Movies about historical settings provide a secondary account of those events. However it could be said that a movie is a primary source for understanding a society during the time of the film’s construction.
Film, like any artistic medium, provides historians with insight into the values of the culture of its origin. Movies are the collective saga of a society. What we are entertained by and our points of view of both topical and historic affairs are made apparent by our films. This provides a valuable source of material that can be analysed with a view to reflecting upon the events, values, and institutions that have informed and shaped our way of life.
The film Gallipoli (1981) by Peter Weir depicts the story of a company of young Australian men and their experiences during
World War I, prior to and during the Gallipoli Campaign (19151916). We are introduced to Archie who is an archetypal young country man. He is highly idealistic, altruistic and hard working.
Archie is friends with Zac, the aboriginal station hand; although
Archie’s other friends are disapproving of their relationship. This is apparent when Les, a white farmhand, remarks “You prefer the company of blacks, hey, Archie?” (00:05:06).There is an obvious value judgement in this question. Archie can be seen as one symbol of the ideal Australian: a hard working underdog who values equality. Archie’s integrity is matched by his commitment to training as a runner. The second protagonist, Frank, survives by his wits. He is impulsive and comfortable with breaking rules. Frank may be seen as another representation of accepted traditional Australian values: while hard working and willing to give others a go, Australians also have a suspicion of authority and value getting one up on authority.
Archie, who is underage, and Frank enlist in the military using various duplicitous means. The central pair and Frank’s company all have various reasons for joining up from attracting girls to the noble cause of defending their country. This is an example of how the film, as a secondary historical source, reflects the range of motivations for voluntary war service. The film then follows the recruits through their training in Egypt, the relationships between the Australian’s, the colonial officers, and the local population. We then embark with the optimistic soldiers to the battlefront where they quickly discover that
Darcy Boak the odds are against them. The climax of the film suggests that the planning and execution of the campaign was questionable. It also showcases the loyalty and bravery of the now legendary Australian soldiers with Archie dying with his integrity never faltering: The
ANZACs as legend and role model.
Gallipoli was made toward the end of an international economic crisis that saw a recession in Australia in 1974-5 and serious inflation driven by pressures from labour markets. Economic growth slowed until it reached stagflation. This saw Australia’s employment rate decline (Bell, S., Quiggin J., 2007). Some of the themes in Gallipoli were undoubtedly influenced by the events preceding and during its development. The film parallels the need for the Australians of the early 1980s to remain optimistic, work hard, and support each other while faced with adversity. Weir presents the audience with inspiration; the romanticised image of Australian people showing indomitable spirit under great pressure. There is an obvious connection here with the Australia of the early 20th century when war put an unprecedented strain on the nation. Although the war took a great toll on Australia, it also strengthened national pride and gave the country a sense of identity to hold onto. Likewise, the crisis of the
1970s also shaped the future of Australia with many social reforms attributable to the Whitlam government; reforms which can be identified within the central institutions and values of our current society (NAA, 2015; Sawer, M., 2008).
A recurring theme in the film…