THE AUSTRALIAN NEW WAVE: THE COMEDIES – Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film

Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film

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 nonmainstream 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.