AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
Strikes Back /
The Reel World /
It's A Disaster! /
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|“Help us to remember those who went before us: the Old Boys of Homesdale; those who valiantly fell in the hour of sacrifice....”|
Director: Peter Weir
Starring: James Dellit, Geoffrey Malone, Grahame Bond, Kate Fitzpatrick, Barry Donnelly, Doreen Warburton, James Lear, Kosta Akon, Richard Brennan, Shirley Donald, Peter Weir, Phillip Noyce
Screenplay: Peter Weir and Piers Davies
Synopsis: A private ferry transports six guests to the Homesdale Hunting Lodge, an island retreat that promises, A new experiment in togetherness. Guided by Chief Robert (Kosta Akon), the guests carry their luggage up the gum tree-lined path to the lodge. There, five of them – Mr Kevin (Grahame Bond), Miss Greenoak (Kate Fitzpatrick), Mr Vaughn (Barry Donnelly), Mrs Sharpe (Doreen Warburton) and Mr Levy (James Lear) – are greeted by name by the Manager (James Dellit). The Manager then takes the single newcomer, Mr Malfry (Geoffrey Malone), to be introduced to the staff: Chief Robert, Robert 1 (Richard Brennan), Robert 2 (Peter Weir) and the Matron (Shirley Donald). The guests are shown inside, and instantly Mr Kevin offends Mr Levy by automatically claiming the larger of the two beds in their shared room. Alone in her room, Miss Greenoak removes a large doll from her suitcase, and sits contemplating it; while Mr Vaughn takes a shower in the communal bathroom. As he does so, a figure in a dress and a wig draws near, and plunges a knife through the shower curtain again and again.... Mr Vaughn leaves the bathroom, looking into Mr Kevin’s room to tell him that the shower is free. Mr Kevin immediately takes a shower himself, singing to himself and glancing over his shoulder as he waits for something.... Later, Mr Malfry enters the waiting-room, where the other guests sit around the walls in stony silence. The Manager appears with Chief Robert and Robert 1, announcing dinner and deciding that for their first night, some formality is in order: he insists upon everyone lining up in single file. Mr Malfry is the last in line, to which the Manager draws attention. Over dinner, the guests discuss their experiences with death; Mr Malfry again becomes the object of scorn and mockery, when the best he can do is a story about his dog, Sniffy, who died of rickets. That night, as the guests sleep, a lamp-bearing Robert 2 glides from room to room, murmuring promises of what Homesdale will do for each of them.... The next morning, the guests gather on the porch, each taking a book to read from a pile – although Mr Malfry loses his selection when Mr Kevin snatches it from him. The Manager appears, telling Mr Levy that some clay-pigeon shooting has been arranged for him, while everyone else must practice conversation; later, he promises, there will be a treasure hunt. The conversation practice does not go well: Mrs Sharpe, a German immigrant, recoils from Mr Vaughn’s refusal to talk about anything but war; while Mr Kevin’s efforts to convince Miss Greenoak that being a butcher really isn’t boring comes to an abrupt end when the Manager repeats a remark of Mr Kevin’s about Miss Greenoak’s fat ankles. Meanwhile, Mr Levy’s clay-pigeon shooting ends in disaster when, upon his first attempt at hitting his target, he empties his shotgun directly into Robert 2....
Comments: It’s a curious thing to think of these days, but if there is such a person as “The Father Of The Australian Genre Film”, then that person is certainly Peter Weir. Although today his career is focussed largely upon mainstream, international drama, for his first decade as a film-maker Weir turned out a series of distinctly Australian productions that invariably included surrealist aspects, if not outright supernatural or horror themes.
After dabbling in law and architecture and real estate, Peter Weir took the first step on his eventual career path when he was hired as a production assistant at what was then the ATN-7 television network. There he worked on My Name’s McGooley and The Mavis Bramston Show, and in time was allowed to direct some short segments for the latter. Around this time, Weir also became a member of Ubu Films, a Sydney-based independent film-making collective, where he met fellow future directors Phillip Noyce and Bruce Beresford. Given access to the production facilities of ATN-7, Peter Weir made his first short film, Count Vim’s Last Exercise, in 1967.
