Australia



THE AUSTRALIAN NEW WAVE: THE COMEDIES

While the feature film industry languished in the 1950 and 1960s, this was a relatively rich period for documentary and nonfiction film. The visit to Australia in 1940 by John Grierson (1898–1972) helped the establishment of the National Film Board in 1945, which was modeled on the Grierson-inspired National Film Board of Canada. This evolved into the Commonwealth Film Unit, and in 1973 it became Film Australia. Directors such as Peter Weir (b. 1944), Tim Burstall (1927–2004), Michael Thornhill (b. 1941), Esben Storm (b. 1950), Brian Hannant (b. 1940), and Olivier Howes (b. 1940) produced films for this organization and, together with Ken Hannam (1929–2004) and Carl Schultz, who gained experience in television, and Fred Schepisi (b. 1939), who emerged from the advertising industry, there was a pool of talent eager to make feature films in the late 1960s and early 1970s. All that was needed was an adequate infrastructure that could assist with financing, distribution, and exhibition. This took shape when Prime Minister Harold Holt (1908–1967) established the Australian Council of the Arts, with a Film and Television Committee, in 1967. In May 1969 this committee recommended the establishment of a national film and television school, which opened in 1973; a film development corporation; and an experimental film fund. All three recommendations were accepted by the government, and with the passage of the Australian Film Development Corporation Bill in 1970, Australian film was finally recognized in a parliamentary act.

Among the first films to benefit from government assistance were two "ocker" comedies: Stork (1971) and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972). The "ocker" comedies of the 1970s were developed by non-mainstream writers and actors associated with progressive theatrical groups such as the Melbourne-based Pram Factory. The "ocker" films were urban in setting and were usually grotesque parodies that lampooned various aspects of Australian life. Stork , scripted by David Williamson (b. 1942) from his play, was directed by Tim Burstall, who was a key figure in the revival of the feature film industry. The film, with a budget of $70,000, was shot in Melbourne on 16mm film stock, and it received $7,000 from the Experimental Film and Television Fund. To recover costs, Burstall and his associates successfully screened the film themselves before it was picked up for distribution by Roadshow. The Adventures of Barry McKenzie was more fortunate, as its entire $250,000 budget was provided by the Australian Film Development Corporation. Directed by Bruce Beresford (b. 1940), scripted by Barry Humphries (b. 1934) from his own comic strip, and produced by Phillip Adams (b. 1939), The Adventures of Barry McKenzie benefited from the easing of censorship in Australia, where it received the "R" certificate ("Restricted," people under 18 years of age were prohibited from attending these films). This bawdy comedy featured copious amounts of beer drinking and vomiting and numerous scenes demonstrating the sexual inadequacy of its dim-witted Australian protagonist (Barry Crocker) during his "adventures" in Britain. The success of the film in both Australia and Britain encouraged local investment. Burstall's Petersen (1974), scripted by David Williamson and starring Jack Thompson (b. 1940) as the electrical tradesman who enrolls at a university and enters into an affair with his married tutor, received a more positive endorsement from the critics. Similarly, Don's Party (1976), directed by Beresford from Williamson's script, was also well received for its incisive critique of the failed dreams of a small group of people attending a party on the night of the 1969 election.

Sex comedies, such as Burstall's Alvin Purple (1973), emerged in the early 1970s as an alternative to the "ocker" comedies. These films were much less confrontational in their criticisms of Australian attitudes. Alvin Purple , for example, was based on the simple premise of a naive young man (Graeme Blundell) who cannot understand why every woman he meets wants to have sex with him. It became Australia's most successful film in the 1970s and was followed by a sequel, Alvin Rides Again (1974), and a television series.



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