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Walkabout
Director: Nicolas Roeg (Dir)
Release Date:   Jun 1971
Premiere Information:   Cannes Film Festival screening: 16 May 1971; New York opening: 1 Jul 1971; Los Angeles opening: 1 Sep 1971
Production Date:   11 Aug 1969--Feb 1970 in Australia
Duration (in mins):   94-95
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Cast:   Jenny Agutter (Girl)  
    Lucien John (White Boy)  
    David Gumpilil (Black boy [Aborigine])  
    John Meillon (Father)  
    Robert McDara    
    Pete Carver (No hoper)  
    John Illingsworth (Husband)  
    Hilary Bamberger    
    Barry Donnelly (Australian scientist)  
    Noelene Brown (German scientist)  
    Carlo Manchini (Italian scientist)  

Summary: In Sydney, Australia, a family lives in a high-rise apartment building, where the mother is preparing the meal and listening to a radio as she works. After school, the children, a self-possessed fourteen-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother, swim in the building’s pool that has a view of the ocean, as the father, who is deep in troubled thought, watches them from their balcony. One day the father drives the children, who are still wearing their school uniforms, deep into the Outback. As the daughter sets out a picnic lunch on a large scarf and the little boy plays with his water gun and toy soldiers, the father reads in his car. Suddenly, announcing it is time to go, he pulls out a gun and fires several shots at them. The boy believes it is a game, but the girl understands the danger and shields her brother from seeing their father set the car on fire and shoot himself dead. Quickly, the girl retrieves the radio, the scarf and what food she can carry away and sets off with her brother, hoping to find her way back to civilization. Calmed by the irrelevant sounds of radio broadcasts, the girl leads the boy in the hot sun past wild creatures, many of whom are dangerous if provoked. When the sun finally sets, the boy is delighted to camp out overnight. In the daytime, hoping to see where they are, the girl leads him up a rocky hill and they walk along the ridge, where they get a view of the sea. When they finish drinking a bottle of lemonade, the girl makes a hole in a can of vegetables, from which they drink the juice. Recalling an uncle’s story about his military training, the girl suggests that they eat salt and tells the boy they will stay in the desert a few days. She remains stoic, keeping the boy entertained, and when he tires, she carries him. They are dirty, exhausted and depressed when the boy spots a tree filled with fruit and parakeets surrounded by a muddy pool. Eating the fruit, the boy proclaims that it tastes “lovely.” After washing, the girl scolds her brother to take care of his clothes so they will last. When he asks if they are lost, she replies simply that they are not. As they sleep, a boa constructor crawls over them and animals tread past them and in the morning they awaken to find that the water has dried up and the fruit has been eaten. Hoping that the water hole might refill again, the girl decides they will remain there. As they nap in the hot sun, the boy spots an adolescent aborigine who is pursuing an animal to kill it for food. He talks to them, but they do not understand his language. The girl calls to him, asking him to help them find water, believing that he should be able to understand her request. Her repetition of the word “water” is incomprehensible to him, but when the boy mimics drinking, the aborigine understands and shows them how to poke a hollow tube into the earth and drink through it. Assuming that he will take them to civilization, the girl and her brother accompany the aborigine, unaware that he is on a “walkabout,” a solitary journey that a male of his tribe undertakes to mark his entrance into adulthood. He kills, prepares and cooks wild beasts for them, so they no longer go hungry, and leads them to a greener land, where there is plenty to drink. When the boy becomes ill from sunburn, the aborigine knows what to do. While they are resting, the girl suggests to her brother that the aborigine would like to play with his toy soldier, because he has never had one, but the older male tosses it aside. As they are still children, they frolic in trees and swim in ponds, but the girl and the aborigine, who are on the brink of sexual maturity, are watchful of each other. The girl, especially, remains vaguely uncomfortable and small events cause her to remember the horrible sights of her father’s death. When the aborigine talks to the girl, she does not understand, but the boy soon learns to communicate with him. As they walk, the boy tells the aborigine a story, to which he listens, but, as the girl points out, he cannot understand. When the aborigine stops to draw a story in pictures onto a rock cliff, the girl draws a house, hoping to communicate that that is where she wants to go and the boy chatters his belief that the aborigine can take them to Mars. They pass very close to the homestead of a husband and wife who hire indigenous people to make small statues of animals that will be sold as souvenirs to tourists. Speaking in his language, the woman tries to hire the proud aborigine while he is scouting ahead of the boy and girl, but he rebuffs the woman, and the siblings remain unaware of how close they are to other whites. Although they seem far away from other humans, there are a group of scientists nearby, who lose a weather balloon, which the aborigine retrieves and brings to the girl and boy. When the girl instructs her brother to ask the aborigine how much longer it will take to get to their destination, the aborigine smiles and, using hand signs, answers that they will reach it that day. Soon they approach a homestead, but to the girl’s sorrow, it is deserted. The aborigine talks happily to the girl, who does not understand, and he watches her when, inside the house, she cries after finding old photographs. When she asks him to get "water," still unable to say any word in his language, he understands. Unhappily, he shows the boy a road nearby, and then pursues a wild animal with his spear, while having visions of the white homesteader shooting the animals. When he returns to the house, he ignores the girl’s hello. Later, he approaches her more forcefully than usual, his body painted to resemble a skeleton and the girl, now fearing him, shuts herself inside the house with her brother, who is too young to understand the nuances of the older children. As if carrying out a ritual, he dances throughout the night, although he is silently crying. When the boy tells her that the aborigine showed him a road, the girl decides that she and her brother should continue their journey without their companion. When she awakens in the morning, the aborigine appears to be gone. Looking forward to returning to her old life, the girl insists that they dress in their full uniform. She tells the boy that the aborigine left to be with his own people, but the boy knows better. He says that when he offered his pen knife as a gift to him, the aborigine did not take it and then leads her to where the aborigine is hanging, dead, in a tree. Disturbed, she asks her brother if he ate his breakfast properly sitting down, but brushes away the flies on the aborigine’s chest. They follow the road to a set of buildings that were previously used for a now abandoned mine. The caretaker locks them out of the property, but tells them where they can wait for others to arrive. While they wait, they play around the old mineshafts. Years later, a businessman returns home and, pleased with himself, tells his wife that he has been promoted to the position vacated by an older man, who was laid off. As he talks about an impending salary increase that will finance a vacation on the Gold Coast, her mind wanders and she silently recalls idealized moments of the time she spent in the Outback with her brother and the aborigine.

