Tuesday 10 September 2013

The Cars That Ate Paris - Guest Review

Meals On Wheels

It been about 26 years, at time of writing this intro, that I’ve known @CultoftheCinema. He’s one of those few friends who I can actually talk to about movies and get a halfway intelligent answer on a whole range of celluloid history, although his biggest specialist interests would have to be the Spaghetti Western genre and the films of Hammer studios.

When he told me that he was going to take a crack at writing a movie review and would I like to see it, I immediately answered yes and, a few weeks later, the review you are about to read appeared on my iphone. Since the film he chose to review, The Cars That Ate Paris, is not a film I think all that much of, I was only too happy to offer him a guest spot reviewing it here... knowing it’s not a movie I would probably bother to rewatch in my lifetime and therefore would probably never be reviewed here but for the intervention of a “guest reviewer”..

So here’s his first blog review. Making his debut at NUTS4R2, please welcome @CultoftheCinema...

The Cars That Ate Paris
1974 Australia
Directed by Peter Weir

Warning: Spoilers driving at ya!

The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) was a film I first saw in the early days of Channel 4’s UK debut, way back in the 1980s. The movie became a regular fixture on Channel 4’s late night movie offerings before disappearing from their schedules a few years later.

I, in my wisdom, recorded the movie onto VHS tape and watched it at the time. The impression it left me was haunting, a little mystifying and with this urge to try and understand the meaning behind what I had just viewed. This was a film that needed re-watching one day.

As time went by I placed this movie in my ‘I have seen it list’ and thought little more about it until I came across a copy of it on DVD a short while ago.

The cover was the same as the poster artwork I had seen in books and on the Internet, a plus for me as I love movie posters. It was not too expensive to purchase and it was also in the right aspect ratio, which is a good thing as I have not viewed The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) on the silver screen at all.

The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) is directed by Peter Weir, an Australian director who went on to direct Picnic At Hanging Rock (1978) and Witness (1985) among others. The story is set in a New South Wales town called Paris, whose inhabitants regularly cause automobile accidents, subsequently salvaging the wrecks and burying the dead bodies in their overflowing cemetery. Any surviving people are sent to the local hospital where a slightly insane doctor (Kevin Miles) preforms surgery techniques before placing his ‘experiments’ in a special ward. Into this bizarre world comes two brothers (Rick Scully and Terry Camilleri) who come to town on the look out for work and are subjected to the same treatment as all the other outsiders.

The younger brother (Camilleri) survives and is taken under the wing of the Mayor of Paris (John Meillon) who adopts him as his ‘son’ along with his adopted ‘daughters’ and ‘wife’. The younger brother is not allowed to leave the town.

The town is patrolled by the ‘Youth’, who ride around in fast rally cars scaring the locals and causing mayhem, while the towns established leaders put all this wanton trouble down to excitable youthful urges. You then begin to wonder who is running the town - The Mayor and his established ruling group, or the demented youth who are never actually seen, but are present via their loud cars.

In the middle of all this is the surviving brother who only wants to leave... but circumstance and the over-bearing Mayor just seem to have a hold on him.

The ending, which I will not give away, is a logical progression, with every piece of the scenario in place. The ending works very well and the moralistic stance echoes through the finale... you reap what you sow and the adults set examples for their youth to follow.

For a film I had not watched in many years, I felt transported back to when I first watched the recording on VHS. Having watched a lot more Australian movies over the last few years and being immersed in their Ozpoliotation strand of cinema, I have tried to better understand Australian culture.

The Cars That Ate Paris was made at a time of economic strife in Australia. I have asked friends who were around there at the time and discovered that there were miners strikes, rising prices etc. This is nothing new globally and it seems to echo strongly in The Cars That Ate Paris that, economically, the townspeople barter car parts for food and essentials. The surviving drivers and passengers are experimented on, which keeps the hospital busy, so the notion of re-cycling any and everything to survive is paramount in their lives. This idea is more obvious in Mad Max (1979) and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) where commodities like petrol and water are so valuable you would actually kill to possess them!

The macabre has always held for me elements of black humour, something I appreciate and feel little guilt about enjoying, in serious or not so serious situations. The townspeople in Paris seem so certain of their action that you can only laugh at their traits and motivations towards outsiders. Humour is always a good counterpoint to horrible situations, it makes what you see more bearable.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, after all these years and have had time to compare what I felt about it many years ago to my most recent screening on DVD. The dark humour and horror combined make this film worth several viewings and as an essay in Australian’s economic situation I had more of an understanding of what I saw historically.

I would recommend The Cars That Ate Paris as a good insight into Australian movies and an interesting example of an original story idea well translated onto the cinema screen.

A bit of Film Trivia - Bruce Spence, who plays the towns eccentric mechanic also plays the Autogyro Pilot in Mad Max 2.

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