(Nicolas Roeg, Australia, 1971) 100 minutes


Director: Nicolas Roeg
Producer: Si Litvnoff
Screenplay: Edward Bond, based on the
  novel by James Vance Marshall
Cinematography: Nicholas Roeg
Editor: Antony Gibbs
Music: John Barry
Jenny Agutter (Girl)
Lucien John (young brother)
David Gulpilil (Aboriginal boy)
John Meillon (Man)

Reviews and notes

1971: Cannes
1999: World Cinema Showcase - Wellington (Director's Cut)
2003: Adelaide
2008: Karlovy Vary

The idea that the otherworldly, ancient landscape of the Australian interior has been somehow impenetrable to its country's more recent settlers, the vast majority of whom live in the towns that cling to the safety of the coast, has been one that has long occupied the Australian imagination, explored in books and films by Australians and outsiders alike... The Outback is so unfathomably old and vast, so empty and so perilous, that it's a perfect setting for allegorical tales that seem to exist outside of reality and history. Nicolas Roeg, in Walkabout, explored that sense more vividly than any film-maker before or since. Perhaps it demanded the clarity of the ‘expatriate gaze’, for in Walkabout the Englishman Roeg captures the feeling of the Outback as a place divorced from time - an infinite wilderness in which to set the fable-like story of a teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (the director's son Luc Roeg) who become lost before being rescued by a teenage Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) on his own rite-of-passage walkabout.
- James Bell, Sight and Sound, September 2010.

In 1969 the British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg went to Australia to make Walkabout, a strange, vivid tale of two British schoolchildren stranded in the deserts of the outback. Two years later, American audiences saw an expurgated version: five minutes shorter than Roeg's cut, minus the full frontal nudity. Now, 27 years after the film's release, the reconstructed version has finally arrived.

A meditation on the corruption of civilization and the terrifying purity of wildness, Walkabout opens with a 14-year-old girl, played by a very mature Jenny Agutter, and her 6-year-old brother, played by Roeg's son Lucien John, motoring through the desert with their addled father. Inexplicably, Daddy goes berserk, shoots himself, burns the car and leaves the kids to fend for themselves.

Roeg, who had already co-directed Performance with Donald Cammell but had yet to create Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth, exults in the awesomeness of the outback and builds a film that's part anthem to the primitive world and part rebuke to the dull, overinsulated selfishness of contemporary man.

As John Boorman later did in several films and as Godfrey Reggio accomplished so majestically in Koyaanisqatsi, Roeg intercuts images of modern life with the lushness of nature - offering a stunning fable about the impor tance of respecting the earth.

As the sister and brother roam about in their flannel school uniforms - she's frightened, he's delighted by the possibility of adventure - Roeg cuts in images of birds in flight, kangaroos on the run and exotic lizards with star-shaped heads and beady, malevolent eyes.

The lizards, scorpions and other creatures form a chorus in Walkabout, casting menacing, territorial glances and cautioning their two-legged visitors to tread lightly. Agutter, on the other hand, relaxes only when an Aboriginal boy, played by David Gulpilil, takes her and her brother under his wing and demonstrates the basics of survival - spearing kangaroos and lizards, roasting them over open fires, sucking water out of a dry creek bed with a fluted piece of wood.

The word "walkabout" refers to an Aboriginal rite of passage in which an adolescent Aboriginal boy goes out alone in the bush for six months to initiate his manhood. That ritual doesn't include chaperoning white people through the bush, of course, and one of the greatest points of tension in Walkabout is the erotic curiosity that grows between Agutter and Gumpilil.

Roeg fuels that spark in one of the sequences previously cut from Walkabout - a spontaneous water ballet with Agutter, who was 17 at the time, luxuriating nude in a lush natural pool. It's a gorgeous scene but also essential in the way it demonstrates her surrender to the natural world.

When Roeg made Walkabout, the spiritual superiority of nature - and the ecological awareness that inspired it - were still fresh themes on screen and in literature. Today they seem dated and maybe a tad naive in their belief that nature can deliver us from foolishness if we only learn to serve it instead of taming it. Even more dated are Roeg's zooms, freeze frames and non-sequential editing - techniques that he had used as the cinematographer on Richard Lester's 1968 film Petulia. They may have looked hip and bold at the time, but today they're a little silly and scream "late '60s".

One last note: If the romantic, sweeping music in Walkabout sounds suspiciously like the score for Out of Africa, it's no accident. John Barry wrote both, and he obviously borrowed from Walkabout to create the Oscar-winning, very similar work on Out of Africa.
- Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle, 3 January 1997.

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