Okay, so this 55-minute mash-up film might just be the greatest bloody thing to come out of Australia since Chris Hemsworth and the cheesymite scroll.
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (better known as the ACMI) and The Ian Potter Cultural Trust recently commissioned internationally acclaimed Australian sample art collective Soda_Jerk as the third recipient of the Ian Potter Moving Image Commission (IPMIC), a ten-year, biennial program providing $100,000 for the creation of new works by mid-career Australian artists – and the most significant moving image commission in the country. [The Ian Potter Cultural Trust withdrew their support this week – ed]
The result – Terror Nullius by Soda_Jerk – is made up of countless spliced together samples of iconic Australian films, political speeches and modern Aussie pop-cultural references to create a part-political satire, eco-horror, and road movie.
Terror Nullius is one hell of a ride into the dark heart of Australia; a blistering, badly behaved sample-based film that “confronts the horror of our contemporary moment,” says Soda_Jerk themselves. This is a rogue remapping of national mythology, where a misogynistic remark is met with the sharp beak of a native bird, feminist bike gangs rampaging, a woke Skippy and bicentenary celebrations ravaged by flesh-eating sheep. Ultimately, Terror Nullius intricately remixes fragments of Australia’s pop culture and film legacy “to interrogate the unstable entanglement of fiction that underpins this country’s vexed sense of self.”
For those that don’t know all that much (if anything) about Soda_Jerk, this two-person art collective formed in 2002 approaches sampling as a form of “rogue historiography”. Working at the intersection of documentary and speculative fiction, their archival practice takes the form of films, video installations, cut-up texts and lecture performances. And Terror Nullius may just be the perfect embodiment of that philosophy.
The film features a veritable cavalcade of Australian cinema royalty including: Romper Stomper, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Mad Max (original and Fury Road), Muriel’s Wedding, Crocodile Dundee, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Red Dog, even some snippets from Crocodile Hunter episodes.
Soda_Jerk takes these samples, and pastes them into a three-act narrative, swapping out some dialogue for famous Australian political speeches from John Howard, Pauline Hanson and Tony Abbott, and cleverly blending them with local pop-cultural references such as The Babadook, stand-up comedy moments from Josh Thomas and a doof-averting, woke-feminist Skippy the Bush Kangaroo – there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
While definitely hilarious, the film raises and comments on a number of hot-button Australian political issues such as black history, LGBTQI marriage and so on in a way that relates to the kids. For example, you won’t see a Mad Max fortresses with a Woomera Detention Centre sign shopped on it and asylum seeking characters from Romper Stomper going up against the feral gangs (here made up of Pauline Hanson and Angry Anderson) while the head-feral monologue is dubbed with John Howard’s infamous 2001 “We will decide who comes to this country” speech, anywhere else. That’s bloody good content any way you slice it.
The editing is clever and at times, deliberately shoddy; superimposing modern Aussie celebs such as Shazza from TV show Housos and comedians Hannah Gadsby and Meshel Laurie into national films that are more than 40 years old for example, gives the film a kitschy, meme-afied charm.
The sheer volume of content alone would have been a daunting enough challenge for Soda_Jerk to work with and edit through, much less creating some kind of followable narrative from it. But somehow, the pair manage to pull together an ocean of very different cinematic and political variables into one cohesive piece – an exceptional achievement in itself – in a wonderfully witty and satirical way.
Terror Nullius is layered – so much so that you can actually hear Year 12 English Teachers champing at the bit to use the film as their HSC text on symbolism and mis-en-scene. And to be fair, it probably would make an amazing essay on the subject. Here, Soda_Jerk uses a very intelligent (and completely bonkers) mixture of reality and fiction to comment on some of Australia’s most divisive national issues, with a highly intelligent, decidedly leftist skew – and it’s bloody brilliant.
Ultimately, the film is a total corker. It’s like the visual equivalent of a Girl Talk album and a Vaporwave Facebook page combined – which brings me to my next point. Sure, if you’re over the age of 40, you will get something from this film. It references Australian cinema and political happenings that are decades old, so you’ll totally make the intended connections and editorialised comments. However, Terror Nullius is very much a Millennials’ film communicating almost entirely in post-ironic language, where the entire 55-mins is basically one big string of obscure memes. So, if you don’t know who the ‘salty italian man’ is, or you have never considered eating a detergent pod, then you might not ‘get’ the film entirely. Though the way it’s communicated might go over some heads of the older generations, the iconography of the content itself means you’ll still have a whale of a time watching it.
Terror Nullius is hilariously insightful, politically valuable, culturally brutal and is more hyper-Aussie than Paul Hogan riding a crocodile in a river of VB, rubbing vegemite on his nipples. A must-see for any Aussie and Australian film aficionados.