Friday, March 9, 2012

Australia's Rich and Revolting Criminal History

You wouldn't know it from watching bland Aussie movies such as Australia or The Man From Snowy River, but the Land Down Under has a rich and gloriously revolting history of true crime.

If you've seen the recent Animal Kingdom, The Boys, Snowtown, or the Blue Murder miniseries, you'll have some sense of the convict colony's lurid past and present. If any of the above have moistened your appetite for Aussie vice, I suggest you line up for these unbelievably lurid, stark, and graphic accounts of dozens of hideous, fascinating crimes.

Originally produced for network TV and the Aussie equivalent of America's Investigation ID, and hosted by a well known ex-'60 Minutes' journalist, these recreations of crimes that shook the Land Down Under caused considerable controversy for their graphic nature and upset more than a few victim' families and friends.

Personally, I think the series is a revelation, probably the best snapshot ever of a country's history of criminal behavior. A country under the Queen, mind you!

My problem with the recent feature film Snowtown (which I did like, by the way, and have reviewed here) was that it avoided key events of the crimes themselves and neglected to address the 'Bodies in the Barrels' aspect of the case. Fortunately, CIA's (Crime Investigation Australia) take on the case (made before the Snowtown film) leaves no stone unturned and captures the lurid "thrill" of murder the killers experienced. And this is the key to the series' success.

CIA doesn't whitewash its cases or spare us the gory details. It also does an excellent job of conveying the sweet juice of vice that criminals become addicted to. It is this  approach that, I feel, offends so many people. Producer Graham McNeice and director Gary Deans are to be congratulated for delivering a balls-to-the-wall true crime series that brutally injects us into frightening macro worlds of terror, lust, greed, racism, misogyny, and bigotry.  This is awfully scary stuff. 

Snowtown isn't the only story recently given both the CIA and feature treatment. The above disk contains a crime known in Australia as 'The Anita Cobby Murder'. Cobby was taken from a train station and brutally raped and murdered by three brothers. This episode can be watched in conjunction with Rowan Woods' powerful The Boys as, narratively, it is a sequel. The events of The Boys (one of the greatest crime dramas ever made) occur prior to the rape of Cobby. Woods' film ends with the brothers watching Cobby from their car. 

There is no reason for any horror, drama, or true crime fan to not have these in his or her collection. They are the duck's guts! For reasons unfathomable to me, the DVD's are particularly difficult to acquire and appear to have had very limited pressings in Australia. Only recently did I finally get my hands on the five disks comprising Volume I; there are three volumes so far.  

Ebay is a good place to start you're search for these if you're not living in Australia; even if you are living Australia, you'll have a tough time finding the first two volumes in stores. On a recent trip, I turned up empty-handed, but I did manage to pick up the just-released third volume.    

I can not overstate the value of this series to anybody interested in the human mind or curious about a side of the Australian psyche not often seen beyond its shores.

Australians do have a peculiar relationship with their criminals. Having virtually canonized bushranger killer 'Ned Kelly' in a series of films and a couple of TV manifestations, the public have recently lined up at pubs to hear the real Chopper Read ruminate on his life of crime. The likable Chopper, whose antics were immortalized in the film of the same name, maintains a healthy profile in Melbourne, and can be seen judging film festivals or making guest appearances at art openings. 

The Crime Investigation Australia series is bloody pulp perfection. 

Get a big motherfucking load of it. 

These discs are PAL, so you'll need a multi-system DVD player to view them.
If you haven't already invested in a multi-zone Blu-Ray and DVD player,
you're crazier than Mark David Chapman.

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