Can a work of art be a classic without being ‘great’ – or even, by some standards, particularly good? Jane Mills has no doubt about the canonical position of Jedda (Charles Chauvel, 1955) in Australian cinema, yet admits that her own response falls short of love. This ambivalence stems not only from Jedda’s technical flaws, but also from its message: though the film may not be a white supremacist tract like D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), it is plain that Chauvel and his wife, Elsa, nearing the end of their long collaborative career, took for granted that biological ‘race’ was destiny.
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