1970s Melbourne Screen Culture

RMIT University, Building 80, Level 10 – Room 80.09.11

Kennedy Miller’s Melbourne

James Robert Douglas, RMIT University

Film and television production company Kennedy Miller Mitchell (KMM) has long been fixed in industry and media perception as a Sydney-based enterprise. Producers of the Mad Max sequence (along with the Babe and Happy Feet films), the company has been headquartered in the Metro Theatre, in Kings Cross, since founders George Miller and Byron Kennedy relocated to NSW from Melbourne in the wake of the international success of the first Mad Max. Though that debut feature was produced in Victoria – including, famously, some scenes shot in the underground car park at the University of Melbourne – subsequent KMM works across its near half decade of production have been definitively Sydney-based.

But if the company’s ongoing existence owes much Sydney, its origins are intimately tied to Melbourne and its surrounds. Kennedy himself was born in Kingsville, and went to school in Footscray, and the significance of Melbourne not only as a location, but as an industrial and cultural centre for screen art is felt across his earliest works with Miller.

In this paper, I will explore some of the ways in which Melbourne is present in Kennedy and Miller’s earliest productions, from the physical spaces they depict on screen, to the impact of local filmmaking infrastructure (such as Crawford Productions) and local cinema culture (like the ‘Carlton Ripple’ filmmakers). Focusing on two of their short works, Frieze: An Underground Film and Devil in Evening Dress, I will suggest how Melbourne’s significance as a hub of screen activity in the 1970s shaped the development of one of Australia’s most critically and commercially successful production houses.

James Robert Douglas is a freelance arts critic and journalist, and postgraduate research student at RMIT University. He has completed a Bachelor of Arts (with Honours) and Graduate Diploma of Arts at The University of Melbourne. His writing has been published in Metro, Meanjin, The Lifted Brow, The Age, The Saturday Paper, The Dissolve, The Awl, and The New Yorker.


Definitely not in Kansas – Oz: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Road Movie and Glam Melbourne

Gemma Blackwood, Charles Darwin University

‘C’mon, let’s go and see the far king wizard then!’ In Chris Lofven’s joyful and little seen 1976 adaptation of Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz tale, a seedy-looking Melbourne of the mid 1970s stands in for the fictional Emerald City. The heroine Dorothy (Joy Dunstan) is a music groupie, the ‘scarecrow’ (Bruce Spence) is a surfie, and the ‘tin man’ (Michael Carman) is an auto-mechanic, who in a quite literal verbal pun consumes tinnies’ of beer. Dorothy and her eccentric posse travel across rural Victoria to reach the wizard (Graham Matters), in this retelling an extravagant glam-rock musician attired in David Bowie splendour. Key rock venues are utilised carefully in the film, such as the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and the Palais Theatre. Overall, the film captures a sense of the city as a rock Mecca, an alluring but also dangerous place. In this paper I examine the director’s use of locations of the road movie from rural outback Victoria through to inner urban Melbourne. These locations are key storytelling devices to dramatise a coming-of-­age tale with an ultimate moral lesson: that ‘fame and fortune fuck you up’.

Gemma Blackwood is Coordinator of Communication Studies in the School of Creative Arts and Humanities at Charles Darwin University. She recently edited the book Motion Pictures: Travel ideals in Film (with Andrew McGregor), which was released in July 2016. In 2012, she wrote a chapter on youth films in Melbourne for World Film Locations: Melbourne. She is currently researching a monograph on representations of the outback in cinema.


Pure S: Melbourne as an ‘any-space-whatever’

Timothy Deane-Freeman, Deakin University

When Bert Deling’s Pure Shit premiered at Melbourne’s Playbox Theatre in 1976, the vice squad raided the building. The then Herald‘s film critic Andrew McKay described it as “the most evil film that I’ve ever seen.” This chaotic no-budget film, hounded to the verge of obscurity by both its artistic difficulty and its stoushes with censorship, has inevitably become an underground Australian classic. Chronicling 48 debauched hours in the lives of a group of heroin users, the film is oriented less towards the inner lives of its characters than to the grim nocturnal mis-en-scene against which their action takes place. This gritty Melbourne backdrop becomes what Gilles Deleuze, in his influential books of film-philosophy, Cinema I and Cinema II, describes as an ‘any-space-whatever.’

These spaces, prototypically, for Deleuze, the desolated post-war cities of Europe as filmed by the Italian neo-realists, present us with milieu in which action no longer seems possible, much less of any consequence. In the catastrophic context of ‘global history,’ the sensory-motor schema – the actions and intentions of the individual characters – become meaningless or purely responsive. As Deleuze translators Tomlinson and Galeta put it: “the unities of situation and action can no longer be maintained in the disjointed post-war world. This gives rise to pure optical and sound situations from which the ‘direct time-image’ emerges.”

This paper explores Melbourne as an ‘any-space-whatever,’ a place which, in the post-industrial malaise of the late 20th century, could be anywhere. But further, and perhaps more importantly, it makes the claim that this indiscernibility of place creates the conditions for a pure or direct confrontation with time, enabling us to perceive what Proust would describe as “a little time in the pure state.” Deling’s film represents a direct Deleuzian time-image, a temporal object liberated from the trajectories of coherent action and narrative which characterised the modern or classical cinema. Pure Shit, with its sweating, incoherent characters, its situation within an ‘any-space­-whatever,’ represents the power afforded us by late 20th century cinema to access the ontological character of time itself.

Timothy Deane-Freeman is a PhD student at Deakin University. Tim is currently working on the film ­philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, but has broad interests across the fields of aesthetics, philosophies of artistic and cultural production, and the social, economic and political implications of various artistic practices. Tim is also a musician active in Melbourne’s live music scene, and is interested in the intersection of creative practice with theoretical works of post-structural philosophy.