Looking Back On ‘Walkabout’ With Luc Roeg

❉ Roeg On Roeg: The director’s son discusses the classic movie and his father’s legacy.

“Nic was a great, great film-maker and I say that as a fan as much as his son. He was an eclectic film-maker, too. When you look at a range of his work, from The Man Who Fell to Earth to The Witches to Walkabout to Don’t Look Now… it’s hard to pick a favourite, isn’t it? Each one is just a great cinematic experience in itself.”

These days, thanks to the marvels of modern technology, everyone can take some kind of peek back into their childhood, whether through photographs, Super 8 footage or home videos. Luc Roeg can go that little bit further, though. At the age of 7, he was cast by his father, Nic Roeg, as the nameless ‘boy’ alongside David Gulpilil and Jenny Agutter in Roeg senior’s solo directing debut, the survival odyssey Walkabout, which has now been remastered and released as a handsome-looking Blu-Ray.

As children, we tend to accept anything that happens as perfectly normal, and for Luc Roeg, his experience of making a feature film in the Australian outback was no different. “That’s what everyone does, isn’t it?” he laughs. “Absolutely, of course. I mean, you’re not aware of the uniqueness of the opportunity. It just feels like that’s what’s happening in your world and in your life. You don’t have much experience of life at that point, so you just make the assumption that that’s what it is. That doesn’t mean that you’re not appreciating what’s happening and enjoying it and or being frustrated by it. All of those emotions come into play. But just in terms of normality and acceptance, yeah, it felt like the natural thing to happen.”

‘Natural’ is a key word here. Nic Roeg didn’t want a child actor in the role, and his son wasn’t an actor, instead lending the film an untutored authenticity. It also involved the whole Roeg family decamping to the Australian wilderness together. Today, Luc is a respected producer in his own right, with credits including Mr Nice, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Falling and Out of Blue. Clearly his early experience in front of the cameras didn’t exactly send him sprinting away from the film industry. “It didn’t put me off, although I don’t think it was a motivating factor to start a career in cinema. But no, the experience was amazing, We were living in the Australian outback. I was with my brothers, my mother, my father too obviously, so it was very intimate and very personal. Looking back as an adult, having that experience as a child was an absolute gift. But there was some hard work involved, obviously. You still had to learn your lines and turn up for work every day. That was very much a part of it, but it’s not the overriding memory at all.”

With all those layers of involvement, though, is Walkabout a film Roeg can ever truly view objectively? Does he watch it very often? “Oh, I’ve watched it relatively recently,” he says. “I’ve got two daughters of my own. They’re grown up now but we’ve watched it together a couple of times. And I can be objective, as in I really appreciate, not from my performance point of view, but just from a film-making point of view, what a beautiful cinematic experience it is. I can appreciate the film on another level, which is that it was a personal journey for me and for my family, so there’s always that sort of very deep, personal connection to it as well. It’s not painful to me to watch. It’s quite nostalgic and moving to watch.”

Watching the film with his children must have been quite an experience. “The first time we watched it together there was a bit of laughter, I’m not gonna deny it – which increased as certain elements happened! The second time we watched it, though, I think that they got more out of the film itself. They were able to watch it without just seeing their dad in short trousers and a cap running around the Australian outback with a squeaking little voice. Normally you hate hearing your own voice being played back, but I don’t have those experiences when I come back to Walkabout, because there’s such a majesty and beauty in the film. It’s part of my children’s legacy. I hope it’s handed on to generations in terms of the family legacy, but also as a great film. I think the best part of the value of the restoration is the fact that it’s going to be there for more generations to discover and enjoy themselves.”

Watching the remastered Walkabout is striking for all sorts of reasons. From a 2020 perspective, looking at all those wide, wide open spaces is even more breathtaking than usual. “We all fell in love with the natural world again during lockdown, didn’t we?” Roeg says. “It sort of came to represent something else to us. We all appreciated it in a way we haven’t for a long time and I think watching Walkabout with that mindset would be a pleasure. Nic really did capture those elements of it. Australia’s almost a character in the story in itself, isn’t it? It’s such an important part of the film.”

What exactly does Roeg feel it is about Walkabout that allows it to stand up nearly fifty years on? “I think it’s just an incredible study of the human condition and the natural world and the interaction of those two things. In the world we’re living in today, with the focus on Black Lives Matter and the way that indigenous people have been expressed in the arts throughout the past decades, I think that Walkabout actually stands up in terms of its interpretation of David and his culture. It had utter respect for and relevance to Australia, at a time in the 1960s when that wasn’t necessarily the popular way of thinking. The relationship Jenny ends up having with David in the film doesn’t necessarily see colour or cultural or language or religion. It just sees humanity.”

By dint of its timeless setting, with Uluru as a backdrop, the film doesn’t particularly look dated either. “Exactly, I think that’s very true,” Roeg says. “A tiny cast, no costumes, the setting, the environment – all of those elements. I don’t think there’s anything about the film that necessarily informs you of its period. All of the attitudes in the film are contemporary, too. I think they’re the same attitudes that we carry with us in our hearts today.”

Evidently Roeg has no regrets about his childhood experience of making Walkabout. In an ideal world, though, if he’d been required to run around in short trousers in another of his father’s films, which one would have chosen? “Oh… well, it’s got to be The Man Who Fell to Earth and hanging out with David Bowie hasn’t it? I mean, come on. If you’re going to end up somewhere that’s not a bad place to be. Yeah, I think so. Or The Witches, possibly. Nic was a great, great film-maker and I say that as a fan as much as his son. He was an eclectic film-maker, too. When you look at a range of his work, from The Man Who Fell to Earth to The Witches to Walkabout to Don’t Look Now… it’s hard to pick a favourite, isn’t it? Each one is just a great cinematic experience in itself. So I can genuinely and honestly say that I appreciate so much of what he did in his working life and not really have a favourite beyond Walkabout, which is a favourite for many, many personal reasons.”

‘Walkabout’ Limited Edition Blu-ray (2NDBR4120) will be released by Second Sight Films on 31 August, 2020. Pre-order here: bit.ly/WalkaboutLtd

 Andy Murray is Film Editor for Northern Soul and a regular contributor to We Are Cult. He’s also the author of the Nigel Kneale biography Into the Unknown and co-author (with Dr Mark Aldridge) of the Russell T Davies biography T is for TelevisionHe’s not the tennis guy, obviously. But he did once receive a publicity photograph of him to sign by mistake.

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