by Nick Moore
Nick Moore's Feral is a seven-minute short film made entirely of found footage from moving image material produced in Melbourne. It is a rapid montage of feral intrusions into urban order sourced from Melbourne’s rich moving image history. This film will be a cavalcade of joyous, mischievous, invisible, unavoidable and plainly horrific moments. It will bear witness to humans submitting to all manner of inner urges and casting off constraints in dozens of familiar and unfamiliar scenarios. In the built environment, the only true feral is the human gone wild. This is part of a larger research-based film work on the city in cinema.
My starting point is an understanding that a feral animal is a domesticated animal gone wild in the bush. The specific area of research I wish to build expertise in is film and TV made in or about Melbourne’s built environment. Because the built environment is a landscape occupied and transformed for the use of humans, this precludes feral animals. In a human-dominated domesticated environment, the only feral is a human who goes wild.
This piece is a fast and dense introduction to humans submitting to all manner of inner urges and casting off constraints in dozens of familiar and unfamiliar scenarios.
There are joyous celebrations; such as Malcolm’s morning tram adventure, AC/DC’s traffic stopping cruise down Swanston Street and Nick the Stripper’s attempted bacchanal on St Kilda beach. There is also the plainly unpleasant violence of Two Dollars; the seemingly jubilant brawls of televised footy and the serene menace of Romper Stomper. And insiders do not only pose a risk to outsiders; they also put themselves at risk. For example: David’s unwelcome entry into the restaurant in Shine, the underwear-clad escapees of the Underdaks ads and Harry on the bridge in Angel Baby. And let’s not forget the self-destructive of Dumb Ways to Die (game).
Many of the incidents in film and TV that I expected to depend on for this work I didn’t include at all. Javo’s drug influenced intrusion into Nora’s lounge room in Monkey Grip didn’t seem that much of a transgression for the morality of the society depicted in the film. The moment of mischief when the young Sullivan kids break into a neighbour’s yard is too tempered with caution to be truly feral. The Dogs in Space party scene where they gather in the street around the burning TV is more a calm satire of suburban life than a departure from it. Others I didn’t include because they seemed more closely connected with criminality then humans going wild: street dealing in Pure Shit, the police coercion in Redball and a fruitless attempt to escape a calm dawn arrest in Homicide (TV). The omission of Mad Max needs justification. I had considered including a portion of the scene where the police loose control (Goose attacking Johnny the Boy outside the Hall of Justice and so on), but predominately what is feral in Mad Max takes place in landscape and not in cityscape. I learnt that I consider the film in the non-urban tradition exemplified by The Cars That Ate Paris and Wake in Fright and it was therefore not a ‘good’ example of feral humans in Melbourne’s built environment.
However, the most interesting discovery I made was just how gendered the depictions of feral activity have been. Perhaps it’s unsurprising; women are permitted to be feral far less often, in fewer ways and mostly in relation to men. This can been seen in the screaming pursuers of Alvin Purple, the domesticated cyclist in The Pushbike Song (music video) and the joyous nocturnal bridge-jumper in Holidays on the River Yarra. One might hope that the incarcerated Frankie smashing plates and overturning furniture reverses this trend. Sadly it doesn’t; especially because within the mostly female world of Prisoner (TV) she occupies the position of the violent anti-social force that might otherwise be reserved for young men. My piece does not propose an intrinsic difference between female and male expressions of the feral, but it does identify that excessive displays of desire for men are the prevailing feral outlet allowed to women in the selected films. Clearly this bears further investigation and deeper analysis.
An area where this piece also points to a fresh field of potential research is depictions of mental illness. The segment on ‘not fitting in’ forms a preliminary investigation into this area and the intention is to indicate that, very often, feral behaviour is characterised as not just outside social boundaries, but also outside what is considered ‘sane’. In addition, the piece shows that “not fitting in” through feral behaviour is frequently used as a signifier of mental illness in film. Lastly, we all need reminding that feral behaviour should be viewed from its own perspective. The segment sketched out these aims in the tone of the piece and I accept that it might be considered inadequate to include suicidal behaviour within even this piece’s stretched definition of ‘feral’. This section is a pointer to a complexity within portrayals of the feral.
Research into the depiction of humans acting wild in the built environment is just beginning and I’m confident that this collection of clips, rich and diverse as it is, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Making this piece has been a pleasing activity for me for three reasons: (1) the theme corresponds with my slightly feral found-footage methodology, (2) I am excited to research representations of Melbourne in the moving image and (3) I have always found the idea of themed compendiums rather satisfying. It is my hope that, in following these impulses, I have strung these pieces together into a coherent film, indicated areas of prospective further research and, most importantly for a live journal, entertained an audience.