Australian Screen

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Idiot Box (1996)

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clip 'The young and the bloody useless' education content clip 2

Original classification rating: MA. This clip chosen to be M

Clip description

Lani (Robyn Loau), the bottle shop girl, stops Mick (Jeremy Sims) as he leaves the pub. They discuss poetry, which is Mick’s hobby. Lani’s brother wants to know who she’s talking to. At the Punchbowl bank, two detectives (Graeme Blundell and Deborah Kennedy) try to work out how to catch the robbers. Kev’s mother (Amanda Muggleton) watches a discussion about media violence.

Curator’s notes

The film has a complex and layered sound design that carries a lot of the meaning. Apart from the all-Australian music soundtrack, it features excerpts of old television shows that are familiar to people who grew up watching Australian TV in the 1970s and 80s. The scene of the cops in the bank is partly a satirical joke about old cop shows. Televisions are present in the background of many of the scenes, providing a refuge from silence. There’s almost no silence in these characters’ lives – and nor do they want any. Silence is threatening for them.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Mick (Jeremy Sims) talking to Lani (Robyn Loau), who works in a bottle shop, about poetry. After Mick leaves the bottle shop, Lani’s brother appears and asks who Mick is. The clip then shows two police detectives (Graeme Blundell and Deborah Kennedy) in a suburban bank where it is believed a robbery may take place. It then cuts to Mick at the house of his mate Kev, where Kev’s mother (Amanda Muggleton) is watching a television program about youth and violence in the media. She tells Mick it is about him and Kev – 'the young and the bloody useless’. The clip ends with a sequence that shows Kev (Ben Mendelsohn) and Mick arguing over who is playing air bass, then shadow-boxing in the street, and finally in line at a fast-food shop where Kev harasses a young woman.

Educational value points

  • Writer–director David Caesar said in an interview with Mark Mordue that Idiot Box is about how 'working class men are becoming increasingly redundant. They always had spaces for their heroism in the past, whether it was droving or the bush, or their labour to support their family. The energy and aggression could be a positive – but it’s a major negative now’ (Mordue, 'An interview with David Caesar’, Idiot Box – The Press Kit, 1997).
  • Caesar said that in Idiot Box he wanted to create 'a sense that these people are bombarded by information and music and images all the time’. The layered nature of the soundtrack creates a feeling of agitation that mirrors Kev and Mick’s state of mind and this is matched by a camera that Mordue describes as 'always jumping around and moving, adding tension’. Caesar says he deliberately made the editing noticeable with quick, almost abrupt cuts, to give the impression 'of randomly flicking on [television] stations and coming in hard on things’.
  • Idiot Box makes continual references to television. The way in which the detectives discuss the criminal’s modus operandi recalls classic Australian police dramas such as Homicide, Division 4 and Matlock Police, while the comment by Kev’s mother – 'the young and the bloody useless’ – plays on the name of the US television serial The Young and the Restless.
  • The characters in Idiot Box explore the question of what is poetry. Definitions of poetry have long been contested. Mandy Tunica in For the Love of Poetry, says, 'Provisionally, we can say that poetry is an aesthetic experience which works mainly through our emotions, sensory experiences and imaginative perceptions … always, however, the quality of the poetry plays a large part in determining the intensity of our response’ (Primary English Teaching Association, 1995).
  • The film challenges stereotypical notions of what makes a poet, suggesting that poetry is not just the preserve of the literary establishment, and that any working-class youth such as Mick can also be a poet. In the media kit notes that accompanied the release of Idiot Box, Sims said of his character Mick that while Kev gets angry and lashes out, 'Mick translates it into a wash of disdain in his poetry’.
  • Ben Mendelsohn is a leading Australian actor who has appeared in television, film and theatre. Mendelsohn was a teenager when he was cast as Trevor in The Year My Voice Broke (1986), a role that won him the Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award for Best Supporting Actor. His film credits include The Big Steal (1989), Nirvana Street Murder (1990), Spotswood (1991), Metal Skin (1994), Cosi (1995), True Love and Chaos (1997) and Amy (1998). Mendelsohn was nominated for an AFI Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Eddie in David Caesar’s Mullet (2000).
  • The role of Mick in Idiot Box was Jeremy Sims’s first lead role in a feature film. Sims graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in 1990, and in the following year was cast in the risqué television serial Chances. He gained a reputation as one of Australia’s leading theatre actors, but has also worked in theatre as a director and producer. In 1995 he set up Pork Chop Productions, which has focused on independent theatre. In 2006 he made his film-directing debut with Last Train to Freo.
  • Idiot Box is the second feature film directed by David Caesar, who made several acclaimed documentaries after graduating from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, including Living Room (1988), about life in the suburbs, and Body Work (1988), about the funeral industry. Both films won Best Documentary at the Melbourne Film Festival in consecutive years. His feature films, including Greenkeeping (1992), Mullet (2000) and Dirty Deeds (2002), have tended to focus on ordinary characters in everyday settings and to explore the dilemmas facing the contemporary Australian male. Caesar has also written and directed for television.

This clip starts approximately 1 hour 14 minutes into the feature.

Mick is walking along the footpath by the bottle shop. Lani, the shopkeeper, calls out as he walks past.
Lani Hey! You got that ten cents?
Mick slaps his hands against his pockets to indicate that they are empty.
Lani Doesn’t matter.
Mick You don’t want it? What do you reckon a poem is?
Lani Poem?
Mick Yeah. How would you explain what one was?
Lani I don’t know. When something rhymes.
Mick I reckon if you say something’s a poem, then it is.
Lani Anything?
Mick Yeah. Yeah, you just say, ‘This is a poem,’ then it is.
Lani But what if it’s bad?
Mick Then it’s a bad poem.
Lani Well, I think if you say something’s a poem and you didn’t mean it to be then, you’re a wanker.
Mick (laughs) Do you reckon?
Lani Mm hmm.
Mick I’ll get you the money.
Mick begins to walk away, and then stops.
Mick What’s your name?
Lani Lani.
Mick I’m Mick.
Mick leaves. Lani’s brother approaches.
Brother Who’s that?
Lani What are you doing here?
Brother Who was he?
Lani What’s it to you?
Brother Dad said I gotta look after ya, keep an eye on ya.
Lani Well, you can go home and tell Dad that I can look after myself.
Lani’s brother leaves.

Two detectives walk through the bank that has been robbed.
Detective 1 MO’s always the same. Quiet suburban branch, never more than two tellers, street frontage. Never in a shopping centre. And always on Thursday morning after the money for the pensioners’ payouts come in.
Detective 2 Six weeks apart.
Detective 1 Yeah. Can’t be too many more left like this.
Detective 2 We’re gonna get this bastard.

Mrs M is watching a television show about violence in the media.
Lady on TV We’re saying it’s fun, it’s exciting, entertain yourself with violence. So if they watch violent cartoons, if they watch violent drama, if they watch a lot of violent news …
Man What are you watching, Mrs M?
Mrs M A show about you and Kev — the young and the bloody useless.

Mick and Kevin are listening to loud rock music. They are pretending to play guitars.
Kevin What are you doing?
Mick I’m playing bass!
Kevin I’m playing bass!
Mick You’re not playing bass, you’re fuckin’ playing your dick!
The rock song plays as the men fight playfully.

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  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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