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BRUCE DENNETT Macquarie University How Dixie Waltzed with Matilda: The Influence on Australia of Cinematic Images of the South AUSTRALIA AND THE AMERICAN SOUTH ARE HISTORICALLY BOUND BY THEIR ideas of whiteness, forging their cultural identities through storytelling that stereotyped blacks in order to contrast the individualized white (Dyer xiii). The merits of a comparison between Dixie and Matilda were, however, often masked by the mutual status of the United States and Australia as settler or supplanting societies (Day 9) and the success of the Western film genre. This shared role as colonizer has caused critics to slip easily into comparisons between the cinematic representation of Native Americans and Indigenous Australians, a view that has been until now, the “accepted wisdom” (Maynard 216-35, Molloy 124). A closer look at the genesis of the cinematic images of Indigenous Australia reveals a more useful comparison with African Americans as they appear in plantation films depicting slavery in the South. Hollywood’s images of docile African American slaves served as a model for the depiction of Indigenous Australians in feature films because they sustained Australia’s academic and social debates about the founding of white Australia. By establishing the primacy of African American character types as models for Australian characterizations of Aborigines, I will examine how cinematic images of the South and the SouthernconstructionofwhitenessresonatedinAustralia.Theinfluence of the South first reached across the Pacific during the nineteenth century with visiting theatrical companies and minstrel shows and culminated in the first decades of the twentieth century with film. A close examination of two Australian silent films, The Birth of White Australia (1928) and Trooper O’Brien (1928), will demonstrate the impact of these forces. American Film in Australia From the early twentieth century Australian audiences displayed a particular affinity for American films, matching the consumption of any 494 Bruce Dennett and surpassing the consumption of most other countries. Many critics maintain that American films began to dominate the Australian market around the time of the First World War and “locally made films were modelled on Hollywood production styles” (Collins 2) from that time. However, the Australian film trade journal Photo-play. and its listings of films available for Australian release through International Pictures reveals an earlier, equally pervasive American influence. American film companies such as Biograph, Bison, Essanay, Edison, Kalem, Lubin, Selig and Vitagraph all featured prominently among the lists of feature films released in Australia in the years before 1914.1 Biograph, the company so closely associated with the legendary D. W. Griffith and The Birth of a Nation (1915), had a discernable influence on the Australian market and Australian audiences well before the dramatic success of Griffith’s classic. Therefore, rather than dating the influence of American ideas, techniques, and images from 1914 or 1915, we should go back a little further. Aside from Biograph other American companies contributed heavily to the silent film dramas appearing in Australia before 1914. An examination of the weekly Photo-Play from April through September 1912 shows that twenty-nine foreign production companies released films in Australia through International Pictures during that six-month period.Thelargestsinglenationalforeignfilmmakerrepresentedwasthe United States. During the six-month span identified for this sample, no fewer than seven American production companies were ever represented. From April through September 1912, 367 dramatic features were released; of those 199 or about 54% were made in America. The survey also revealed five feature films, three from Kalem and two from Vitagraph that were set in the South of the United States and dealt with the American Civil War and issues of race. 1 The influence and cultural exchange between Australia and the US was not limited to the importation of films. There is a long list of actors, writers, and directors involved in the production of Australian silent films who had worked in Hollywood. Directors and producers like John Gavin, Wilfred Lucas, Lawson Harris, Yvonne Pavis, Norman Dawn, F. Stuart-Whyte, William Reed, Scott W. Dunlap, Wilton Welch, and Charles Chauvel were all either Americans or Australians who had worked in the Hollywood film factory. Then there were performers such as Arthur Shirley, Louise Lovely, George Fisher, Brownie Vernon, Kathleen Key, Eva Novak, Arthur McLaglen (brother...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 493-509
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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