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Walkabout (Blu-ray Review)

17 May, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 5/18/10
$39.95 DVD or Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg, David Gumpilil.

One of the movies’ final words on sensuality (sexual and otherwise) comes courtesy of Nicolas Roeg’s first solo achievement as a director, which followed a co-directing credit with top-billed Donald Cammell on 1970’s still strange-beyond-belief Performance. More accessible by comparison to that no less original James Fox-Mick Jagger drug fair, 1971's Walkabout is still a prominent example of a movie beloved by many within cult parameters yet not particularly known to the masses. Doesn’t this sound like the standard definition for a perfect Criterion candidate?

Somewhere outside of Sydney — and that it may not be that far is just one of many intriguing things of a movie that’s disinclined to spell out too much — a young girl on that cusp between adolescence into womanhood is stranded in the Outback with her much younger brother. Their father has flipped out (who drives into these surroundings dressed in a suit?) and abandoned them by committing suicide in the barren surroundings. The movie has offered brief hints that life for him may have been boring, despite a view to die for from the kitchen window and deck of the family apartment.

The two siblings (played by Jenny Agutter and the director’s son, Luc Roeg) could easily perish, and their plight isn’t exactly abetted by school clothing — wow, skirts were really short in the early 1970s — less than ideally matched to their challenge. But they discover an unlikely oasis of fruit and water (its surrounding animal life surprises as well) that sustains them until their chance meet-up with a young aborigine (David Gumpilil). He’s out on a solo and less impromptu adventure of discovery, a tribal ritual that will enable him to pass into manhood.

So she’s on the sexual brink, he’s likely past it, and there’s a lot of unspoken tension engendered by social boundaries that both (but especially she) must sense. Agutter’s anti-flirtatious character (simply called “The Girl”) is aloof and perhaps repressed, though she’s never really snitty about it. If anything, it’s the brother (called “The Boy”) who seems more adept at establishing communication with a new acquaintance who’s now the ticket to their survival, given his remarkable prowess with lobbed spears.

At this stage of his career, Roeg was still photographing his own films following a heyday of camerawork for other (and major) directors in the late 1960s: Fahrenheit 451 for Francois Truffaut; Far from the Madding Crowd for John Schlesinger; and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Petulia for Richard Lester. On Walkabout, he basks in the expected natural beauties but also pays attention to potential dangers, sometimes within seconds of each other in the same scene. There’s nothing like noting some creature whose body is halfway inside the opened mouth of another creature roughly the same size to keep you sober.

The print here is the longer European cut, which is not the one that played U.S. theaters when 20th Century-Fox picked up Walkabout for release in that most memorable movie summer of McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Klute and Carnal Knowledge. If memory serves, this one has a lot more nudity of Agutter’s memorable swim in a body of water that would make a nice honeymoon spot if you knew there were a hotel 200 feet away that served drinks with 151 rum and paper umbrellas.

The movie ends on a couple strong notes, both in terms of what happens to the aborigines when their culture clash meets its limit — and in a subtly powerful fleeting scene where we see into Agutter’s future. Criterion’s extras are superb, including an interview of Agutter today and the now-grown younger Roeg.

But the highlight of these is an amazing hour-long documentary of Gumpilil — who, at 56, has spent the rest of his life going back and forth between occasional movie appearances (Crocodile Dundee, 2002’s highly praised Rabbit-Proof Fence) and living the most primitive kind of life. His agent tells of how Gumpilil had forgotten his passport for an overseas job, which had been left at home a couple days away from everything — on the other side of a river with no bridge. Gumpilil finally retrieved it and made the gig by simply swimming across. The crocodiles that lived there apparently didn’t mind (at least this time).

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