It is important to keep in mind the fact that at the time that Peter Weir and his contemporaries were struggling to establish themselves as professional film-makers, there was no such thing as “the Australian film industry”. Early attempts at establishing such an entity had died with the Depression and WWII, and although 1940 saw the founding of the Australian National Film Board, intended to support the war effort, with the end of hostilities it became almost exclusively concerned with the production of documentaries. Feature film-making, meanwhile, was very much an independent concern, led by people like Charles Chauvel; while overseas film-makers began to do what they are still doing to this day, use the country as an exotic backdrop while hiring local actors to support a cast of international stars. Fred Zinnemann’s production of The Sundowners, from 1960, is a typical example. Far more important in their ramifications were the films made by Michael Powell after his relocation from England in the wake of the Peeping Tom debacle, They’re A Weird Mob and Age Of Consent (the latter of which saw a twenty-three-year-old Helen Mirren giving the Great Barrier Reef some stiff competition for the title of “most stunning natural formation”). Critically, both not only used Australian actors, technicians and locations, but studio and post-production facilities, thus demonstrating that local feature film production was indeed feasible proposition.
The Australian government, however, remained largely unconvinced, and carried on its documentary-making ways. By the late 1960s, the Australian National Film Board had become the Commonwealth Film Unit – and it had also hired Peter Weir as a director of documentaries. Weir proved so successful in his new role that he was again permitted to use the CFU’s facilities to work on a project of his own: a decision immediately vindicated when his short film Michael (part of the anthology Three To Go) won the AFI award for Best Film; an award that had previously, perforce, only been bestowed upon documentaries.
Still uncertain, but under increasing public and media pressure to provide financial support for local film-makers, in 1970 the federal government compromised by establishing the Experimental Film and Television Fund. One of the first to benefit from this new source of funding was Peter Weir. Homesdale was shot in March of 1971, in and around Weir’s own house in Pittwater, Sydney, on a princely budget of $3000.
As is often the case with the early works of long-established directors, Homesdale is both a fascinating indication of the bigger and better things to come, and an amusing conglomeration of unexpected people doing unexpected things. It was also an important stepping-stone for a number of people for would go on to play vital roles in Australian film. Wendy Stites, Peter Weir’s wife, worked uncredited on the art direction of Homesdale, and continues to collaborate on her husband’s films to this day. Adrienne Read, here in charge of continuity, would go on to become a producer before moving into a career in administration and distribution. This was Kate Fitzpatrick’s first film appearance after making her name as a stage and television actress; although we were denied what would have been another significant debut when Garry McDonald was forced at the last moment to drop out of the role of Mr Malfry.
One of Homesdale’s producers was Richard Brennan, another graduate of the Commonwealth Film Unit, taking the first step in a successful career that would stretch over the next three decades. The other – who also starred in the film and worked on its musical score – was Grahame Bond. Bond and Weir had met on the Architecture Review at Sydney University, where Bond likewise met his long-term collaborator, Rory O’Donoghue, with whom he worked on Homesdale’s music. The following year would see Bond, O’Donoghue, Weir and Kate Fitzpatrick collaborating on The Aunty Jack Show. For anyone of the right age, one of Homesdale’s wickedest pleasures is that Grahame Bond’s character, Mr Kevin – butcher by day, aspiring rock star by night – is explicitly a dry run for The Mighty Mighty Kev Kavanagh; there’s even a passing reference to The Kavemen! (“Swingin’, man!”) Finally, after saving on costs by acting in his earlier short films, Homesdale boasts the last appearance in front of the cameras by Peter Weir himself, playing one of the Roberts and coming to a gruesome end – or does he? – while we are also treated to a brief appearance by a completely unrecognisable Phillip Noyce.
