'The picture is an exceedingly interesting one right from the opening scene, where Constable Fitzpatrick arrives with a warrant for the arrest of Dan Kelly, then to the police camp, which is captured by the Kellys, the sticking-up of Younghusband's station, robbing the bank at Euroa, destroying the railway line, and finally to the capture of Ned Kelly in his suit of armour.'
[Source: 'The Story of the Kelly Gang', The Register, 29 December 1906, p.4.]
Published in October 2006 to commemorate the centennial restoration of The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906), this article looks at some historical aspects relating to this landmark Australian film and describes its restoration.
'In this article, I want to historicise the study of Australian film adaptation by concentrating on the Copyright Act 1905, which during the nascent industrialisation of patent and copyright law did not recognise celluloid pictures as matter that could be copyrighted. Consequently, with the Act formed to provide authors greater powers to stop the proliferation of degraded versions of their work, film-makers saw adaptation as a strategy to legally protect their moving pictures from copyright infringements. By concentrating on Australia’s early industry of feature film production, it becomes apparent that through adaptation, and through the ability to copyright film as adaptation, there was a strong incentive in this formative period of Australian film production to adapt popular history tales drawn from the literature. And it was through this 1905 Act that the tradition of Australian adaptation and tradition of adapting historically set works began.
'While such an approach is necessary for this study, which concentrates on ‘lost’ feature films, the idea is to consider all forms and types of past and present adaptation as a way to encourage and advance its study. Here, I hope to gain some sort of understanding of how these literary works were being adapted, and socially consumed by its film-going audiences. This approach does not rely solely on a film’s source of adaptation or any one particular film. Instead, it places it within legal discourses of cinema activities including distribution, exhibition and marketing. By concentrating on the Australian cinema’s dedicated tradition of adaptation, during the silent period of film production, in this article, I will discuss how filmgoers at, and outside of, the cinema were encouraged to engage with feature films as adaptation – and what this culturally meant. In doing this, I hope to establish how Australian film adaptation began as a means to copyright a film from piracy and plagiarism ‘rip offs’.'
'One of Australia’s most notorious outlaws, Ned Kelly lived on the land from the time of his first arrest at age 14, until police captured him and his Kelly gang a decade later in 1880. Immortalized in a series of onscreen productions, he has since become one of the most resilient screen presences in the history of Australian cinema.
'Covering the nine feature films, three miniseries, and two TV movies that have been made about this controversial character, Stephen Gaunson illuminates a central irony: from novels to comics to the branding of the site where he was captured, most cultural representations of Kelly are decidedly lowbrow. But only the films have been condemned for not offering a more serious interpretation of this figure and his historical context. Asking what value we can place on such ‘bad’ historical cinema, Gaunson offers new insights about the textual characteristics of cinematic material and the conditions of film distribution, circulation, and reception.' (Publication summary)
This analysis of The Story of the Kelly Gang, Thunderbolt, and The Squatter's Daughter considers early Australian films in the light of American cowboy films, arguing that 'it is the contention of this paper that these relations are the result of certain cultural coincidences between Australia and the Western United States rather than the outcome of direct influence of the one upon the other. Viewed in this light, “the American cinema par excellence” can perhaps be more reasonably understood as the epitome of a global cinema – not an original myth of nationhood, but a story of no-place retold everywhere and at all times, even in terra nullius itself.'