 

Production Company: Max L. Raab--Si Litvinoff Films (P.T.Y.) Ltd.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Nicolas Roeg (Dir)
  Kevin Kavanagh (Asst dir)
Producer: Si Litvinoff (Prod)
  Max L. Raab (Exec prod)
  Anthony J. Hope (Assoc prod)
Writer: Edward Bond (Scr)
Photography: Nicolas Roeg (Photog)
  Tony Richmond (Spec photog)
  Mike Molloy (Cam op)
  Peter Hannan (Focus)
  Dean Goodhill (Stills)
Art Direction: Brian Eatwell (Prod des)
  Terry Gough (Art dir)
Film Editor: Antony Gibbs (Film ed)
  Alan Pattillo (Film ed)
  Brian Mann (Asst film ed)
Music: John Barry (Mus comp and cond)
  Phil Ramone (Mus prod by)
Sound: Barry Brown (Loc sd mixer)
  Kevin Kearney (Boom op)
  Gerry Humphreys (Dubbing mixer)
Make Up: Linda Richmond (Makeup)
Production Misc: Grahame Jennings (Prod mgr)
  Irving Zeiger (Assoc)
  Annabel Davis-Goff (Cont)
MPAA Rating: GP
Country: Australia, Great Britain and United States
Language: English

Music: "Electronic Dance" by Billy Mitchell; excerpts from "Hymnen" by Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Songs: "Gasoline Alley," music and lyrics by Rod Stewart and Ronald David Wood; "Los Angeles," music and lyrics by Warren Marley.
Composer: Warren Marley
  Billy Mitchell
  Rod Stewart
  Karlheinz Stockhausen
  Ronald David Wood
Source Text: Based on the novel The Children by James Vance Marshall (London, 1959).
Authors: James Vance Marshall

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Max L. Raab--Si Litvinoff Films (Pty.), Ltd. 31/12/1970 dd/mm/yyyy LP40482

Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Eastman Colour

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: with songs
 
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  Australia
  Australian aborigines
  Children
  Maturation
  Voyages and travel
 
Subjects (Minor): Apartments
  Brothers and sisters
  Deserts
  Fires
  Homesteaders
  Mines
  Nervous breakdown
  Rites and ceremonies
  Scientists
  Suicide
  Survival skills
  Wild animals