Homesdale opens with a private ferry conveying six guests to the Homesdale Hunting Lodge. After sorting out their luggage on the dock (Miss Greenoak leaves Mr Kevin to carry hers, while the middle-aged Mrs Sharpe and the elderly Mr Levy must fend for themselves), the guests walk up a rocky, bush-lined path to the main house, where they are greeted by the Manager and his staff of Roberts. There is an immediate sense, in the attitude of the Manager, that Homesdale is less a simple guest house than it is a retreat of some kind; although what kind, exactly, remains unclear. Several of the guests are carrying sporting equipment – golf clubs, tennis racquets – but there seems to be nowhere in the vicinity that they might use them. The sign that sits over the house’s main entrance, rather than illuminating the nature of the establishment, serves only to confuse the issue more: although it announces itself as a hunting lodge, it also promises Happiness in hospice and A new experiment in togetherness. From the behaviour of the Manager we are initially inclined to think that the third phrase, with its suggestion of a New-Age-y commune and spiritual healing, is the key one, but as the film goes on we begin to understand that it is the seemingly self-contradictory second phrase, Happiness in hospice, that is closest to the truth. The “illness” that brings people to Homesdale is life itself; while Homesdale is a place where death can be a very positive experience, and where a visit will either cure you or kill you....
Although it does finally tip over into outright horror, Homesdale is predominantly a black comedy, with the jokes veering between the pleasingly original and the overly obvious. That said, the film certainly does succeed in taking us by surprise more often than not. A good example of its ability to send its subject matter in unexpected directions is the shower scene, which is notable not simply for being one of cinema’s earliest Psycho parodies, but for the way in which it builds upon itself. After the “attack”, there is abrupt cut to the apparent victim, Mr Vaughn, leaving the bathroom in good health and smiling to himself. He stops to poke his head into Mr Kevin’s room, urging him to, “Try the shower.” With a knowing grin, Mr Kevin proceeds to do just that, his cautious but expectant glances over his shoulder and his sotto voce chorus of, “I’m all alone....under the shower....” alerting us to the fact that not only is Homesdale a place where the guests might be attacked in the shower by a knife-wielding maniac, but where they are disappointed if they are not.
(There’s another joke here, too, that wasn’t necessarily intended to be one at the time: that’s Peter Weir as Mother Bates. It was supposed to be Richard Brennan, but he decided he didn’t want to wear a dress on screen.)
Possibly Homesdale’s single best joke, however, is neither verbal nor visual, but the result of exquisite editorial timing, as a stunned silence at the communal dining-table is finally broken, after the camera pans across the expressions of the other guests, shocked, sickened or disbelieving, by Miss Greenoak saying, “You mean you actually ate someone!?” Prior to this, we have been privy to the guests unpacking their things and changing from their ordinary clothing into their holiday gear, a sequence that seems to indicate that they have very little in common. We see Mr Vaughn donning army fatigues, complete with helmet; watch as the primly-suited Miss Greenoak lets down her hair and surrounds herself with dolls; and see Mr Kevin cast aside his hat and tease his hair into an appropriate style for a [*cough*] “rock star”. At this point it does not appear that these people have very much in common, but that perception changes with the dining-table sequence. While in time we will recognise that what these six people have most in common is their sense of isolation and their need to find acceptance, over dinner it will also become apparent that most if not all of them are linked by a fixation upon death.
The Manager follows up his casual revelation of cannibalism – “It was my job. It wasn’t pleasant, but it had to be done” – with an assertion that war is really a very positive thing. “It gave us something to live for then, and something to talk about now.” This provokes a range of reactions from the other guests. We learn that Mrs Sharpe, a German immigrant, and Mr Vaughn, a veteran, are each in their own way obsessed with war. Mrs Sharpe can only utter incoherent references to the killing, the horror, the ones that didn’t come back; while Mr Vaughn offers up a story of the shelling of a mess hut, during which his best friend had his entire mid-section blown away. (“We laughed....” he reminisces, in what I am sorely tempted to call the most Australian moment in Homesdale.)
