Film Discoveries of the Down Underverse
Ben has been addicted to cinema since his father accidentally took him to see Robocop, at the cinema, at age 4. Ah the glory days of not checking for ID. He is quite addicted to Italian cinema, from De Sica to Mattei, and for some reason wants to write a book on cannibalism in world cinema. Ben is based in Melbourne, Australia, where he can often be found lurking behind the scenes of assorted local cinema institutions and occasionally writes things for An Online Universe (www.anonlineuniverse.com). He can be found on Twitter (where he rants) and Instagram (where he shares his love of VHS and street art) as DissolvedPet.
Dir: Bruce Beresford. 1976.
For those who like their political cinema with a heavy dose of sex comedy, featuring high levels of profanity and full frontal (male & female) nudity, then Don’s Party is for you. It might be wrong to describe it as a political film, despite being set on the eve of the 1969 Australian Federal election (that’s voting for the Prime Minister for those not in the know), at a party thrown by Don (John Hargreaves) to celebrate the belief that the conservatives are about to be thrown out after 20 years in power. Don’s got a Che poster stuck to the fridge, a beer in hand, and footy on the TV. His wife reckons it’s all just another excuse for a piss-up; any excuse to get his dickhead mates over and pat each other on the back for their supposed socialist superiority while leering down the tops of all the beaut sheilas (that’s Aussie for lovely ladies). Despite this backdrop, and many a heated debate, which don’t amount to much more than “‘your political affiliation sucks!’ ‘no, your political affiliation sucks!’”, this film is more concerned with personal discontent in a claustrophobic social wasteland. And sex. And beer. Set over one night and barely leaving Don’s house, it depicts the slow disintegration of a variety of relationships as everyone slowly comes to the realisation that life is a bit shit and no one is happy.
It’s nothing new in that regard, but the film brilliantly mixes larrikin charm with brutal character evisceration, somehow juggling the laugh-out-loud sex comedy with some seriously grim dark night of the soul moments. Director Bruce Beresford (The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Daisy) keeps everything moving like a stumbling waiter carrying a trayfull of booze, a kinetic chaos that threatens to tip over at any moment but somehow makes it the to the end with grace and aplomb. Despite his later efforts, this Beresford film bristles with that angry energy that seemed to be everywhere in the 70s. Adapated from a play by David Williamson (Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, and Balibo are some of his screenplays), apparently one director turned the film down because the characters were ‘too aggressive’. Little is held back, with everyone given every opportunity to show how shit they are, how sexist, inconsiderate or hypocritical. Few are allowed any pity, and even less ask for it. Featuring a slew of Australia’s greatest actors and actresses from that era, each brings their character fully to life. By the end you feel like you really have been sitting in the corner of a house-party all night, with all the highs and lows.
Knowledge of the political situation in Australian at the time is not essential. You get the basics pretty quickly; Liberal was right wing and Labour was left wing. The man who would go on to win the election in 1969 was John Gorton, of the Liberal party, and he appears briefly at the beginning of the film as a nod to his success in developing the Australian film industry. The unfortunate fact of this film is that while the politics might be unrecognisable, the social and personal malaise is all too recognisable, with all of the problems continuing to this day. In this way the film feels timeless, as on-point with its sadness and anger as it was in 1976.
BARRY McKENZIE HOLDS HIS OWN…
Dir: Bruce Beresford. 1974.For those of you who like your sex comedies with a splash of politics, vampires, beer, tourism, anti-communist leanings, beer, linguistics (the first English language film with English subtitles!), musical numbers, beer, Pommie bashing, technicolour rainbows, beer, a general anti-European sentiment, and Donald Pleasance, then you must really struggle finding something to watch! Fear not, your film is here! Bruce Beresford’s back catalogue strikes again! So the ‘basic’ plot of Barry McKenzie Holds His Own… (the sequel to The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, a cultural phenomena that Australia likes to conveniently forget happened) is *deep breath*:
While returning from England after The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, wherein Bazza showed thosePommie bastards what a real man is, Aunt Edna is kidnapped en route by Erich Count Plasma (Donald Pleasance), the head of the Transylvanian TouristCommison and great leader of its Communist Party (and a vampire with a strange habit of making Donald Duck noises), who mistakes her for the Queen of England, with the dastardly plan of displaying her in Transylvania in order to promote it as a primo tourist location, and only Barry can save his dear Aunt Edna.
