The film The Turning based on the short stories of the same name by Tim Winton is a courageous collection of 18 films independently made by 17 different directors. Curated, or collated, by Robert Connolly the film is currently being marketed as ‘an event’ with a short run in 16 selected cinemas across Australia.
As a fan of Winton’s work, and a cinema lover, my interest in seeing this production was immediately piqued. I was intrigued to see how each ‘mini production ‘ would translate each of Winton’s stories on to the big screen.
Here are some of my thoughts:
I liked the individual approach and interpretation of each story; it makes for unique and dynamic filmmaking. However, I thought that this individuality was at times detrimental to the overall continuity of the original stories. Thankfully you get a lovely glossy book, along with the price of your ticket, that gives you pictures of the reoccurring characters so you can keep abreast of them as they are played by varying actors or varying ages throughout the 18 films. There is also a timeline of the Lang family and of the characters Frank and Max to also help you track their movements.
As always, the old debate over what is better the novel or the film interpretation, is bound to take place with this production. In some ways it is better to view them as two separate entities. The Winton stories certainly have more depth, for example the story also named ‘The Turning’ (written and directed by Claire McCarthy) whilst touching on the raw brutality of Max it by no means conveyed the visceral, edgy tension that Rae endured and that their daughters observed in the original. Nor is the side story of Rae’s friendship with born-again Christians Sherry and Dan as fully explored. I remember vividly reading this story and feeling a level of unease throughout as the plot built to the climatic explosion of Max, but what also resonated far more was the two daughters who were silent witnesses to this domestic violence. I would have loved for the story to be shown through their eyes.
Another positive is that the films all convey the same core concepts or emotions that Winton portrays: family breakdown, loss, failure, love, heartache, coming of age, aging, redemption, pain, consequences etc. Winton is a master at capturing the Australian psyche and landscape and these films do merit to that.
The opening and closing film ‘Ash Wednesday’ by Marieka Walsh is a wonderfully animated interpretation of the poem Ash Wednesday by T.S. Eliot that prefaces the collection’s main themes and ideas perfectly.
Other films that most resonated with me were: ‘Aquifer’ directed by Robert Connolly and written by Justin Monjo. Callan Mulvey’s portrayal of the High School Music Teacher, unlocking the mystery of his youth in the swampland, was captivating and heart-breaking. ‘Cockleshell’ directed by Tony Ayers and written by Marcel Dorney for conveying the sometimes awkwardness of teen-love as well as the underlying tension of Agnes’ fractured home life. And, ‘Commission’ written and directed by David Wenham. Aside from a stellar performance by Hugo Weaving as Bob Lang this film captures the essence of Winton’s story and shows how we all face our own battles sometimes needing to find isolation or a private Idaho to escape whilst also depicting the power of family and love.
The humour in ‘Long, clear view’, written and directed by Mia Wasikowska, comes from a wonderfully, almost whimsical, portrait of the peculiar Vic Lang (Matthew Shanley) whilst ‘Sand’ written by Justin Monjo and directed by Stephen Page coveys the sibling rivalry, and establishes the toxic nature of Max with chilling clarity. It is beautifully filmed, with the sand certainly being the focal point.
At three hours long (there is a timely intermission) The Turning is an audacious and unique idea overall and whether you love it or hate it, or are somewhat bemused in between, you can’t help but admire Connolly’s guts in taking this on. As mentioned, it may not suit Winton purists but it is a wonderful Australian cinema experience nonetheless.