months in the desert and she talks about how foolish it was of her to drop out of school to make the movie, even if it did make her a star! (Be aware that the film was shot in the rare 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which is taller than widescreen but shorter than fullscreen, so if it fills the screen of your HD TV, you’re watching it in the wrong ratio.)