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video review by
Gary Johnson

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Director Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout is an elusive film. Originally released in 1971, Walkabout provides few explanations that help us comprehend what we see on the screen as a girl and her brother become lost in the Australian outback. Roeg tells a story where the visible, known elements are vastly outnumbered by the mysteries that lay hidden beneath the surface. However, the clues that it provides are so intriguing and compelling that it's easy to get wrapped up in the storytelling, to trust that Roeg's elliptical filmmaking may somehow get at greater truths than those typically provided in conventional Hollywood filmmaking.

Thanks to this Home Vision Cinema video release, we can experience Walkabout again in a full-length director's cut version. This edition of Walkabout has been digitally remastered, letterboxed, and restored to the movie's original 100 minutes running time.

Roeg has always been primarily a visual storyteller. He started his career as a cinematographer on a surprisingly diverse group of movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death, the James Bond opus Casino Royale, Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, and Richard Lester's Petulia. His love of images shows through clearly in virtually all of his films. Walkabout is no different in this respect. It's a visually stunning film filled with images that will take your breath away. But beyond the astonishing Australian scenery and the magnificent wildlife photography, Walkabout also tells a story, told in elliptical fashion about a clash between cultures.

The story is deceptively simple: A girl (Jenny Agutter) and her brother (Lucien John) become stranded in the outback after their father drives them to a secluded rarely-traveled part of the country and then kills himself (not before firing a few gun shots at the children). The girl and her brother try to survive in the desert, but their future looks bleak until an Aborigine boy appears (played by David Gumpilil). He is in the midst of a "walkabout," as the pre-credits introduction tells us, which is a rite of passage for young Aborigine men where they must wander the countryside for months at a time, existing on whatever they can kill or forage. With the help of the Aborigine boy, the girl and her brother learn to survive.

There is much more at work in Walkabout; however, the storytelling never speaks in explicit terms. For example, the father drove the children into the desert--why? Because he was planning on killing them and then taking his own life? But immediately before he commits suicide, he can be seen reading about geology and taking notes. So why did he kill himself? He didn't seem despondent or particularly troubled. Could it have something to do with the single camera shot we saw of the father and the girl before the road trip, when he looked down at his daughter as she swam in a swimming pool? Did he harbor incestuous feelings for his daughter? It's difficult, if not altogether impossible, to draw any conclusions from many of the clues that the movie gives us. But instead of becoming frustrating, the clues become all the more intriguing. Watching the movie is sort of like having a quarter of the pieces of an extraordinarily beautiful and mysterious jigsaw puzzle. You either become frustrated at what you don't have or you marvel at what you do have--while speculating about the rest.

Somewhat more easy to decipher is the budding relationship between the girl and the Aborigine boy. In one scene, as the boy, girl, and Aborigine play in a tree, the tree branches and the smooth limbs of the human characters become intertwined. The focus, however, is on the girl (played by Jenny Agutter, who was 16 years old when the movie was filmed), and the playful, attractive sensuality that she exudes. It surely doesn't elude the young Aborigine. And later in the movie, he leads the girl and her younger brother to an abandoned house in the outback--as if he wants them to replace the family that once lived there, for them to become father, mother, and son. And after he covers his body with dots of white paint, he even begins what must certainly be a ritual mating dance (although it's never explained to the movie's audience). Because the girl and Aborigine can't communicate, their future together is an impossibility. His dance can only shock and confuse her. Yet, while she reacts with fear, a part of her must understand the implication of the dance, for later, in a flashforward to several years later, when she is married and her husband embraces her, she thinks back to the time she was together with her brother and the Aborigine boy, to when they were all naked, playing in a cool pool of water. It's a poignant, profound revelation.

Walkabout is a bold and astonishing work of filmmaking. (My only reservation is the camera's leering tendency to gravitate toward Jenny Agutter, to swing low so that we can get a teasing glance up her skirt or to peer longingly through the weeds while she takes a naked swim. Some of these shots can be interpreted as coming from the Aborigine's point-of-view and are thus explainable, but many others have no point-of-reference other than Roeg's infatuation with Agutter's body.)

Home Vision Cinema has recently priced for Walkabout for retail sale at $29.95. This edition of Walkabout has been digitally remastered and letterboxed. For more information, we suggest you check out the Home Vision Cinema Web site:

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