Yes, this is the greatest film ever made. It is as ludicrous and batshit as you could ever possibly imagine. Keep an eye out for humourist and commentator Clive James, who cracks a tinny (a beer) in every single scene he appears in, and apparently was only on-set to get pissed with his old chums. At one point Count Plasma attempts to drain him of all his blood, siphoning it off into a great vat, but all that comes out is golden ale. This film is a long lost glory, shunned upon its initial release, it didn’t even make it to VHS! You can watch it in full on YouTube, though you should also seek out the fantastic, bonus feature loaded DVD. You don’t need to have seen the first fillum (that’s Queenslander for film), though if you are new to Ozploitation it might help you understand what is going on (if that is possible). In the meantime, here’s the opening scene, to wet your whistle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-kICLdkTJwOne last thing. If you were wondering why I referred to Dame Edna as Aunt Edna, well… Australia is still a pretty strange place, but it has lost some of its more unusual peculiarities. It’s unlikely that in the present decade a Prime Minister, leader of this great nation, would appear in a government funded sex comedy. And yet, in the 1970s, two sex comedies featured appearances from Prime Ministers. In the aforementioned Don’s Party there was John Gorton, whohad been out of office for a number of years. However, when Gough Whitlam appeared in Barry McKenzie Holds His Own… he was indeed Prime Minister of Australia. He’s cameo is brief, but here’s the thing: ever wondered how Dame Edna Everage became a Dame? Well it came from the top (though it might not be entirely official)!
NIGHT OF FEAR
Dir: Terry Bourke. 1972.
Originally produced as a pilot for a horror series, Night of Fear is an oddity. The series, with each 50 minute episode being stand alone, was titled Fright, and was to be produced by the ABC (Australian BroadcastingCommisson), a government funded public broadcast station. The filmmakers must have been high if they thought this would ever be accepted, which it wasn’t, so they released it theatrically, whereupon it was banned for “indeceny and obscenity”. Narratively speaking, the film is little more than a beautiful young woman being stalked by a towering, slightly freakish serial killer, who keeps an army of rats and hangs decaying horseheads around his house, a lot of them, and they are all real. What sets the film apart from most of its ilk is the avant garde way in which the material is approached. There is no dialogue, with bizarre soundscapes allowed to dominate the proceedings. The camerawork and editing writhes like a tortured mind, whipping back and forth, constantly unstable and unpredictable. It is a raw, rough film, one that belongs to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre school of filmmaking more than to Friday the 13th. This is virtually unheard of in Australian cinema history, and so while the film may not be especially original, it is certainly noteworthy for the raw power produced by such an unpretentious shock machine. And it was made for TV!
THE BIG STEAL
Dir: Nadia Tass. 1990.
Danny Clark (Ben Mendelsohn, long before his string of junkies and psychos in the likes of Killing Them Softly and Animal Kingdom) has just turned 18. His gift from his parents: their beloved, mint condition (but still uncool, because hipsters didn’t exist yet) 1963 Nissan Cedric. What Danny really wants is a Jaguar XJ6, and after stupidly telling the girl of his dreams, Joanna (Claudia Karvan - Daybreakers), the he’ll take her out in his brand new imaginary Jag, well, he’s just got to get one! Enter stage right, the slimiest arse of a used car salesman played by the one and only Steve Bisley(Goose from Mad Max). After a dodgy trade, Danny thinks he is all set. Until the motor blows up & he relisesthey’ve switched motors on him after sale, the girl storms off, his parents are pissed at him, and he is up shit creek. Only one thing to do: get revenge and get the Cedric back!
Australia’s love affair with cars is well documented across a variety of genres and cultural forms. Just check out Eric Bana’s documentary Love The Beast for a guided tour through this obsession. Here it takes a cheeky turn, less road rage nightmares and more a feel good, coming-of-age comedy in the vein of the two Johns (Cusack and Hughes). Directed by the highly underrated Nadia Tass, who is also responsible for the delightful Malcom, Mr. Reliable (both of which could have been on this list but I haven’t rewatched either in far too long) and Pure Luck … which was hilarious when I was 12, but not sure I can handle Martin Short and Danny Glover as a comedic duo now. The Big Steal is perfect for curling up with a loved one, best mate, orfavourite pet, grabbing a pizza and remembering what it was to be a teenager and desperately wanting that sweet ride. If you needed anymore reason to see it: a very young Damon Herriman also features, you might know him as Dewey Crow from Justified, and Steve Bisleyends up in Rocky Horror-esque tights and garters. The Big Steal is a surefire winner.