Crocodile Dundee: 'You can't take my photograph'
At a bush camp, Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) is at first spooked by the quiet arrival of an Aboriginal man in face paint. Mick (Paul Hogan) introduces Neville (David Gulpilil), a 'real city-boy’, and then goes with him to a corroboree. Sue disregards Mick’s clear instruction not to follow, but she is shocked to discover he can sense her presence.
Summary by Paul Byrnes.
This is a fascinating scene for its cultural complexities. It reveals Mick as an initiated member of the Pitjantjatjara tribe (even though their traditional lands are a long way from Arnhem Land); it suggests that skin colour is no indicator of Aboriginality, a view that many Aborigines would endorse. It makes fun of traditional white misunderstandings and cultural taboos ('You think it will steal your spirit?’) but makes clear that such taboos exist and must be respected (when Sue raises, then lowers, her camera). There is also the idea that cities corrupt black men like Neville, who has lost touch with some of his culture (although when we see him dancing later, this seems to play against that idea).
Crocodile Dundee synopsis
A glamorous American reporter, Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski), goes to the Northern Territory to interview a man who survived a crocodile attack. Michael J 'Crocodile’ Dundee (Paul Hogan) charms her with his bushman’s humour and toughness. He is both more complex and more mysterious than she expects. She invites him to New York, a city that expands his horizons and tests his survival skills.
Crocodile Dundee Curator's notes
Crocodile Dundee is not just the most commercially successful Australian film ever made, it is one of the most successful non-Hollywood films of all time. The reasons for its success are complex. Paul Hogan was already a well-established star of television comedy in Australia, but he was also becoming well-known in the US, because of an extraordinarily successful tourism campaign in 1984.
For most Americans, before the movie came out, Hogan was that funny Aussie bloke who told them he’d 'put another shrimp on the barbie’ if they visited Australia. In a sense the movie is a continuation of the campaign. The first half of the movie showcases both the beauty of the Northern Territory and the cultural quaintness of the Territorians. John Meillon’s character, Wally, acts as Sue Charlton’s guide to this odd, but friendly, masculine world. Wally knows about the rest of the world and tries to spin her the kind of yarn he thinks she wants, for her news magazine. Mick Dundee, though less worldly, is also more truthful, capable of telling tall stories himself, which often turn out to be true.
The film both constructs and deconstructs an idea of Australian masculinity. That is one of the main preoccupations of Australian cinema, going back to the silent era – but few films have done it so cleverly, or with so many layers. Mick Dundee is all things to all people – self-made man, tough guy, bush philosopher, romantic lead, old-fashioned knight, defender of women, tamer of wild animals, and wandering free spirit. As a pioneer frontiersman, he appeals specifically to the foundation mythologies of both Americans and Australians – but he goes further, as a fully initiated member of an Aboriginal clan. Indeed, he’s 'blacker’ than some other members of his clan, notably his mate Neville (David Gulpilil), who’s described as a real city boy who finds his cultural obligations 'a drag’.
The film’s attitudes to colour and Aboriginality are central to its meaning and preoccupations. Far from being 'unpolitical’, Mick has firm views about the question of land rights, as 'two fleas fighting over the same dog’. In New York, his reactions to and interactions with people of colour are a clue to the film’s awareness of American unease with issues of race. The film’s most famous joke – 'That’s not a knife’ – is a gesture to mainstream anxiety about both New York and young black men. The fact that Mick is saved from a beating by Gus the chauffeur, another black male, is no accident. The film is constantly creating 'solidarities’ across cultural, or colour, lines.
The cementing of a sense of community between Australians and Americans is what Hogan’s tourism advertisements also set out to do. Crocodile Dundee continued that process, in spectacularly successful and non-threatening fashion. The debate about whether that was an act of cultural assertion, as many Australians believed, or the ultimate demonstration of Australian subservience, is still going on.
Notes by Paul Byrnes
This clip shows a night scene with Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) and Mick 'Crocodile’ Dundee (Paul Hogan) at their campsite. Neville Bell (David Gulpilil) appears through the trees wearing face and body paint. It is revealed that Neville is an Aboriginal mate of Mick’s and is reluctantly on his way to a corroboree. Mick decides to follow Neville to the corroboree, leaving Sue behind. Sue defies Mick’s warning that women are forbidden and approaches the corroboree with her camera, but quickly retreats when Mick senses her presence and catches her eye.
Educational value points
- Crocodile Dundee was a highly successful film that was released in 1986 and made on a budget of $9 million. The film is the most commercially successful Australian film ever made, with Australian box office sales totalling almost $48 million. In its year of release the film was the second-highest grossing film in the USA and went on to become the most financially successful film worldwide to that date, earning $328 million. The film was funded by Hogan and business partner John Cornell, as well as a large group of private investors that included most of the cast.
- Crocodile Dundee is primarily a love story with universal appeal but a distinctively Australian bush setting that made the most of the grandeur of the Australian north. The inclusion of Indigenous Australian characters and subject matter provided international audiences with a novel ingredient in the film and the Indigenous Australian content was dealt with in a non-stereotypical way and with gentle humour. The result was a film that resonated with audiences around the world.