However, the main purpose of this guided conversation is, it seems, to offer up the first of many opportunities for the returning guests of Homesdale to unite and turn upon the newcomer. Mr Malfry, upon being asked by the Manager if he has, “Seen death”, can only respond with the sad tale of his rickets-stricken dog, Sniffy; a confession of inadequacy that provokes an outpouring of scorn from the others. Mr Malfry is not the only victim of peer-group judgement, however. Mr Kevin is still laughing contemptuously at the thought of Sniffy when the smile is wiped from his face by the Manager suddenly turning the spotlight onto him: “And you, Mr Kevin; you’ve seen more death than any of us!” – thus revealing what Mr Kevin would certainly prefer to be kept secret: that behind his dreams (and delusions) of rock music superstardom lurks the grim reality of a butcher’s shop.
Mr Kevin having suffered his own measure of scorn – including a jeering laugh from Mr Levy, still smarting over the sleeping arrangements in their room – it is Miss Greenoak who puts the conversation back on track, as it were, by speaking enviously of the Manager’s time with the police, and what he must have seen: “Rapes, suicides, murders, road accidents....” The Manager’s only response is to deny that there is any such thing as a road accident, supporting his contention by bring up the famous case of Neil Mylow, a local serial wife-killer who disposed of his spouses in so-called accidents. “And here’s how he did it!” the Manager concludes cheerfully; and the dinner climaxes with a graphic re-enactment of the crimes in question, a elaborate tableau involving a motorcycle, a pillion-passenger, and a dangling noose....
As far as the purpose of Homesdale is ever made explicit, it is so during the first night-time sequence, wherein, with the hymn O God, our help in ages past playing in the background, a lamp-bearing Robert 2 drifts from room to room, murmuring promises of help for one and all; all but Mr Malfry, that is: he does not receive a visit. For Mrs Sharpe, Homesdale is a place where she can learn to face the truth about her past; for Mr Levy, somewhere that he can come face to face with death, and thus find the strength to live; for Miss Greenoak, once so pretty and young, somewhere she can be pretty and young again. Mr Kevin’s message is a harsh reminder of the futility of his dreams; that he is a butcher, and nothing more – except at Homesdale, where he may be a pop star if he likes....
Even as the events at the dinner-table make evident the psychological “pairing” of Mrs Sharpe and Mr Vaughn, the midnight visits of Robert 2 reveal a similar connection between Miss Greenoak and Mr Levy, both of whom are terrified of the prospect of aging, and respond with a retreat to childhood. Mr Levy spends his holiday wearing his old school uniform, while Miss Greenoak likewise appears with her hair in pig-tails and dressed in a sailor-suit not merely juvenile in design, but years out of style.
Indeed, Miss Greenoak’s retreat into a visionary world of childish games and stories is all but absolute (she returns to an adult persona chiefly to rebuff Mr Kevin’s attempts at “familiarity”), while the support and encouragement that her fantasies receive mark her as one of Homesdale’s most favoured guests. The communal concert finds her in a little-girl party dress and giving a sing-song recitation that might just pass muster at a kindergarten talent contest. (Kate Fitzpatrick here is half-Shirley Temple and half-Baby Jane – senior version.) When it is time for reading, she confines herself to books of fairy-tales; while her prize in the treasure-hunt is nothing less than a storybook prince....or so it seems at first. When the dazzled Miss Greenoak dares draw near the stranger in the woods, he turns to reveal a face horribly disfigured. Miss Greenoak recoils in shock and disappointment – before deciding that a prince is a prince, and kissing him anyway....
(It is Phillip Noyce, mysteriously billed as “Neville”, under the make-up.)
Meanwhile, Mr Levy’s experiences at Homesdale are defined by what may or may not be an actual photograph of his family, an extended, Victorian-era gathering with those now deceased marked with a cross, and only the youngest member, a boy who might be a young Mr Levy, circled as a survivor. Like Miss Greenoak, Mr Levy attracts individual indulgences. In particular, he is excused “conversation practice”, and taken out clay-pigeon shooting by Chief Robert and Robert 2. Things don’t go exactly to plan, however – or perhaps they do – when Mr Levy’s first shot takes Robert 2 full in the chest.
