From Barbecued Shrimps to New York Pimps and Boyfriend Wimps.
Growing up in Australia, I knew of Paul Hogan since the mid ’70s. A regular face on Australian TV with his reasonably funny PAUL HOGAN SHOW, he was the paragon of the ocker Everyman. (“Ocker” is an uncultivated Australian; one of low social caste, revealed through their broad accent and over-use of Aussie slang – a near analogue of America’s trailer park contingent.)
These days, Paul Hogan is a god.
I didn’t know Hogan personally, although in 1991, I performed a few rock gigs with his eldest son, guitarist Clay – an apple who fell far from the tree. Not talent-wise, but industry-wise.
In 2006, Hogan seems to have joined his son in that meadow, slowly rotting far from the industry’s fickle tree. But in a fluke of good timing back in 1986, Hogan’s weathered, masculine bushman character from the Australian outback happened to be the perfect foil to New York’s 80s hairstyles, yuppie consumerism and disco sensibilities.
From a story by Hogan, John Cornell and Ken Shadie, and helmed by mustered Australian television director, Peter Faiman, CROCODILE DUNDEE not only put Hogan on the world stage – it put Australia there too. DUNDEE captured the earthy, textured Australia that lent a “heritage” aspect to that juvenile backwater, and was largely responsible for the misperception of the “hardened Aussie” in subsequent Fosters beer ads. Though merely a modern, laconic retelling of the noble savage tale, the movie is refreshing enough in its simplicity and sincerity to garner itself a little shelf life in the Tarzan pantheon.
American audiences were ready to embrace the blond, blue-eyed, rugged, crocodile hunter after Hogan kicked Australian tourism up ten notches with his spurious offer to “put another shrimp on the Barbie.”
Even though there was no such thing…
Y’see, Australians call shrimp “prawns.” And no one – but NO ONE – ever included prawns in their barbecue menus. Take my word. I’m Australian. At the million or so barbecues I attended whilst growing up Downunda, barbecuists were known to put various foodstuffs on the “barbie” – sausages, t-bones, chicken, hamburgers, franks, buns, onions, fish, potatoes, tomatoes, chops – but no shrimp. It was a fantasy created by American marketers. But, much like THE GODFATHER influenced the vernacular and lifestyles of real mobsters, so too has that “shrimp” fiction become reality, in the States and Australia alike. To the point where I almost feel like *I’m* lying about the historical non-existence of this cuisine…
CROCODILE DUNDEE finds Hogan as the somewhat mythical eponymous character, Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee, infamous for his wild croc encounters. Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski), an American newspaper reporter on assignment in Australia, chases him down in a Northern Territory backwater, Walkabout Creek, spending three sensually-charged days in the bush with him (ostensibly to recount his tall tales for her column), then packs him off to New York with her, on the pretense of wrapping the tale Stateside, but more truthfully drawn to the masculinity which her effete American fiancé (Mark Blum) cannot provide.
Throughout the movie, Dundee is a surprising blend of legitimacy (hypnotizing animals, a crack shot) and fakery (pretending to shave with his knife or tell the time by the sun’s position); a fascinating mix of innocence (“What’s today, Wal?”), philosophy (“Aborigines don’t own the land – they belong to it”), and machismo (with a heroic crocodile kill that saves Sue’s life and seals their fate as imminent Beast With Two Backs).
The New York segment is, ultimately, where the fish-out-of-water absurdities are just waiting to happen. Nothing new here, as the film takes on a decidedly 80’s plastic flavor, with Dundee encountering bidets, jealous boyfriends and jive talk, drag queens, muggers and pimps. Oh my.
It’s always nostalgic for me to hear the song Live It Up during the suburban party scene. Though performed by average Australian band Mental As Anything, due to never hearing it outside Australian shores, it has become somewhat of a poignant memory. The other party song, Different World, was performed by another obscure Australian band – INXS.
During the Australian segment, Peter Best’s soundtrack evokes Aboriginal otherworldliness by employing simple flute and guitar lines, Aboriginal clicking sticks and didgeridoo pulses. His main theme is brilliantly based on a one-note jogging pulse, tribal and sensual, like a heartbeat of the living earth.
The cheesy romantic climax sees Woman Running Through Streets and Public Avowal Of Love clichés. Tempering this silliness is Best’s one-note pulse, at first subliminal, sustaining and growing over five minutes, throbbing at our temples in driving urgency, and at the movie’s final shot is like a throat-gurgling orgasm of sound, holding up the finale with its power and slicing the cliché neatly in half.
Now that’s a knife!