Tag Archives: David Williamson

Petersen (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going back to school.

Tony Petersen (Jack Thompson) is an electrician who decides to go back to school and major in English. He feels people look down on him because he works a blue collar job and hope that by returning to college to get a degree that will change, but instead he finds he’s still not getting the respect that he desires particularly from his stuffy professor (Arthur Dingnam), so he ends up having an affair with the man’s wife (Wendy Hughes),  but things don’t stop there. He has sex with the coeds too including right out in the open on the campus grounds for public display while hundreds of onlookers surround them.

The screenplay was written by acclaimed Australian playwright David Williamson, who’s best known for having penned the cult hit Don’s Party However, this film lacks the fluidity of that one and seems more like a selection of vignettes than a story. The leader character isn’t likable either and comes off as selfish while in Don’s Party we were able to understand the protagonists frustration with his marriage here the domestic situation doesn’t seem as bad and therefore watching him mess around isn’t cute, funny, or sexy and instead just tiring and off-putting.

The biggest problem though is that the film starts right away at the halfway point where Petersen has already been attending school and neck-deep in an affair instead of going back to where it all began. Showing Petersen’s frustrations with his job and income, instead of just being told about it through dialogue, would’ve helped the viewer empathize more with his situation and emotionally invested with his quandary instead of feeling lost and ambivalent in the jumbled narrative.

There are a few good scenes here-and-there including a very ugly moment where a group of obnoxious bikers crash an upscale party and make things quite tense for the guests who are seemingly unable to do anything about it. Later there’s a poignant segment involving a discussion that Petersen has with his father (Charles Tingwell), who works as a reverend at a church despite professing to having lost his faith. Petersen’s public sex act has great potential too and even though it does contain full frontal male nudity, which at the time was still considered shocking to see in a mainstream film, it doesn’t get played-up enough to really being as funny or irreverent as it should’ve been.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also several moments though that needed more context, which is frustratingly lacking. One includes Petersen getting caught making-out with his friend’s wife by his own spouse (Jacki Weaver) who looks very disappointed in him, but we never get any follow-up almost  like the whole situation just gets forgotten by the next day. There’s another scene where Petersen rapes his lover inside her own office, but without showing any aftermath. Such a violent, disturbing act deserves some denouncement and not treated like a throwaway bit such as it is.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall if you stick with it the characters do have a way of growing on you, but the story needed to be more developed. Too much emphasis on being edgy and provocative, but filled with characters in desperate need of depth and better connecting pieces between scenes.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

Don’s Party (1976)

dons party 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10        

4-Word Review: This party gets wild.

It’s October 25, 1969 and the election for Australian Prime Minister is being broadcast all over the nation. Don Henderson (John Hargreaves) is a Sydney suburbanite hoping that the Labor Party will unseat the incumbent Liberal one and invites his friends over to his home to watch the results. Things start out cordial at first, but as the night wears on and the alcohol takes its toll it heats up. Sexual escapades, arguments and fistfights breakout as the veil of civility comes off and their true selves come out.

This is playwright David Williamson’s most famous work and one that was not only a giant hit in his homeland, but has achieved worldwide acclaim. What I loved about the movie and what makes it so funny is that it cuts out the pretense and shows people as they really are while becoming a scathing indictment on suburbia. Most movies tend to pullback and sanitize things, but this one takes the opposite approach with a crude, in-your-face style that pokes holes at every level of suburban lifestyle that is refreshingly honest and totally accurate. The characters are excessively crass and there’s an abundance of sex and nudity, but sprinkled with a definite grain of truth that makes it more revealing about human nature than shocking.

An actual house was used for the setting, which helps avoid the static feeling and director Bruce Beresford does a good job of taking advantage of all the different rooms in the place and uses a variety of camera angles and shots to give it a nice visual flow. The performances are unilaterally superb and the actors appear genuinely intoxicated making the viewer feel drunk with them as they watch them down one beer after another.

The film’s drawback is that the characters lose their inhibitions too quickly and behave in an unnaturally aggressive way right from the start. It would’ve been more fun had they been overtly civil at the beginning only to watch it slowly deteriorate as the film progresses. There are also a few scenes where the background music is too loud and it’s impossible to hear what the characters are saying, which makes this otherwise slick production come off as a bit amateurish.

I first saw this movie back when I was in college and at the time I just didn’t get it. It seemed excessively profane without any redeeming qualities and filled with characters who were hateful and crude, but then I saw it years later after I’d lived in suburbia and become middle-aged it all suddenly made sense. In fact it made a little too much sense as the message it conveys and portrait it creates is not a pleasant one, but I admire the filmmakers for having the tenacity to bring it to light without compromise or hesitation.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 10, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bruce Beresford

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Removalists (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops abuse their authority.

Having just graduated from police training Neville (John Hargreaves) is both excited and nervous about joining the force. His first day on the job working at a small police station with the conservative and boisterous Sargent Dan Simmonds (Pete Cummins) as his new boss gets off to a rocky start and then gets even worse when two sisters arrive to report an incident. Kate (Kate Fitzpatrick) is the older of the two who says that her shy younger sibling Marilyn (Jacki Weaver) has been abused by her husband Kenny (Martin Harris) and will require the services of the two policemen to help move her things out of her apartment and keep Kenny under control while they do it. The two cops oblige, but to everyone’s shock the Sargent immediately becomes physically abusive to the husband when he enters the place and while he has him handcuffed. The beatings escalate throughout the day until Kenny looks to be on the brink of death forcing the two officers into a heated argument over what type of alibi they should use should the victim eventually die.

The film was written by the talented David Williamson and based on one of his stage plays. Williamson is noted, especially in Australia, for his darkly humored subject matter and scathing wit with this one being no exception. It starts out with a caustic tone that just proceeds to get stronger as it progresses. The actions by the Sargent are disturbing and reprehensible, but the fact that the character doesn’t see it that way and expounds on the importance of ‘self-control’ and having a rigid morality shows just how out-of-touch he is with his own contradictions, which makes him quite human and strangely engaging while also making a great commentary on the abuse of police power.

This also marks the film debut of legendary Australian actor John Hargreaves who went on to have a remarkable film career with a wide array of interesting roles before unfortunately dying at age of 50 from AIDS. His portrayal of a nervous and hesitant new recruit is humorously on-target, but the way his character becomes more emboldened as the day wears on is even more interesting.

The film’s downfall is the fact that the sets are visually dull. To some extent this works particularly in the rundown apartment that the majority of the action takes place in because it helps to symbolize how trapped the characters are with their own deteriorating and misguided value system, but it still ultimately gives the film too much of a low budget and unimaginative look. The story itself is predictable and although laced with darkly amusing moments could’ve been funnier and played-up more.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tom Jeffrey

Studio: Seven Keys

Available: DVD (Region 0)