- Cultural stereotypes are challenged or reversed in this clip. Mick, who is not an Indigenous Australian, is presented as an initiated member of the Pitjantjatjara and takes part in a corroboree. He is completely at home in the bush, as indicated by his ability to run through it at night and silently creep up on Neville. Neville, on the other hand, who is Indigenous, is presented as a 'real city boy’, uncomfortable in the bush, who finds his obligations to participate in a corroboree 'a bloody drag’.
- Crocodile Dundee uses humour to undermine assumptions about Indigenous Australian behaviours and beliefs. Sue’s assumption that Neville does not want his picture taken because of a belief that his spirit will be taken away is undermined when Neville explains she cannot take his picture because the lens cap is still on. Neville’s face and body paint are in contrast with his highly visible wristwatch. Mick’s respectful overestimation of Neville’s ease in the bush is likewise undermined by the sound of Neville cursing as he stubs his toe in the dark.
- The film is geographically inaccurate in placing a Pitjantjatjara corroboree far north of their traditional country. Pitjantjatjara country lies in the eastern Western Desert, where the borders of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory meet. Interestingly, the film is set in Arnhem Land in the north-east of the Northern Territory, home to the Yolngu people (including David Gulpilil). It is possible that the script included Pitjantjatjara due to their unprecedented success with land claims over the sacred sites of Uluru and Kata Tjuta that had attracted widespread publicity in the lead-up to the production of the film and provided one of the few Indigenous Australian tribal names that audiences may have known.
- This clip includes a re-creation of a corroboree, a general term used to describe a range of Indigenous Australian song and dance ceremonies that can be sacred or non-sacred, formal or informal. A corroboree can be held for different purposes such as trading, passing on sacred knowledge and initiation rituals. Different language groups differentiate between the various types of ceremonies and rituals and do not necessarily refer to them as corroborees. This depiction shows a men-only ceremony with music provided by clap sticks and didgeridoo.
- Well-known Indigenous Australian actor David Gulpilil is featured in the role of Neville Bell. David Gulpilil made his debut appearance in Walkabout (1971) and went on to act in a number of other films, including Storm Boy (1976), Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) and most recently Ten Canoes (2006). Despite the fact that Crocodile Dundee grossed record earnings at the box office, David Gulpilil was reported to have been paid only $10,000. Underpayment and lack of recognition continue to be problems among Indigenous Australian actors and artists.
- Popular comedian and actor Paul Hogan is shown in the role of Mick 'Crocodile’ Dundee. Before Paul Hogan wrote and appeared in Crocodile Dundee he had a career in Australian television comedy with The Paul Hogan Show and had recently established himself in the USA by featuring in a highly successful tourism campaign. Paul Hogan later developed a number of other film projects including Crocodile Dundee II (1988) and Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001), which had some commercial success but did not receive the international kudos of his first film.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia.
This clip starts approximately 39 minutes into the feature.
Rapidly increasing rhythm sticks underscore the tense music heard. Sue is sitting alone in the bush, looking up tensely at the sound of someone approaching.
Sue Charlton Mick!
Silence. An Indigenous man in face paint appears from behind a tree. Mick Dundee approaches silently behind him and holds a knife to his throat.
Neville Ah, Mick. You frightened shit out of me!
Mick Dundee So I oughta, mate. Sneaking up on a man when he’s rendering first aid to a lady.
Neville Ah. Is that what you were doing?
Mick Ah, nothing to worry about. It’s a mate of mine. Neville Bell, Sue Charlton.
Mick And what are you doing wandering round out here in the scrub, Nev?
Neville I’m on my way to corroboree over at the (inaudible). It’s a bloody drag. But still, my dad get angry if I don’t show up.
Mick See, Nev’s a real city boy, but his dad’s a tribal Elder.
Sue pulls out her camera.
Neville Oh, no, you can’t take my photograph.
Sue I’m sorry – you believe it will take your spirit away?
Neville No, you’ve got lens cap on.
Sue laughs. Neville looks at his watch.
Neville Crikey! Mick, I better get going. Nice to meet you, Sue.
Sue Bye, Nev.
Mick I’ll catch up to you, Nev.
Sue What’s happening?
Mick I better go with Nev and have a chat to the Pitjantjara.
Sue Oh, can I come?
Mick No way. No, women are strictly taboo at these turnouts.
Sue How does he find his way in the dark?
Mick He thinks his way. A lot of people believe that they’re telepathic.
Neville can be heard tripping over a branch.
Neville Ooh! God, I hate the bush.
Sue laughs and Mick runs into the bush as loud, rhythmic corroboree music is heard.
As Mick and a group of Indigenous men perform the corroboree, Sue is crouching in the long grass nearby with her camera. As she zooms in with the lens, she catches Mick’s eye. He gives her a warning look, she lowers the camera and walks away. He smiles. The corroboree continues.