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Emboldened by the recent excellent list of ‘Top Aussie Films of All Time’ put out by the Adelaide Film Festival, I am going to present my Top Australian Films of All Time’. This is not to denigrate the AFF’s list, which was based on popular votes. Subsequently, however, it omitted a number of extremely important and influential films. The oldest film on the list is Charles Chauvel’s JEDDA (1955), which scraped in at #100. There is no other Australian film from the previous 50 years. This is my attempt to address this, beginning with Charles Tait’s THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG (1906),
This is not a great film, but it is an extremely important and influential one. At the time of its first screening and release in Melbourne’s Athenaeum Hall on 26 December 1906, with a running time of approximately 60 minutes, it was the longest running film narrative in world cinema. Subsequently, it claims to be the first feature film as we known them today. It paved the way for what followed. Even the French, who regard themselves as the founders of film, acknowledge the importance of THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG.
Its influence can be seen in a number of ways. This includes being the first of what can be called the genre of ‘bushranger’ films, particularly those about Ned Kelly, of which there are numerous films from 1906 to today. Also, with its locations ranging from the Victorian countryside to the streets of Melbourne, it offers an insight into an early era of Australian history and identity.
To be frank, I am a bit ambivalent about Ned Kelly – mainly because he did kill in cold blood. There is a psychopathic element that I find disturbing. Others see him as an Australian patriot. Whatever the case, he is an Australian icon, holding a mythic status of our own making, which makes him important and unique.
A couple of years I was in ‘Kelly country’ and went to Glenrowan where Ned Kelly and his gang met their fate, and where the final sequence of the film was shot. We were the only ‘white’ Australians visiting the respective sites. Others were ‘new Australians’, including a large Indian family, a couple of whom who were instructing their younger members about Ned Kelly. Why? I don’t really know – but the fact remains that Ned Kelly still has this fascination and compelling force, that is also evident in this film – the first Australian film that deservedly should be in the ‘Top Aussie films of all time’.
The National Film and Sound Archive a number of years ago published a beautifully restored print of what remains of THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG, with an accompanying booklet about the making and reception of the film. This is still available.