Starring: Bill Hunter, Gary Foley, Zac Martin, Terry Camilleri, Essie Coffey
Director: Phillip Noyce
Rated: M 15+
Distributor: Madman Cinema, The AV Channel, Smart Street Films
Phillip Noyce calls his first feature a cross between a B-grade blaxploitation film and a polemical tract. Inspired by Wim Wenders homage to the U.S. roadmovie Kings of the Road, Backroads is an early Aussie tribute to the genre, pre-dating even Mad Max. 30 years on, it’s also an amazing discovery, tackling as it does the insidious national preoccupation with racism through its two main characters; Jack (Bill Hunter), a foul mouthed white bastard and Gary (Gary Foley) his happy go lucky politicised black side kick.
“You’ve just gotta let them think they’re in control”, Gary explains to Jean Claude (Terry Camilleri), the French hitch hiker who Jack has just labelled a dago wog. It’s Gubbas verses Kooris all the way in a big dodgy stolen Parisienne car which cost the production $2,000 (about 10% of the budget) and whose maintenance became its central pre-occupation. Along for the ride is Uncle Joe (Zac Martin) and Anna (Julie McGregor), a disgruntled runaway from an outback roadhouse. The sound man is asphyxiating in the boot and both director and cameraman are strapped to the bonnet.
Backroads relies more on visuals than compelling narrative with a lot of the dialogue improvised straight to celluloid. One of the most heartfelt moments comes when Brewarrina icon Essie Coffey explains to Anna what it’s really like for the mob living in what’s known as Dodge City. It’s pure powerful documentary as is Essie’s song and those of other wandering minstrels captured along the way. That these and other more stylised shots blend together so well is testament to the camera work of Russell Boyd who this year scored a Best Cinematography Oscar for Master and Commander. In his DVD interview Boyd reveals that he was self taught but this early work proves that he had an eye right from the start, just as Noyce, who recently directed Rabbit Proof Fence, had an ability to give indigenous Australia a voice through the medium of film.