A brief extract from Joy Damousi’s essay.
In Celia we have a representation of how Cold War politics can conflate public and private life; how childhood becomes an effective means of exploring the public, private and psychological dimensions of tragedy and how a female child attempts to negotiate the ambiguities and tensions of parental and childhood relationships. What makes this film remarkable is the way in which it uses the chief protagonist to internalize the paranoia, fears, anguish and rituals of persecution expressed and practiced by the adults during the Cold War, set in the claustrophobia of suburban Melbourne, Australia. In order to shed light on the film, we need to consider, firstly, some aspects of anti-Communism and suburbia in Australia during the 1950s.
Although Australians did not find themselves as gripped by the Cold War as their counterparts throughout the world, the influence was still inescapable. With conservative Prime Minister Robert Menzies at the helm, the Australian political landscape was constructed by those in power in such a way that the Communist threat was perceived to be everywhere. In the media, in parliament and in daily life, the Communist bogey was used to strengthen conservative forces and create paranoia, suspicion and heightened fear of invasion. In daily life, Communists were seen as an evil cancer threatening normality, conformity and all that was important to the Australian way of life. The Cold War created a climate where undesirable categories of people – the Communist amongst them – should be rooted out of society.
Prime Minister Menzies attempted to convince the Australian population that the Communist menace was prevalent and highly dangerous. In 1950, he launched a campaign to ban the Communist Party and in 1951 held a national referendum. Many opposed this move on the grounds that it was a threat to freedom of speech and civil liberties; those who were not necessarily Communists said these efforts by the government were unjust and could not be justified in a democracy. Although the government proposals were defeated by a narrow margin, fear of Communism dominated political debate in Australia from 1945 to 1951. But these fears were ill-founded. In international politics, the beginning of the Korean War in 1950 confirmed for some the fears of Communist expansion, while the Petrov Affair in 1954, where Russian diplomats in Australia were accused of being spies, promoted the idea of the Communist enemy spreading from within aiming to destroy society. In reality, Australians did not embrace Communist ideologies and practices. The 1950s was an affluent decade; the call for radical political overthrow of the government did not gain many adherents beyond a small minority.
In Celia, the ways in which we get a sense of the claustrophobia of Cold War politics and the way it was framed by a notion of the disease from within is through the setting of suburbia. The public, political aspects of the Cold War intersect with the private world of suburban life to reconstruct the conservatism and of public and private politics in the 1950s. Celia reconstructs a time during the post war years when Australia became increasingly suburban and with it the nuclear family and domesticity and marriage. The film captures the conservative, conformist homebound family life with a sharpness of detail, perception and deft irony rarely found in Australian cinema. This life frames and reinforces the conservative and paranoid fears of the 1950s in regard to Communist infiltration and influence.
An extended version of this essay appears in the booklet that accompanies the DVD release.
Length / Feature: 99 minutes
Special features: 14 minutes
Sound: Original stereo (restored)
OAR: 1.78:1 16:9 Enhanced
Release Date: 30th March 2009
Second Run DVD 038