Playing for three hours and a book with your admission ticket seemed to be the reason The Turning (2013) attracted a 30 per cent premium on ticket price and I suppose the viewer got their money’s worth.
Certainly no other film could have attracted such a slew of Australian cinematic talent on both sides of the camera and the result achieved something television might not have done, introduced in one sitting the viewer to all of Tim Winton’s short stories from the book of the same name. Had this been shown over four consecutive weeks on TV, I doubt if the audience at the end would have been anything like the number who sat down for the first episode.
So producer Robert Connolly – Balibo (2009), The Bank (2001) – has done a sterling job compiling Winton’s stories into one night’s cinema and therefore to be appreciated and understood by more Australians, this writer included.
Condensing this material to three hours was a significant achievement in itself, let alone giving the reins to a host of directors, including some making their directorial debut. The brief must have been to provide tightly edited vignettes of Winton’s individual stories that linked together through location, characters and the Australian way of life.
Set mostly in seaside towns along the Western Australian coast, The Turning provides tales of ordinary people living ordinary lives, brilliantly sketched by the author. The men – played strongly by white and Aboriginal actors, are uncertain, violent and vulnerable; the women are victims fighting back and often disfigured physically as well as emotionally.
Indeed, a review by Rochelle Siemenowicz says “three hours is a long time to spend in the presence of pain and ambiguity, without the swell of a forward-thrusting narrative to carry you through.” It reminded me of a Hollywood producer interviewed after the premiere of Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982),. His comment on the film’s impact was: “That’s the longest time I’ve ever spent with poor people.”
Throughout the film, the character Vic Lang appears in many guises and I wished I had time to study the book given at the ticket office. If so, I may have tumbled to this well before my own turning (past the halfway mark), when the penny dropped that so many of the men were called Vic.
Every viewer will have their own favourites and mine was the David Wenham directorial debut, featuring Hugo Weaving. Perhaps it was like an island of refuge in a sea of symbolism and artiness, but I loved the dialogue-driven ordinariness of it. Weaving, to my mind, is Australia’s best actor.
My actual “turning” came in the episode of the child Vic, a freckled redhead, whose story is told by narrator. To me this was the most Australian of the stories, despite it being set in suburbia with a main character dressed in middle-class threads. It was simple, words described what was happening and it had a certain Clive James/Barry Humphries-esque note of nostalgia.
Another story, told through dance, had my mind thinking orgy while the book noted this was Vic meeting a stranger on a train.
You can see I didn’t get much of it but the fact I found the film so enjoyable and not at all long is testament to what a fine job was done by all.