It wasn’t until one grey, hungover morning waking up on my couch with the thick brown stink of stale cigarettes in my mouth that I understood the title to this modern Australian classic. Still drunk, I switched on the TV and that other Aussie classic, Romper Room came on. Miss Jane was looking right down the barrel at me through her crazy hollow mirror and said, “Romper Stomper Bomper Boo”. Suddenly, the walls expanded a little, I blinked twice and forever my awareness changed ever so slightly.
Perhaps writer/director Geoffrey Wright intended this subtle shift in perception upon watching this film for the first time, although it tends to be about as subtle as facial tattoos. One thing that strikes anyone watching this film is its abruptness and its immediate impact into your face. Yet, beneath this cruel urgency are Wright’s diaphanous veils that both cover and reveal the underlying truths.
|"We came to wreck everything and ruin your life... God sent us."|
A mixed and motley band of skinheads and neo-Nazis eke out existence within the industrial section of Footscray in Melbourne. In one single, calamitous collision with some young Vietnamese Australians, a grisly chain of events begins, infecting the lives of all individuals involved
Hando, the smug leader of this group, meets a girl, Gabe, in the pub and brings her into the circle only to find his best friend Davey becoming more and more attracted to her. With this running behind, the street war with the Vietnamese escalates into one of particular brutality and ferocity that is entirely confronting and bloody in its execution. As Hando’s big plans start to come apart, so does his relationship with his gang, with Gabe and inevitably with everything.
Wright throws numerous symbols into the film, designed to expose the hypocrisy of the characters – in one instance Gabe and Hando commune between a printed batik curtain, obviously of Indian or Asian manufacture. The discerning viewer will note a myriad of these devices, designed to showcase the multicultural atmosphere we live in everyday. A busload of Japanese tourists replete with video cameras filming every nuance of the climax, a skinhead fights (and loses) using nun-chuckas - the ironies are thick within and the message particularly well delivered.
By no means a pleasant movie, the images and actions within will stay buzzing about in the head for days, bumping against the conscience like a fly in search of an exit. Ron Hagen’s photography maintains a rich decay among the skinheads, living in squalid conditions under an eternally overcast sky. Shots of warehouses and industrial estates in advanced states of neglect keep with the feeling of society’s ruin and the distance from civilisation of the group. The entire film remains now as a testament to Mr Hagen’s vision, as he sadly passed away in September of 2002.
Family shots of the Vietnamese describe the gulf between the two factions, whilst also comparing both sides and their definitions of ‘family’. The simplest of comparisons, too, are easily made in the sexual transactions between firstly Gabe and Hando then Gabe and Davey. The gulf for Hando seemingly exists between he and everything in his life, whilst Davey appears as a misled child taken under Hando’s wing and whilst nurtured lovingly, he has been corrupted in time by his vision.
Removed from obvious comparisons to films like A Clockwork Orange, Romper Stomper is an important film made in an important time, and whilst now 11 years old, remains as relevant and as confronting today as it did upon release.
Delivered onto DVD in its original theatrical aspect of 1.85:1 with 16:9 enhancement, Romper Stomper looks sensational. Drab blues abound, creating an allover morose or even morbid feeling that lasts the length of the film. Even toward the end, on the beach (a traditionally sunny location) thick grey clouds maintain the equilibrium of the previous story. And whilst this creates a slightly darker looking film than a lighter piece, it works so well for the film itself. The same goes for film artefacts. Any film of 11 years is bound to sport a few, but those that remain only add to the decay within and don’t hamper the look in the least. Colours are deliberately washed away without being erased - blood comes out as a visceral red/black that parallels Gabe’s jacket; an integral plot device. Camerawork is jerky at times and scenes are edited in a stilted fashion, but these both, again, contribute to the complete feeling garnered by the rest of the movie. Shadows naturally run deep and are mostly devoid of detail, but these aren’t really too important given the context. Flesh, that multi-coloured tattooed canvas running the length of the film, comes out cleanly and well defined with appropriate shading and saturation.
An amazingly resonant Dolby Digital 5.1 mix creates the sombre moods of the film perfectly. The heavy booming of the music and sound effects are well defined and well balanced, supporting the action magnificently. Whilst on the subject, the sound effects are mostly okay, although a couple of stock jobs make their way in as punch and kicking sounds (naturally).
As to the dialogue, this is all well-spoken and well delivered, completing the characters in excellent fashion. Some lines get a little garbled, particularly during the fighting scenes and such, but for the most part every impassioned rhetoric is quite legible.
Romper Stomper is a gripping and exemplary film that broke new ground in Australian cinema when released and showcases some extraordinarily talented cast members. Crowe’s performance is perfectly menacing and McKenzie delivers one of her trademark fragile-and-misunderstood-flower roles that only she can perform. Daniel Pollock, the ill-fated Davey, also gives a top-notch performance, which also turned out to be his last. Sadly, he didn’t even get to see the completed film before he passed away. With a great supporting cast, a great script and a great message this is one of Australia’s defining films of not only the ’90s, but of the entire century. Roadshow have pulled out all the stops in producing this title and it shows throughout with the quality of transfer and the nice inclusions. This one’s a must have for fans of either outstanding Australian cinema or just quality cinema in general.