Starring: Mel Gibson, Mark Lee
Director: Peter Weir
For many young Australians, visiting Gallipoli has become something akin to a pilgrimage. There, on that narrow strip of land in Turkey, thousands of our nation’s youth, under British command, threw themselves like lemmings at the German allies. They say that their sacrifice still resonates in the landscape today. Director Peter Weir felt the force when he visited the site in 1976 and discovered poignant artefacts like the remnants of stoneware made in Tamworth and an old bottle of ‘Eno’s Fruit Salts’ which he souvenired and used as a prop in the film he was inspired to make.
It was his big screen exploration of the tragedy that occurred at Gallipoli that brought the event into the forefront of the national memory. Through the charismatic characters of Archy (Mark Lee) and Frank (Mel Gibson), Weir tells a compelling story of mateship. Initially, these guys are like yin and yang, illustrated in an early scene where they recklessly cross a salt lake; Archy, the country boy in optimistic white is determined to fight for his country, while city-bred Frank wants nothing to do with someone else’s war and plods along behind him wearing black. They meet a lone cameleer who didn’t even know that there was a war on. When Archy explains that if they don’t stop the enemy overseas, they’ll end up here, the old crusty looks around the parched landscape and replies, “And they’re welcome to it”. It’s a ludicrous moment but it sums up the futility of the ANZAC mission, a reality that Archy and Frank soon discover after embarking on it.
Rupert Murdoch’s father witnessed the situation on the ground and wrote a letter that is credited for having influenced the withdrawal of the troops at Gallipoli. Sir Keith’s wife, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch explains the nature of her husband’s intervention in a marvellous recent interview on the DVD but she doesn’t mention that her son was co-producer, along with Robert Stigwood, on the film. Mel Gibson is also interviewed and reflects on the actual war as “the beginning of the age of cynicism”. But it’s Weir who conjures up the sentiments best, still moved to tears when he reads from Charles Bean’s first hand account. His film was part of a renaissance in Australian filmmaking and remains a beacon today, not just for its craftsmanship but also for its comment on the human cost of war.Get Gallipoli