Note: Before the opening credits a title card reads: "In Australia, when an Aborigine man-child reaches sixteen, he is sent out into the land. For months he must live from it. Sleep on it. Eat of its fruit and flesh. Stay alive. Even if it means killing his fellow creatures. The Aborigines call it the WALKABOUT. This is the story of a 'Walkabout.'" According to a modern source, this written foreward was added after the film's initial release. At the end of the film, a narrator recites an excerpt from A. E. Housman's poem, "The Shropshire Lad," which tells of "the land of lost content" where one cannot return. The film ends with the statement, " Rien ne va plus ," a French saying that can be translated loosely as "Nothing more."
       As noted in the closing credits, Walkabout was filmed entirely on location in Australia. According to the film's production notes, the movie features sequences shot in the red desert surrounding Alice Springs, in the Flinders mountain range area and at locations never before visited by Western man. The studio production notes reported that the opening and closing sequences were shot in Sydney. A radio, which appears first in an early sequence as the "mother" prepares food, appears throughout the film and broadcasts miscellaneous information in counterpoint to the childrens' predicament. Several brief shots showing flashbacks and ghost-like visions are interspersed into the main story. Some brief flashes compare city life with that of the natives, such as a city butcher preparing meat intercut with the "Aborigine's" spearing and cutting up of an animal for food. Another inserted scene mentioned in several reviews shows the children playing in a tree, while a group of Aborigines discover and play around the burned-out car and corpse of the "father." Near the end, during the Aborigine's cathartic ritual in which he attempts to spear a cow, gunshots by a homesteader kill several animals.
       Two small subplots show sexual undercurrents of a group of scientists working in the Outback and a homesteader and his unhappy wife, who have hired Aborgines to make souvenir clay animals for the tourist trade. In the last scene, the “girl” is shown preparing a meal in the kitchen while listening to the radio, as did her mother in an early sequence. According to a modern interview, producer Si Litvinoff stated that many of the filmmakers argued for ending the picture when the children were found on the road, omitting the city epilogue.
       As noted by film critic Roger Ebert, who wrote liner notes for the DVD version of the film, the chronology of the movie is not clock-bound, but presented more like the Aborigines' non-linear sense of time. Ebert suggested that the desert in the story was “a mystical place, a place of visions” that was neither the Aborigine's home ground nor the children's, that their time there was a type of "dream” and the two suicides were “the boundaries of reality.”
       James Vance Marshall is a pseudonym for the Englishman, Donald G. Payne, who also wrote some versions of Walkabout and other novels under the name Ian Cameron. Walkabout , which first appearead as The Children in the Australian magazine Woman's Day with Woman , was a popular juvenile classic in Australia. As noted in the SatRev review, the film’s adaptors made changes, adding "touches of eroticism that were not...so explicit in the novel." In the novel, an airplane crash left two American children, a twelve-year-old girl and her nine-year-old brother, alone in the desert. Also in the novel, the aborigine's death is attributed to the common cold and to autosuggestion, a phenomenon which is implied in the film but not explained.
       According to a Nov 1967 HR news item, Lee Loeb and Lee Irwin wrote a screenplay based on the novel that they sold to Denis O'Dell, who had lined up Nicolas Roeg to direct. However, Loeb, Irwin and O’Dell’s contribution, if any, to the final film has not been determined. In a modern interview, Litvinoff stated that director Roeg had been developing a screenplay for a small studio, National General, and the rights for the product were “entangled” with a company headed by Richard Lester. Unable to get approval to make the film, Roeg asked for the help of Litvinoff, who convinced executive producer Max Raab to help finance the project. According to Litvinoff, clearing the rights for production took another year.
       Walkabout marked the first film as sole director for Roeg, who was formerly a cinematographer. Lucien Roeg, who portrayed the “boy,” was the son of the director, who had initially considered casting his older son, Nico, in the role, according to Litvinoff’s modern interview. According to the studio production notes, David Gumpilil, the aborigine, was a dancer in his small northern tribe before moving to Manninggrieda, Australia, where Roeg discovered him, and had no concrete proof of his age. According to studio production notes, his friend who was fluent in Gumpilil’s tribal language, as well as English, served as his interpretor. After his debut performance in Walkabout , Gumpilil continued to appear in films, mostly Australian, and had a significant role in the 1986 Paramount film Crocodile Dundee . Associate producer Anthony J. Hope, who died in 2004, was the son of comedian Bob Hope. Hope's first feature film, All the Right Noises (see entry above) was shot shortly before Walkabout . Although Walkabout marked his second and final feature film as associate producer, Hope became a director of business affairs at Twentieth Century-Fox, and was also involved in politics.
       As noted in Filmfacts and corroborated by MPAA records, Walkabout was initially given an R rating on the basis of two nude swimming scenes. According to Filmfacts , critics Judith Crist and Hollis Alpert publicly criticized the rating. An 11 Jun 1971 Var news item reported that Raab, Jonas Rosenfield, Jr., who was an advertising publicist for Twentieth Century-Fox, and several others argued the case for an appeal. The Codes and Ratings Appeal Board reversed the decision and awarded the film a GP rating, as a 23 Jun 1971 Var news item reported, marking the first time that a vote was unanimously reversed. Walkabout was a British entry at the Cannes Film Festival. A Jan 1997 Entertainment Today reported that a director's cut on DVD restored five minutes of previously unseen material to the film. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   8 Nov 1971   Cover, p. 159.
Chicago Sun-Times   27 Aug 1971.   
The Daily Telegraph (London)   19 May 1971.   
Daily Variety   21 Jul 1969.   
Daily Variety   18 Aug 1969.   
Entertainment Today   10 Jan 1997.   
Filmfacts   1971   pp. 250-52.
Films and Filming   Dec 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   6 Nov 1967.   
Hollywood Reporter   12 Sep 1969   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Feb 1970   Section IV, p. 12.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner   1 Sep 1971.   
Los Angeles Times   1 Sep 1971   p. 10.
Motion Picture Herald   16 Jun 1971.   
New York Times   2 Jul 1971   p. 26.
New York Times   18 Jul 1971   p. 1.
New Yorker   10 Jul 1971.   
Newsweek   14 Jun 1971.   
Seventeen   Jun 1971.   
Time   28 Jun 1971.   
The Times (London)   10 Oct 1971.   
Variety   6 Aug 1969.   
Variety   19 May 1971   p. 17, 26.
Variety   11 Jun 1971.   
Variety   23 Jun 1971   p. 29.

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