For someone with a relatively low-key filmography, Nicolas Roeg has cast a huge shadow on British film-making. His style is at once distinctive and unobtrusive, and he has a command of film language and editing that would put most contemporary directors to shame. Now, thanks to Second Sight, one of his most influential films comes to Blu-ray for the first time.
Walkabout was Roeg’s first solo film (having co-directed Performance with Donald Cammell) and his unique style is immediately evident. In a way, this film serves as a mission statement for the director’s subsequent work. It’s a slight, simple concept that is vividly brought to life through the humanity of the main characters and the brutality of their surroundings.
An impossibly young Jenny Agutter stars alongside Roeg’s son Luc as two children who are left to fend for themselves in the Australian outback. Fortunately they befriend an aborigine boy (David Gulpilil) who is completing the ritual of Walkabout – keeping himself alive by surviving only on what he can forage and hunt on his own.
The contrast between the suburban and the desert is palpable, and obviously appealed to Roeg (He repeatedly uses the same shot of a brick wall giving way to a stark, endless desert background) and it provides the film with some of its most evocative moments. The recurring use of choral singing over the wide shots of the desert are particularly memorable, and infuses the film with an eerie, ethereal quality.
There are several controversial scenes of animals being hunted which are admittedly disturbing and uncomfortable to watch. However, this is never gratuitous or sensationalist, unlike the animal deaths in something like Cannibal Holocaust. These scenes are shot with documentary-like realism which, when combined with Roeg’s unique editing style, produces a dizzying effect.
All the performances are natural and often very moving. Agutter gives an incredibly mature performance as the daughter, and Luc Roeg is great at essentially playing himself, an awe-inspired little boy – his friendship with the aborigine boy is truly touching, as they communicate and joke together without the benefit of a shared language. Gulpilil himself is incredibly poignant, conveying a great deal of emotion and meaning using little more than his doleful, brown eyes.
These are utilised perfectly in the scene where Roeg contrasts the Aborigine hunting for food, with the white hunters killing animals for sport. The boy is shown to be dumbfounded by the unnecessary brutality, even after we’ve seen him kill and butcher numerous animals. There is a naivety about him that mirrors the English children’s ordeal. Just as they are unprepared for life in the wilderness, the Aborigine boy is inexperienced with the developing world. This is very much a coming-of-age film for all three of the central characters who all grow over the course of the film, and lose their innocence to varying degrees. They are fully realised, fleshed out characters, despite the fact we never learn any of their names.
While Don’t Look Now remains Roeg’s masterpiece, and The Man Who Fell To Earth is his coolest film, Walkabout is a perfect distillation of his film-making style. A stunning blend of beautiful cinematography, his trademark fluid editing, with a touching coming of age story at its core, Walkabout is a timeless and provocative blend of British and Australian cinema and fully deserving of its modern classic status.
Second Sight have outdone themselves with the special features – including a new audio commentary with Luc Roeg and film critic David Thomson; New interviews with Luc Roeg and Jenny Agutter; an old introduction from Roeg himself, plus a 2011 Q&A at the BFI. Most interesting of all is an in-depth interview with Danny Boyle whose fan-boyish love of Nicolas Roeg is infectious.