Even before its Australian release, Romper Stomper generated heated criticism and a
great deal of praise. Some film writers and critics feel the film is racist, with the
potential to influence young people to society's detriment. Others strongly disagree.
"It's an important film and what it says is very
strong," producer Daniel Scharf
But no-one denies it is first class film making; nominated for nine AFI awards, it won
three (Best Actor, Best Music, Best Sound) despite the award feeding frenzy of Strictly
Ballroom. And it set off a buzz of appreciative discussion among some of the 8000 members
of the Australian Film Institute who were shown the film in the voting process.
"I'm happy it's creating a disturbance; it's an important film and what it says is
very strong. If it disturbs an audience, it's doing what we set out to do," comments
the film's producer Daniel Scharf.
"If the film is racist, it must be proved to contribute
to racist behaviour." writer/director Geoffrey Wright
Writer/director Geoffrey Wright, the 35 year old Melbourne film maker making his
feature film debut, challenges those who call his film racist: "If the film is
racist, it must be proved to contribute to racist behaviour." Wright does not believe
the film will do that.
Romper Stomper is the story of a Melbourne gang of skin heads whose violent clash with
neighbourhood Vietnamese is followed by the gang's disintegration. But there are other
elements and other characters, which add to the film's complexity - not only in the
narrative but also in its emotional and psychological aspects.
Russell Crowe plays gangleader Hando (Best Actor Award), who reads Meine Kampf and
displays the most menacing nazi attitudes in the film.
"The hardest thing is to confront yourself." Geoffrey
Wright sees Hando and his gang as pathetic figures, "desperate figures in a
suburban landscape who do what they do to know they're alive." It is a nasty example
of people trying "to solve their internal problems in the outside world - externally.
I'm unhappy. Why? Because there are too many Asians in the neighbourhood. Instead of
having the gumption to help themselves...it's always easier to look elsewhere for the
solution. The hardest thing is to confront yourself."
The suburban landscape that Wright depicts in the film comes from his observations over
several years in inner Melbourne. Born in pleasant enough Pascoe Vale, he grew up in
Laverton, and saw how empty lives can be filled up with hate.
But the script grew as much out of a cinematic exploration as of a cultural one; in the
80s, he had been fascinated by the polarisation of film styles. There were action films,
and then there were 'serious' films.
Where were the characters in the suburbs that could provide a serious film maker with
kinetic energy? Right there - in the angry, violent, racist Skinhead gangs.
"I formed a more complex view of some of them," Wright
Wright had observed street life at a distance: but he also mingled with skinheads in
the course of research. "Some are very intelligent and wanted out of their gang,
others were firmly entrenched. I formed a more complex view of some of them, and it was
hard not to like a few...there were stories of broken homes and fancy dreams..."
One day in a pinball parlour, Wright met a girl from a gang, who ended up telling him
her life story, "over many coffees and many hours. I never saw her again." But
he based the film's character of Gabe (played by Jacqueline McKenzie) on that girl.
Gabe is something of a catalyst, coming into the gang at first as Hando's lover,
leading them to a wealthy home for a robbery, with Hando eventually kicking her out,
taking Davey (the late Daniel Pollock), Hando's sidekick, with her. Gabe's story,
interwoven with the gang's, becomes more important as her love for Davey overpowers Hando
and his destructive force.
Here is Wright's moral point of view: and again, more directly, when he has one of his
female characters predict the gang's ultimate demise in the none-too-vague language of the
milieu: "You're all fucked!"
Wright's movie education began when he was 17 and convalescing after an operation. For
six months he watched movies on television, acquiring an appreciation for a film's many
elements, from lighting to camera angles.
He got so interested he even turned the volume off so he could watch the edits without
"People can say anything: it's actions that
count." Wright on his characters
"I love to be challenged about the film," he says vigorously, his round
spectacles giving him an air of earnest enthusiasm. "I like a bit of a debate and I'm
confident of holding my own."
For Wright, "people can say anything: it's actions that count." Which is why
he has his characters defined by what they do, not by what they say.
His producer believes that Romper Stomper is a social comment "on any group of
people living together. It's the story of the world...listen, my parents had to leave
Germany 30 years ago..." Scharf says poignantly.
"The thrill of speeding cars" on Metal Skin
Wright's next film again deals with "people resorting to external solutions for
internal probelms; this time, it's petrol heads in Melbourne's Western Suburbs. A bunch of
characters who approach the thrill of speeding cars from four different directions."
The film, originally called Speed, has been re-titled to Metal Skin (avoiding conflict
with the US film, Speed).