As the devastated Mr Levy looks on, Chief Robert inspects the damage and announces – more exasperated than shocked, it seems – “You’ve killed him.” However, he then puts a consoling hand on Mr Levy’s shoulder, promising him that the accident will be, “Our little secret.”
By way of keeping that promise, Chief Robert joins in the guests’ concert, using the shotgun as a prop and singing, “One fine Saturday morning/A doddery man without warning/Aimed a gun/Just for fun....” – and completely ignoring Mr Levy’s frantic silent pleas from the back row of the audience. However, Chief Robert’s performance is startlingly interrupted when Robert 2 himself suddenly drifts across the room. It is not entirely clear at first whether this apparent resurrection is just a figment of Mr Levy’s imagination, or whether the rumours of Robert 2’s death were greatly exaggerated – his involvement in subsequent events proves the latter – but either way, we understand that Homesdale has fulfilled its promise to Mr Levy: he has come face to face with death.
(And, oh sure, we laugh now.... We were inches away from catastrophe in the filming of the shooting sequence, when a miscalculation in the set-up saw James Lear fire his blank charge into Peter Weir’s shoulder. It is a measure of when and how this film was made that Weir responded by lying still and quiet on the ground until the scene was completed and in the can, and only then drawing attention to his injury. He subsequently spent two days in hospital.)
The pairing of the Homesdale guests is completed by Mr Kevin and Mr Malfry, who unlike their companions are not, one way or the other, obsessed with death; at least, not yet. The twin dinner-table attacks by the Manager upon these two bring into focus a strange sort of rivalry, one that in a sense seems forced upon them. Even Mr Vaughn’s concert contribution, a game called “the Aussies and the Commies”, becomes a conflict of a sort between the two, when he calls upon them for their assistance. We are not particularly surprised when Mr Malfry turns out to be “Commie”, nor when he subsequently loses.
From the beginning of Homesdale, Mr Malfry is both explicitly and implicitly the outsider. Everything that he does seems to be wrong, drawing upon him repeated scoldings from the Manager for his failure to “fit in” and “participate” and “pull his own weight”, although these lectures are conspicuously unaccompanied by anything resembling guidance. Left to his own judgement, Mr Malfry does make spasmodic attempts to get into the spirit of things, but for the most part his efforts just end up making things worse. His tentative friendly approaches to the other guests are invariably rebuffed; the treasure-hunt concludes with him dangling upside-down in a rope-trap; while in response to his failure to prepare anything for the communal concert, the anger of his fellow guests towards him rapidly escalates into physical violence.
Inevitably, it is Mr Kevin who leads the attack upon Mr Malfry. Almost from our first glimpse of him, we have been aware of Mr Kevin’s bullying tendencies, as illustrated in his automatic appropriation of the larger and more comfortable bed in the room he shares with Mr Levy, and in the cocky expression that dares the old man to do anything about it. Mr Kevin is a repeat visitor to Homesdale, but it soon becomes apparent that he is not necessarily one of the favoured. Indeed, our first hint of his true status comes when he is not attacked in the shower! While it is the Manager’s haranguing of Mr Malfry that draws the attention, his ridicule of Mr Kevin is almost as unremitting.
While the introverted Mr Malfry reacts to the Manager’s treatment of him by shrinking even further into himself, Mr Kevin takes his ill-humour out on his fellow guests – with the notable exception of ex-army man Mr Vaughn. While otherwise indiscriminate with his rude remarks, Mr Kevin aims most of his violence at the two obvious weak links, Mr Levy and Mr Malfry; and in the case of the latter, does not stop at verbal abuse. The group attack at the concert – committed by guests and Roberts alike, as the Manager looks on unmoved – is as shocking as it is unexpected. Mr Malfry is grabbed and assaulted, his clothes torn to pieces, and then held down upon a table as Mr Kevin (now wearing his butcher’s apron) looms over him, machete in hand, and as the others chant, “Sacrifice! Sacrifice!” The Manager does finally intervene, but inevitably it is the victim who bears the brunt of his anger and disgust. One final lecture, one final criticism for not even trying to fit in, and then Mr Malfry receives his marching orders: he is to depart Homesdale first thing in the morning. A shattered Mr Malfry is finally left alone in the concert-room; alone, that is, but for Mr Levy, who has dozed peacefully through the entire brutal episode....
