The original Romper Stomper, a brutal, mucky masterpiece, was a film about outsiders – about a group spurned by society who must develop their own counter-cultural movement in order to compensate for their great loneliness and alienation. Which checks out: in the context of 1992, neo-Nazis were a scattered, rag-tag mob of unconnected factions, not a political force.
Needless to say, such a take wouldn’t fly today. Our fascists are united by Facebook, emboldened by politicians. Their imagery has hit the mainstream. Their spokespeople are given slots on morning television programs. Neo-Nazis are no longer a counter-cultural movement: they are a culture in and of themselves.
Wright and his creative team have worked hard to ensure that their interest in the modern fascist movement isn’t mistaken for a troubling kind of adoration.
In updating Romper Stomper to the present day for a six-part series premiering on Stan on New Year’s Day, the film’s original director Geoffrey Wright has kept that cultural change front and centre. Rather than shirtless, tattooed skinheads, Wright’s new antagonists are permanently wine-addled, middle-class “patriots”. They meet around barbecues; deliver xenophobic speeches while nestled in their bougie apartments. They aren’t thugs: they are businessmen.
Nor, importantly, are they the main focus of Romper Stomper. The series is no dose of Nazi porn, and Wright and his creative team have worked hard to ensure that their interest in the modern fascist movement isn’t mistaken for a troubling, morally compromised kind of quiet adoration. So although the aggression of fascists kicks the series’ plot into gear, they are one part of a complex cultural puzzle, and Wright spends equal time with a group of hair-dyed far left activists known as “Anti-Fash”, not to mention a slimy Andrew Bolt type named Jago (David Wenham, having the time of his bloody life.)
As a result of this wider scope, the impotent, boozed-up Blake Farron (Lachy Hulme), head of hateful group Patriot Blue, is a far cry from the singularly one-minded Hando of the original film. Blake doesn’t exist in a vaccuum – he is an opportunist, riding cultural waves he doesn’t fully understand.
Wright has never really got his dues as a superb director of action – his Macbeth is pockmarked with grotty, perfectly handled film noir setpieces – and he brings the full range of his powers to the first two episodes of Romper Stomper. Things start intense and get more so – Melbourne’s tar-splattered, neon-lit streets are a death trap, home to opportunistic old predators and confused, young victims.
In every way this new formulation of Romper Stomper could have failed, it succeeds. It has the sheer force of a sledgehammer; the uncomplicated horror of an amputation. Those who were worried it would be one more platform afforded to a group that deserve no such thing can be calmed – this is Australian television at its most essential.
Romper Stomper drops on Stan Australia on Monday January 1.