On the Beach and Beyond

Deakin Edge

On the (Hot Frankston) Beach: Ava Gardner and Melbourne in the 1950s

Belinda Glynn, Monash University

In early 1959, a Hollywood production crew descended on Melbourne to film Stanley Kramer’s black and white apocalyptic drama On the Beach. Anxious to capture a glimpse of the film’s stars, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Gregory Peck, crowds reportedly disrupted the film’s shooting in the suburban streets of Melbourne. Philip Davey reports that Fred Astaire delighted onlookers, performing an impromptu dance on the steps of Frankston station. Ava Gardner, however, was made a less favourable impression; swearing, falling over and fluffing her lines. The negative depiction of the actress in the Australian press continued, with Gardner unwittingly being drawn into the longstanding Melbourne-Sydney feud when a Sydney journalist falsely attributed to her the quote, “On the Beach is a story about the end of the world, and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it.” Although Gardner never said those words, the media coverage of her stay in Melbourne drew on her reputation as a femme fatale, a heavy drinking beauty whose tumultuous relationship with Frank Sinatra had just ended with the same fireworks with which it started. However, while this was issue was playing out in the media, United Artists and Stanley Kramer Productions were launching an extensive campaign promoting the film that culminated in it premiering at 18 different locations around the world at the same time, and needed Gardner’s star power to help draw audiences. This paper looks at how the discourse surrounding the star figure of Ava Gardner in On the Beach embodied a number of different tensions: the conflict between Hollywood cinema and local industry; how to reconcile various ideas prevalent in the Australian media as to how a woman should behave with Gardner’s behaviour; and what it meant to be a glamourous, famous working woman in that long hot 1950s Melbourne summer.

Belinda Glynn is a doctoral candidate at Monash University. She is a co-editor of the online journal Peephole (www.peepholeiournal.tv) and worked on the organising committee of the New Directions in Screen Studies Conference. Her research examines the negotiation and agency in relation to female stars in classical Hollywood.


Beyond On the Beach: Melbourne on Film in 1950s

Adrian Danks, RMIT University

Stanley Kramer’s fizzingly apocalyptic On the Beach dominates and defines popular understandings of Melbourne’s cinematic representation in the 1950s. Shot in the city and its surroundings from January to March 1959, and released internationally towards the end of the year, both the film and Nevil Shute’s source novel have been highly influential in reinforcing particular notions of 1950s Melbourne as a staid, sleepy, uneventful and architecturally conservative metropolis. This hard-to-shake view of Melbourne in this period has been further compounded by the lack of comparative feature film images of the city (a brief view in 1952′ s Road to Bali excepted). Nevertheless, Melbourne does appear in a range of less noted and disparate short films, mini-features and documentaries produced by government funded entities like the Commonwealth Film Unit and the State Film Centre, small production entities formed around the architecture department at the University of Melbourne (often made by major Melbourne architects such as Robin Boyd and Peter McIntyre) and the Melbourne University Film Society, and such maverick independent filmmakers as Giorgio Mangiamele. Many of the works made by these filmmakers also provide a more critical, though at times celebratory, view of the changing cityscape of Melbourne (height limits for buildings were “exploded” by the completion of lCI House in 1958), the tentative embrace of modernity and internationalisation (e.g. the impact of the 1956 Olympics) and the changing ethnicities of the inner city and suburbs. This paper will map the broader terrain of Melbourne’s filmic representation in the 1950s by exploring the various ways in which the city is represented in somewhat forgotten or marginalised films like The Melbourne Wedding Belle (1953), Sunday in Melbourne (1958), Your House and Mine (1954), Il Contratto (1953), and Dial “P “for Plughole (1954).


Nuking Melbourne – the imagination of disaster on screen

Mick Broderick, Murdoch University

Bookended between Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film adaptation of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach and David Williamson’s 1999 TV miniseries/telemovie version are a number of lesser known films that imagine Melbourne as a site of nuclear catastrophe. These include Giorgio Mangiamele’s little seen Beyond Reason (1968-70) and Ray Bosley’s micro􀀇budget Smoke ’em if you Got ’em (1988). This paper considers a number of local productions, including the author’s own short experimental work (Only the Strong 1988), that evoke this cinematic imaginary and contrasts these with related cultural paratexts and historical research that reveals the veracity, or otherwise, of the fictional scenarios.

If Ava Gardiner’s apocryphal(?) observation suggested Melbourne was an ideal site to make a film about the end of the world, what was it about the southern metropolis that continued to fascinate screen producers as a site of annihilation? How might contrasting scenarios of Sydney – that great urban competitor and antagonist – offer differing subjectivities of nuclear cataclysm ( e.g. One Night Stand, The Nostradamus Kid, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome)? Drawing from the scholarship of disaster capitalism (from Sontag to Klein) and apocalyptic narrative (Cohn and Kermode ), this paper will consider Melbourne on screen as a locus for millennial imaginings in the nuclear age.

Mick Broderick is Associate Professor of Media Analysis at Murdoch University. Among his recent works is the monograph Reconstructing Strange/ave: inside Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Nightmare Comedy’ (2016) and a forthcoming special issue/dossier on “Post-Kubrick” for the film history journal Screening the Past (2017).