While there is no mistaking the talent behind the camera in Homesdale, it is nevertheless very much a “student film”, with its ideas considerably stronger than its execution. In this respect, the film’s brief running-time, just over fifty minutes, works in its favour, allowing what are in truth obscurities to pass as deliberate ambiguities. From a story point of view, the main problem here is the determined way in which the viewer is prevented from gaining any real insight into Mr Malfry. We are told or can infer various details about all the other visitors and what it is that brings them to Homesdale, but even at the end Mr Malfry remains a mystery – if not indeed a blank slate. While much of this was certainly intentional, particularly in view of the film’s eventual punch-line, it leaves the audience uncertain as to how to react to Mr Malfry himself, and to the abuse of him by the others.
However, Homesdale’s many visual virtues, natural and cinematic, are more than adequate compensation for its occasional dramatic infelicities. To an extent this film’s production was a case of the actors wearing their own clothes and bringing their own knick-knacks, but Wendy Stites’ decoration of the interiors of Homesdale is worth close attention. Of particular note are the framed photographs and prints that line the walls, which are disturbinging in themselves and also act as portents of certain events. Homesdale was, of course, shot in glorious black-and-white, and boasts any number of startling images, as well as a palpably menacing atmosphere. There are a few amateur stumbles along the way, some inappropriate lighting, some shadows where there shouldn’t be, but they take little away from the finished product. Indeed, this roughness even adds to the mood of the piece, as does the graininess of the image.
Close-ups abound here, as is the case with most of Peter Weir’s films, and while the harsh lighting brings an almost Hogarth-ian feel to some of these images, there are also any number of quite luminous shots of Kate Fitzpatrick, who is treated most lovingly by her director and cameraman. (At Weir’s insistence, it is images of Fitzpatrick that today dominate all of the advertising art associated with this film.) The cinematography also turns the bush around Homesdale into a character in its own right, particularly during the treasure-hunt sequence, in which it surrounds and looms over these misplaced, rather foolish human beings. While many of those involved in the creation of Homesdale would go on to long careers in the arts, the cinematography was remarkably the work of a rookie, Anthony Wallis, whose only turn behind the camera this would ever be.
While Homesdale is certainly not without an interest all its own, at this distance it is perhaps most arresting for the astonishingly clear glimpses it affords us of the subsequent career of Peter Weir. Short though it is, this film contains a number of themes to which the director would return again and again over the following decades. We find here the first of many examinations of social alienation, of the deceptiveness of appearances, and of the clash between cultures, and between civilisation and nature. In the Manager, we have the initial appearance of a character found in several of Weir’s films, the puppet-master who manipulates the actions of those around them, with or without their knowledge. Most vitally, however, Homesdale contains the earliest instance of the scenario most frequently explored by Peter Weir in his films, that of the outsider who is dropped by circumstance into a situation or a society operating under a strict though often mysterious set of rules, with which the newcomer must quickly come to terms – or else.
In both detail and theme, Homesdale prefigures Peter Weir’s first feature-film, The Cars That Ate Paris, made in 1974 and also co-written by Piers Davies. Both films deal with ordinary people driven to desperate acts; the seemingly helpless Mr Malfry is an embryonic version of Terry Camilleri’s car-crash survivor, Arthur Waldo; while the short film’s sickly humorous notion of a serial killer armed with a motorcycle looks forward to the ubiquitous vehicular mayhem of the later work. However, still more clearly, and from the perspective of the director’s overall career far more importantly, Homesdale is also a foreshadowing of the film that would establish Peter Weir on the international stage, Picnic At Hanging Rock.
