“The script was fourteen or fifteen pages long. It was nothing of it, I had to do a lot on the script before presenting it to some money-people. Because it had XXX and then dialogue, but he didn’t fill it up with extraneous script images, he didn’t fill it with things like “grey clouds like bruises on a virgins arm floated across the horizon,” it was just dialogue. [...] But it was perfect, because it wasn’t complete. He said I don’t think we could ever make this on the page and I don’t want to go to Australia, but we went. I can think of describing it as a fiction of reality and not reality of a fiction. Because we all went and pushed op through the red dead centre. And each scene was presented as we moved along. It was a tiny crew, just six people. The family, with my wife at the time and Jenny and David and Luke and a small crew, it was a group of people living the film.”
“Walkabout contrasts the abundant reptile, bird, insect life with the traffic buzz of the city; the transistor radio, blasting out useless educational programs, with the rock paintings the Aborigine paints, that the sister and brother can’t make head or tails of; and the story telling of the little brother with newspaper pages flicking across the screen. It contrasts the sleazy oozing of meteorologists (working on some sort of desk on a salt lake) at a flash of flesh from their female colleague with the chivalry and innocence of the Aboriginal boy looking at the sister, trying to tell her something. There are moments when the Aborigine looks her in the eye and speaks to her softly in his language. There are no attempts to translate what he says but you get the feeling he is making some offer of love. At one time in the night they look at each other. He sits up and speaks to her and then walks away to stand upright, leaning on his stick on a rock all night.”
“Much has been written about the ‘fragmented’ style that Roeg has employed in so many of his films – Don’t Look Now (1973), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), and Bad Timing (1980) all play with linear narrative, setting subtle traps for the viewer and commanding our close attention. In Walkabout, this style serves to enhance the sense of memory that pervades the film. All coming-of-age stories are fundamentally memory stories, rooted in recollections of a time of great intensity, of growing, of puzzling, of understanding. We look back at that stage in our life and find memories of the pain we felt and the pain we inflicted, unthinkingly, because we did not understand ourselves and our burgeoning relationship to a new, strange adult world. The strangeness of that world for the girl in Walkabout is deepened by the landscape; for the aboriginal boy, it is deepened by his encounter with people for whom his lifelong training has ill prepared him.
Just as Roeg explores the sights of the landscape with the intensity he found in the work of Australian painters, so he captures the sounds of the natural world with heightened, musical clarity. This makes the careful use of music in the film all the more thrilling. The opening, disconcerting extract from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Hymnen gives way to a didgeridoo solo, reminding us that modern classical music, like traditional tribal music, is unconcerned with melody – and linking, as in the paintings of Nolan and Boyd, modernism with an ancient past. Melody makes its appearance, jarringly, in the seemingly random songs played on the children’s radio (Rod Stewart’s “Gasoline Alley” and Warren Marley’s “Los Angeles”), and then movingly in John Barry’s score, which brilliantly integrates and points up the natural sounds of the outback. As the white children begin their journey, Barry provides a melancholic choral setting of the nursery rhyme “Who Killed Cock Robin?” (the human chorus taking over from the chorus of lizards and insects, and the phrases ‘Who saw him die? I, said the fly . . .’ underlining the point that these animals are the only otherwitnesses to the father’s suicide). When Barry’s main theme comes in, he uses divided strings contrapuntally, allowing the music to soar and descend, arcing around the landscape in an embrace and, at the same time, introducing a hint of nostalgia (memory again). That nostalgic quality is resolved in the very last sequence, as Barry’s music plays under the reading from A. E. Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad: ‘The happy highways where I went / And cannot come again.’”
- 1. Nicolas Roeg in conversation with Mark Salisbury, BFI.
- 2. Justine Kelly, “Walkabout,” Senses of cinema, april 2001.
- 3. Paul Ryan, “Walkabout: Landscapes of Memory,” Criterion, 2010.