Conor Bateman: Tramp The Dirt Down – Landscape in Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot (1982)

This video essay by Conor Bateman parodies the film Turkey Shoot by recutting it as a fight between man and nature. This video has been made available for study purposes only. Eds

Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 1982 Ozploitation spectacle Turkey Shoot was widely panned on its original theatrical release. Writing for Variety, David Stratton said that “nobody connected with this travesty can take any credit,” while Michel Cieutat, in the cinephilic Postif, argued that “aside from the beautiful Australian forests and Olivia Hussey’s inexpressive visage —- which looks both youthful and wizened — there is nothing to be saved from this array of varied incompetencies.”

Overcoming the hurdle of critical sniping, the film went on to be released worldwide under a variety of new, region-specific titles, like the prescient Escape 2000 (US) and the politically subtle Blood Camp Thatcher (UK). The film’s broad appeal is fairly self-evident; Trenchard-Smith crafted an absurd bloodbath, one which dispensed with the complexities of plot fairly quickly. The political struggle the film depicts is as follows: a totalitarian government (uniformly white) rounds up any potential dissidents (uniformly white) and detains them in an off-shore labour camp run by a prison warden named Thatcher, where a select few inmates are offered a chance at freedom if they can survive a day in the scrub, on the run from heavily armed VIP guests, most of whom are decked out in British colonial khakis.

Many Australian films of the 1970s and 1980s depicted landscape as a mysterious unknown. Academic and filmmaker Ross Gibson has written extensively on the depiction of the Australian landscape in film, photography and painting (and even made an essay film about it, Camera Natura, in 1984). Many of the films he wrote about are now widely celebrated — Walkabout, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Mad Max — and feature a dwarfing of human figures within the landscape, which is seen as a hostile and unknown environment.

In a shift from this approach, Turkey Shoot depicted the northern Queensland landscape as an impassive backdrop to human conflict. The camera leers at exotic locales, attempting to convey a sharp contrast between natural beauty and man-made horror. The only point at which these two notions converge is in a sequence where a field is burned down, though here the emphasis is entirely on the people trapped inside the blaze, rather than the destruction of landscape itself.

In this video, I have taken sequences from Turkey Shoot which involve the hunting of prisoners but have cut out the prisoners entirely. What remains is a series of comedic vignettes where the colonial powers attack the landscape, seemingly without purpose. And, since the original film sees prisoners rise up against their captors, I ensured that the landscape got that same opportunity.

 

Notes

This video features text from Ross Gibson’s article “Camera Natura: Landscape in Australian Feature Films,” which appeared in 1983 in issue 22/23 of Framework, a journal published by Drake Stutesman and Wayne State University Press.

Turkey Shoot was directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith. It was produced by Filmco, Film & General Holdings and Hemdale Film Corporation. It was distributed in Australia on VHS by Roadshow Home Video (circa 1982) and on DVD by Umbrella Entertainment (2003). There is no local Blu-Ray release of the film.

Read more about Turkey Shoot on the National Film and Sound Archive’s website.

Thanks to Ivan Čerečina for translation assistance in this piece.

 

Editors’ note

The title of Bateman’s video essay is also that of the 1989 Elvis Costello song which anticipated that when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died, “They’ll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down.”

10 October 2017
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