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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 30-Apr-2009

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 11

Wordcount: 794

How gravity foiled the ABC’s bloodless Anzac website


Anzac Day is one of the great reminders, not just of war and waste but also, for me, of gravity.

My Irish grandfather, as family legend has it, was wounded at Gallipoli. This was taken to explain his spending each subsequent Anzac Day – and, it must be said, many others besides – feet-up on the sofa, reading the paper, smoking roll-yer-owns and demanding full waiter service from his wife and their large, freckled brood.

A painter and paperhanger by trade, he was, you might think, inured to verticality. You can see this as arrant indolence on his part, or rampant sexism, or both. Or you can see it as a sort of homage to gravity, a salute to the glue that holds time and space together, and us trapped in their web.

Gravity is an accelerant. Like petrol in a bushfire, it hastens the return of an organism – be it tree or human – to homeostasis, be it ashes or dust. Gravity, you will recall from school physics, is measured in metres per second per second. Nine point eight of them, to be more or less exact, acting regardless of mass (refer Newton’s apple) on every gram – nay, every atom – in your body.

And at Gallipoli gravity was, if anything, more than usually evident. From the first pre-dawn moments when Anzac soldiers drowned under the weight of their own packs to the hellish eight-month struggle for ascendancy in that jaggedly vertical terrain, gravity ruled.

Yet, to judge by the ABC’s otherwise excellent new website, Gallipoli: The First Day, gravity might as well not exist. The site, launched last week, constructs a compelling narrative and shows something of its own Anzac spirit, having been produced in just a few months and for a tiny fraction of the usual gargantuan animation-type budget. Adroitly directed by the ABC’s Sam Doust, it mixes flash-maps, fly-overs and digital dioramas with more traditional means such as voiced letters and diaries (by Hugo Weaving) and videoed recollections to give a blow-by-blow from both Allied and Ottoman points of view. You can clamber interactively around the island, scrutinise strategy and character, examine maps, guns and events in detail.

And yet this dreadful story is strangely light-on in the emotion department. This is partly due to Lucy Bell’s hushed and girlish narration, as though she’s whispering us a bedtime story that mustn’t wake the children. (A pomo gesture, this, laying such a lace doily of a voice upon so blokey a tale. Doust explains that female team-members argued for estrogenism, so to speak, and the mere fact that this was from start to finish a testosterone tale seemed an insufficient reason to deny them. But doesn’t that say it all, really? Death of the soldier, the bloke and the auteur, with a single democracy-soaked bullet.)

But the main reason it’s Anzac Lite is that, while the camera may whiz giddily about, the characters themselves are oddly without motion or mass. Efforts are made – shadows, close-ups, a richly textured soundtrack – to bolster a sense of reality. We hear Lieutenant-Colonel Kemal’s famous command, “I don’t order you to attack, I order you to die,” and British General Ian Hamilton’s even more notorious “dig, dig, dig”. We hear groans, and curses, and guns.

But there’s no blood in this bloodbath, no falling or staggering or pitching headfirst into the trench. And this zero-gravity feel causes a corresponding lack of emotional weight.

This is a failing of the medium, not the message. It’s why animation usually runs to comedy but not tragedy. But as virtual realities blur increasingly with the other sort and life begins in earnest to imitate cyber-art, questions arise.

Could the cool in absentia quality of so much contemporary architecture, for example, relate to the absence, for most buildings now, of any off-screen gestation?

Perhaps it’s time to wonder not just whether computer-generated imagery will ever capture real-feel gravity, letting its creatures move without that telltale Walking With Beasts bounce. But whether gravity itself, so bemoaned and bewailed, is a force that benefits us all, not just the cosmetic surgeons amongst us.

NASA scientists report that six months in space leaves super-fit astronauts with the muscles of an 80-year-old. Classical Greek and Egyptian columns used entasis – a slight mid-span swell – to express the nobility of their gravity-resisting work. Both point to a single intuition; gravity gives gravitas.

If only bankers had understood this, they’d have burst their own bubble sooner. Perhaps we are groping back to the sacred knowledge shared by medieval cathedral-builders and modern gym-nazis alike, that being fully grounded is a stage-one prerequisite for rising to heaven. Resistance is the work.


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