Romper Stomper creator says TV reboot more relevant than ever
The upcoming Romper Stomper TV reboot is already dividing opinion and sparking a backlash — not that director Geoffrey Wright is concerned.
Two decades after his cult film about a gang of neo-Nazis in Melbourne's west roared into Australian cinemas, he is back on board for a new six-part TV series to air soon.
And he is as unapologetic as ever about putting a bunch of skinheads on our screens.
"This is what's happening in the world," he told News Breakfast of the timing for the new show.
"I mean, what occurred to me in the course of thinking about what we could ever do about a sequel, you [only had to see] what was happening in the news.
"You see right-wing outfits like United Patriots Front or left-wing outfits like Antifa locking horns and what is going on in the broader world and at the highest level of politics."
New show, new targets
The 1992 film — starring a young Russel Crowe as gang leader Hando — took you inside the world of neo-Nazis and the predominantly Vietnamese victims they targeted.
Having grown up in Melbourne's west, Wright knew he was tapping into an underlying anxiety about clashing cultures at the time.
In the TV series, however, Asians have been largely swapped out for Muslims in a move that has already drawn fresh criticism.
And while skinheads still exist, the protagonists also include conservative media commentators and wealthy white men who lead their campaigns from lush apartments rather than abandoned warehouses.
The show also fleshes out the story of the opposing far left, with characters from an Antifa-style group given plenty of screen time to build a narrative around a clash of two extremes.
For Wright, there has never been a more relevant time to explore these concepts.
"If Hando were to come back from the dead and look around the world of 2017 approaching 2018, he would think that there were more than interesting opportunities," he said.
"Here we are in the time of just post Brexit and Donald Trump.
"This time we get to look at people caught in the middle and extremes of both the left as well as the right."
Straight from real life
Plotlines from the upcoming show — due to be released on streaming service Stan on January 1 — could well have been lifted from events of just the past month.
Last week forces of the far left and far right clashed violently in Melbourne over the arrival of controversial right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopolous.
Indeed, the fictional group in the TV reboot is called Patriot Blue — the very name adopted by the alt-right group that ambushed Labor senator Sam Dastyari in a pub last month, calling him a "terrorist" and a "monkey".
It is precisely these sorts of events that some feared would follow the 1992 film's release.
Such was film critic David Stratton's concern that he famously refused to rate it, calling it "dangerous".
"In Australia at the time, there was a lot of unrest about Asian immigration. I feared the violence in the film would incite copycat crimes," he later reflected in the series, David Stratton's Stories of Australian Cinema.
Wright scoffed at that idea then, and exacted his revenge on Stratton by pouring a glass of wine on him when they saw each other at the Venice Film Festival in the mid 90s.
He remains as equally incensed by Stratton now and said the pair has not made up.
"People like David Stratton feeling or implying that if an audience were to watch Romper Stomper all of a sudden they would drop all of their ethics they brought into the cinema and turn into the characters they were watching on the screen, this is just nonsense," he said.
"It was then, it is now."
'We don't get nuance'
Wright rails against what he sees as an overly politically-correct Australia and says there is room to explore challenging concepts.
"Australia doesn't get a lot of nuance and we don't get a lot of irony either," he said.
"It's just not the place for that. But I like to bring those qualities."
Film critic Luke Buckmaster has seen the first two episodes of the show and said there was a reason people were talking about it.
"Geoffrey Wright and the filmmakers and producers understand that controversy sells," he said.
"So in that sense it's all a little bit of history repeating.
"The show is also a very well made series, and like the original film and controversy surrounding it, if this was a poorly made film or TV show we probably wouldn't be having this conversation."
Buckmaster said it was incorrect to assume television and film couldn't influence society; however, he said he would fight for right for artists to create challenge and confronting work.
"But with that right has to come some responsibility," he said.
"I sincerely hope that the new Romper Stomper TV series doesn't become the television equivalent of walking into a crowded room and yelling 'fire!'"
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