The points of resemblance between Homesdale and Picnic At Hanging Rock are fascinating not just for the mere fact of them, but for the way in which they illustrate the progressive shift of Peter Weir’s own attitudes, and the growing complexity of his work; one viewing of Homesdale is enough to explain why Weir was drawn so strongly to the later project. When we consider Homesdale, both the lodge and its manner of operation, we cannot help but notice the faux-Britishness of it all, and not least of the Manager himself; a factor that lends an extra edge to his smoothly condescending attitude towards his broadly Australian guests. (It is probably also in this light that we should read the collection of degrading images of black people that decorate the walls.) The lodge itself, with its regimented activities and its uniformed staff, and its insistence upon “lining up”, seems like a cross between a post-WWII holiday camp and a boarding-school.
It is certainly the latter to Mr Malfry, who starts off being introduced as “a new boy”, and progresses from being lectured more in sorrow than in anger - “Malfry, Malfry, Malfry....” - to being admonished for smoking and threatened with the cane, and finally to being furiously told, “Stand up properly when I’m talking to you!” The film’s theme song (“Homesdale, Homesdale, we’re the boys of Homesdale....”), which is set to a marching beat, also reinforces the feeling that the guests are in a place where they are not being entertained, or even treated, so much as they are being moulded to fit another’s design.
When Picnic At Hanging Rock begins, we find ourselves in the company of another professional manipulator who also operates under the guise of natural superiority. Unlike the Manager, however, this one is one doomed to failure: Mrs Appleyard’s command of herself and her school are as illusionary as the fake British “gentility” that she sells to gullible Australian parents; and it is the environment in which she operates her elaborate shell-game that will ultimately be her downfall. Similarly, what is perhaps the most evocative aspect of Picnic At Hanging Rock, the stark visual contrast offered by the picnickers and their surroundings, is preceded in Homesdale by a less extreme version of the same situation. The treasure-hunt sees each of the guests issued with a map and a “survival kit” and sent off to find their individual prize. (In Mr Malfry’s case, the “prize” is of course humiliation.) All but Mr Vaughn, in army fatigues as always, are entirely inappropriately dressed and shod; and it is with a mounting sense of their physical danger and general helplessness that we watch them stumbling through the bush surrounding the lodge. In this case, they survive their experience; in Homesdale, the threat lurks within, not without, its walls; but by the time of Picnic At Hanging Rock, such would no longer be the case. There, the bush is no mere passive threat, but an actively hostile one; and the juxtapositioning of the Appleyard College and its environment no simple matter of “culture” and “nature”, but a deadly conflict between the most artificial kind of civilisation, and the brutal reality of the Australian landscape.
Like Michael before it, Homesdale won for its director both popular and critical acclaim. It screened at festivals and competed for prizes, bringing home the prestigious Grand Prix award from the AFI. At length, it was sold for television broadcast to Peter Weir’s old home, ATN-7, for $7000, a sum that paid off all remaining expenses, with the remnant being divided amongst the participants; their only payment. Homesdale’s success was one more urgent sign amongst many that Australia was ready to build and support its own film industry. At last the government began to move, setting up funds and creating financial incentives and a proper distribution network that would finally see local film-makers given the opportunities they craved; while this action in turn prompted a greater willingness to take risks on the part of the enthusiastic but eternally under-resourced local producers.
The outcome of these sweeping changes was an era of unbridled creativity that is sometimes referred to as the Australian New Wave....although it’s difficult to know how you can have a new wave when you haven’t had a wave in the first place. During this time, locally-produced films tended to fall into one of three categories, broadly speaking. There were, as always, those films that were instigated overseas, which continued to use Australia primarily as an exotic backdrop for their actors; although it was noticeable that far more weight began to be given in them to local characters and perspectives. Then there were the government-approved, prestige productions, shaped with an eye to the international market – and far too often compromised in order to make them more “foreigner-friendly”. And finally, there were those productions most of interest to this website, those emanating from a new breed of film-makers that couldn’t care less about prestige or government approval or anything much besides the freedom inherent in the newly-created R-rating; and whose energy and individuality of vision would light up Australian cinema screens for more than a decade to follow with a hyperkinetic mixture of sex, violence, action and horror.