Parer's War (2014)
Damien Parer is one of Australia’s best known war correspondents. His footage of troops on the Kokoda Front Line won Australia’s first Academy Award in 1943 while his superior Assault on Salamaua features the iconic image of a blinded Australian soldier being helped across a stream. More than just a combat cameraman, Parer also introduced each newsreel, keen to bring the realities of war back home to what he feared was a complacent Australian public. Armed with nothing more than his movie camera, Parer risked his own life to show the camaraderie of the troops, the hardships they endured and the look in their eyes as they faced the enemy.
Though he had previously covered the action in the Middle East, this biopic opens with Parer at the theatre of war he is most closely associated with, Papua New Guinea. After a torrent of Australian jingoisms that stick out like dog’s balls (yes – even that one is used), the location of Parer’s war is soon established. It’s not amongst the razorback ridges of New Guinea’s highlands but rather back home, where his inability to relax is best summed up in the Sydney studio of friend Max Dupain who implores him to “try and come home to us for a while”.
Waiting for him is Marie Cotter. Their courtship is a rocky one, filled with misunderstandings and squandered moments. Fortunately their mutual friend Ronnie Williams keeps the fires burning while Parer’s away and though this may sound like the setup for a screwball romance, there is neither the spark nor humour to sustain it (notwithstanding the squeakiest honeymoon bed on film). More successful scenes from the Homefront include Parer’s battles with Government bureaucracy and a peek into the Cinesound Studios where Ken G. Hall holds sway. One of Australian cinema’s pioneers Hall is depicted shaping Parer’s footage into the award winning newsreel, splicing in unrelated combat footage, guiding Parer through his introduction and instructing his editor with “there’s your in” and “there’s your out”.
Director Alister Grierson had been down this track before, having made his feature film debut with Kokoda eight years earlier. As expected, Parer’s War is a more accomplished film, with nice period detail and a more judicious use of Queensland’s Tambourine Mountain as a stand-in for New Guinea. Yet the same level of detachment remains. Grierson tells his stories matter-of-factly, much like a Parer newsreel, but there is little audience engagement despite the heroics portrayed.
Damien Parer’s life was previously depicted in the Kennedy-Miller production Fragments of War, starring Nicholas Eadie. And there’s my out.
as Damien Parer
as Ken G. Hall
as Chester Wilmot
"Parer’s War is historical fiction. But it is fiction that is always faithful to the characters, and the visual and dramatic narrative of the film illuminates the reality portrayed in my biography. For that I am very grateful."
Neil McDonald, author of Damien Parer's War