How the West was warped

Global HaywireIt's interesting that a film by The Age political cartoonist Bruce Petty should receive a scathing, one-star review from that paper's main Melbourne rival. That's not to suggest the Herald Sun review lacked objectivity per se. After all, this is a highly idiosyncratic film, bound to provoke extreme reactions.

Nonetheless, the review lends weight to the idea that a viewer's response to Global Haywire will depend partly upon their own political sympathies, and their sense of good will toward the filmmaker himself.

The filmmaker in question is Bruce Petty, an astute septuagenarian and award-winning animator, cartoonist and regular Age contributor. He's crafted a film as ambitious and chaotic as its title suggests. Global Haywire takes talking head interviews with po-faced political prophets and pastes them alongside outrageous animated satire. The result is like a political cartoonist's answer to a schoolboy scrapbook.

At the centerpiece of this scrapbook is the story of Vince. While providing a nod or two to Leonardo da Vinci in full-blown inventor mode, Vince also serves as an unsubtle metaphor for Western Civilisation. His invention, a massive vessel designed to fly its passengers to 'freedom', becomes a microcosm of the world as we know it — Vince and his cronies luxuriate on the top deck while the rest of the world languishes on the lower-class B-deck.

This animated allegory proceeds full-tilt through the pages of history, from the grand inception of Vince's freedom machine to its ultimate, current malfunctioning. It's a heady journey, packed with metaphors and ideas.

Petty provides firmly grounded signposts along the way — the likes of Beirut-based journalist Robert Fisk, political commentators Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal, and activist Arundhati Roy offer their thoughts on 'global haywire' and Western Society's benign (at best) complicity in the current state of the world. These 'talking heads' supply points of contact between Petty's outrageous allegory and our chaotic reality.

Petty also provides a framework for the cinematic pandemonium: a committee comprising real and fictional, animated and live-action characters assembles to study Vince's story and try to find a solution to the world's problems. In an already busy film, this additional element tends to confuse matters, rather than focus them.

It's on this point that most criticisms of Global Haywire will pivot. There is a lot going on in this film — possibly too much. Audiences need to be thoroughly versed in history, global politics and world economics to keep track of all of Petty's claims and ideas.

Debatably, the animated allegory of Vince — which is brilliantly conceived and well thought-out — would be more resonant if it were allowed to stand, straight-faced, on its own; a modern-day fable. The film purports to be about the power of comedy to address serious issues, yet by propping the satirical element up with expert talking heads, Petty doesn't seem to take his own claim seriously.

The converse is also true. With heavyweights such as Chomsky, Fisk and Roy bringing characteristic insight and keen analysis to their sound bytes, it's a shame they are obscured by the more outlandish goings on in Petty's animations. It could be that Global Haywire is two engaging (but very different) short films mashed into a less successful feature.

At the very least, this is a unique and challenging film. Certainly viewers would benefit from repeat viewings, in order to better connect the manifold ideas that skitter throughout. As a conversation starter, few films are more worthy — we on the top deck would do well to consider how we came to obtain this privilege, and what can be done to ensure those on the lower deck get a fair deal as well.

Tim Kroenert interviews Bruce Petty (audio, MP3)

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and ASif. He is a contributor to the inaugural edition of the journal Studies in Australian Weird Fiction. Email Tim




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