Damien Cave, our Australia bureau chief, shares insights on Australia, news of the world and reader feedback in this weekly newsletter. Want it by email? Sign up.
Movies define countries for the world.
Pedro Almodóvar shapes how we think of Spain. England will forever be “Monty Python” and “Lawrence of Arabia” for many of us, while the American extremes — optimism, violence, humor and despair — are all visible via Hollywood.
So what does “Crocodile Dundee” say about Australia?
I watched the movie again last night, for the first time since its release in 1986. I was just a kid then and thought nothing of laughing at Paul Hogan’s knife or his cluelessness about escalators and elevators in New York.
Now, though, it’s all a bit jarring.
Dundee is still the highest-grossing Australian film of all time. He’s the character many Americans most associate with this country, and yet the depiction of Australia (not to mention New York and journalism, given the reporters in limos) needs some serious updating.
Which is, of course, what a series of trailers for a Dundee sequel seemed to offer when they started gathering buzz online a few weeks ago.
I was one of many who saw the clips and got excited. Joining Danny McBride as the son of Dundee were Australia’s biggest stars, including Margot Robbie, Chris Hemsworth, Russell Crowe, and Hugh Jackman.
The trailer’s premise — the foolish Americanized son of an Australian legend returns to the bush — also suggested a chance to poke fun at Americans and American assumptions about Australia. Bring it, I thought.
But what looked like a summer film was actually a setup for a Super Bowl ad. Tourism Australia duped us all, aiming directly at America’s love for the Dundee story, with the goal of exploiting it.
And it seems to be working.
John O’Sullivan, the managing director of Tourism Australia, told me yesterday that their site has seen record traffic since the Super Bowl, and that tourism operators are reporting double and triple the usual interest.
“What we’re saying to North America is you’re welcome in our country and we want you to visit,” he said. “That character really does bring that to the fore in a way that no other character has really done before.”
Perhaps. It’s true that Dundee is quite welcoming to the visiting American reporter played by Linda Kozlowski (Hogan ended up marrying her in real life) and there’s clearly something deeper going on with Dundee and Aussie identity.
Here’s Vincent Canby, our former chief film critic, grappling with Hogan and his character in 1986:
Does that sound right to you? (The original film review is a hoot as well.)
Regardless, here’s a related question: Is there a “Crocodile Dundee” for today? A character or story that embodies how Australia sees itself now?
It’s one thing to use Dundee to reintroduce Americans to Australia. Good on ya for that, especially if it means gaining a deeper understanding of the place through visiting.
But ad-driven nostalgia is a sticky wicket. In the actual movie, I saw quite a bit more than what many Americans and Australians might recall.
Hogan’s performance, closely observed, is unlike what he did for Tourism Australia as a spokesman before the film — he’s not just a breezy larrikin.
His Dundee in America is more complicated, revealing in his facial expressions a fair amount of anxiety and awkwardness as he wanders through New York.
The Australia that he embodied in the ’80s was not yet a middle power, or middle-power plus as Australia is sometimes known today. It was a young country far away, lacking urgency, trying to figure out a fast-paced, competitive world and just how much it wanted to get involved with all that ambition.
To some degree that’s still Australia. To some degree it’s not.
Australia in 2018 is more confident, far richer, more diverse, more urbanized and less unified politically. It’s a beach lifestyle brand, not a Foster’s ad. But it’s still not sure what role it wants to play globally.
So what would a new Dundee reveal?
Assuming we can cast Chris or Liam Hemsworth — or perhaps the role belongs to Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman, who are roughly the same age as Hogan was for Dundee — what would a tale of Australia and the world tell us about the country today?
Where would the film be set, whose stories would it capture, and what would make it resonate with today’s Australians?
Send me your thoughts and script ideas — and I’ll find a way to get them to Aussiewood and Screen Australia … or at least to next week’s newsletter.
Share the request with friends, too. Tell them to sign up (or just sign them up as a friendly provocation), email us at email@example.com, and join us in our Facebook group for brainstorming.
Now here’s more from this week in The Times and in Australia, followed by a recommendation for another Aussie film that I’ve come to love.
Uma Thurman, after promising to express her anger about Harvey Weinstein when she was good and ready, has found a way to get it all out: in an interview with Maureen Dowd.
“The complicated feeling I have about Harvey is how bad I feel about all the women that were attacked after I was,” she said, explaining an array of experiences with candor and frustration.
One reader commented: “Ms. Thurman embodies everything I’ve ever wanted to be.”
You may think of augmented reality as simply Pokemon Go. But it can be a lot more than that, and as part of our effort to stay ahead of the journalism pack, we’re introducing an augmented reality experiment for our Olympics coverage.
It’s a way to study and see some of the world’s greatest athletes, up close and personal.
Here’s how to get started on your phone or tablet.
The world’s stock markets are way, way down, but don’t fret. Context matters.
The Dow fell by 1,175 points on Monday, which represents a 4.6 percent decline, but our economics columnist takes the long view: There were steeper percentage declines on several occasions during the global financial crisis and its aftermath, not to mention the 508-point drop in the Dow in 1987 that represented a 22.6 percent market crash.
And one more thing: All of the world’s big economies are now growing.
Our latest coverage of Australia and New Zealand ranges from food to flight, nudists to firestarters:
• A Wrestling Team Fights to Prove It’s Not an ‘African Gang’: Sudanese in Australia have come under unwelcome scrutiny after politicians said they were behind a crime wave in Melbourne. (International)
• We Have to Get Naked: Visitors encounter a surprise on one of Sydney’s nude beaches. (Australia Diary)
• In Australia, Arsonists May Have Wings: Aboriginal Australians have long believed that some predatory birds deliberately spread wildfires. A few ornithologists have set out to find proof. (Science)
• The Life and Death of Nigel, the World’s Loneliest Seabird: The gannet won hearts with his devotion to a concrete decoy on an uninhabited New Zealand island. His story shines a light on efforts to repopulate the island. (Science)
• Review: Cav’s Steakhouse on the Gold Coast, Queensland: The restaurant predates Outback Steakhouse and provides a retro taste of Australia’s dining history. (Food)
• Six Great Reads for Australians on the Culture-Tech Collision: From reality-show drag queens to the Bitcoin bubble — here’s how the latest in culture and tech fits into the Australian discussion. (International)
• Alex Joske examines how Chine silences dissent — in Australia.
• David Brooks explores how nations recover from failure.
• David Leonhardt welcomes an end to “the scam of flying pets” — and I say “amen.”
“Gettin’ Square” is NOT “Crocodile Dundee.”
It’s about criminals and colorful characters, none more memorable than Johnny Francis “Spit” Spitieri as played brilliantly by David Wenham.
If there’s a better comic courtroom scene than this one, I’ve never seen it. The twists and turns of the writing reminded me of this classic from Abbott & Costello — and that’s a compliment.
(Hat tip to Meredith McDonald and David Clark for the suggestion; they’ve become the Australia bureau’s unofficial Aussie film tutors. Thanks M & D!)