"Gallipoli" (Peter Weir, 1981) Two Australian business men, Robert Stigwood (the man behind the "Bee Gees" phenomenon and flush with money and influence) and Rupert Murdoch, owner of some of the Australian and British tabloids, who would parlay his fortune into acquiring 20th Century Fox Company and turning it into his News Corp., took a chance funding this anti-war film about one of Australia's saddest hours, written and directed by the brightest light in the New Wave of Australian cinema.
As was the case with quite a bit of the Aussie cinema, it seemed like a cross of genres, between British kitchen-sink and the American Western, and its main narrative thrust—of two champion runners from different planks of society who seek their destiny in the Armed Forces—provided an opportunity to present Australia circa 1915 to the world at large. At this point in his career, Weir still had a jarring crutch or two: his use of electronic music—in this case, Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre* —for the running sequences seems a bit too modernistic for a period piece although the pace is certainly suggested by the bouncy piece of techno.
The two Aussie's, Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson) compete in a foot-race with Archy just beating him for, and the two strike up a friendship. Archy wants to join the military's Horse Brigade and do his part in the War effort. Frank decides to try his luck, too, anything being better than his railroad job.
The film follows their paths, diverging and re-joining to the Australian-New Zealand front with the ANZAC** at Gallipoli, where the two men trying to make their mark are just two cogs in the war machine, and where contingency is determiner of life and death. In the confusion and bluster of the battlefield, one is lucky if Fate is allowed into the mix. It's a damning film about the value of worth, and the total lack of morality on the battlefield. Unclouded by politics, staying in the trenches amongst the mud and fog of war, Weir brings the film to a close with a single solitary image in freeze-frame, which wraps up his themes and reverberates in its implications. With this one film, Weir started to remove the ambiguities of his earlier films, and became much more assured as a film-maker.
ANZAC Day, commemorating the landing of the Australian-NewZealand forces at Gallipoli, is celebrated as a national holiday each April 25th.
*He's the son of future Weir composer Maurice Jarre, who wrote the scores for David Lean's last films, including "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago."
**The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps