Digging Down Under

Nov 1, 2007

After the mugginess of the New York City summer, and with the launch of the new Criterion web store and the New York Film Festival keeping us all plenty busy through the end of September, Western Australia was a breath of fresh air for me—literally. Everywhere I went, whether it was a winery (all right, a few wineries) or the beautiful port city of Perth or the iron mountains and gorges of Karijini National Park, I kept saying, “The air smells so good here!”

But my favorite thing about the trip by far was that I got to see lots of different animals. I’m lucky enough to have an Australian friend who showed me native fauna at the zoo, an animal park, and even in “the bush.” That last one may be a bit of a stretch, but compared to the densely populated tri-state area, staying in a cottage sixteen kilometers away from the nearest town (population 1,000) feels pretty rural. You can’t even get broadband out there! I definitely saw plenty of cute and/or deadly animals, including tiger snakes, kookaburras, emus, skinks, flocks of pink and gray cockatoos, and mobs of kangaroos. I didn’t see any sharks, but I met a man who’d been bitten by one, which is as close as I care to get.

It was the perfect place to see Walkabout for the first time. My friend had seen it before, and was very indulgent with my outbursts—“An echidna! I saw one of those!”—and warned me to look away during the kangaroo-clubbing scenes. By that point, however, I had already seen a couple of them dead by the side of the road (common roadkill victims, unfortunately) and wasn’t overly upset. What did shock me, though, was how eerie parts of that movie are. Before watching it I didn't know anything more than what was written on the back of the DVD. To me, Walkabout is light and beautiful and dark and disturbing in the best possible ways.

The flights between Newark and Perth total more than twenty-five hours, not including two layovers. I’m not sure if seeing Evan Almighty and License to Wed on a six-inch screen made the time pass more quickly or slowly, but the long journey was more than worth it. And I got back to the city just in time to catch the last screening of Blade Runner at the Ziegfeld! I brought back from Oz a new love of Tim Tams and Vegemite, and an interest in seeing more Australian films. Any recommendations?

Above: The “Wacky C” on the beach in Mandurah, Western Australia.