Australian short films (1)

  • The Roof Needs Mowing Gillian Armstrong 1971 See it here.
  • George and Needles Greg Dee 1972 See it here.
  • Glenn’s Story Arnold Zable 1979 See it here.

Arnold Zable gives his thoughts on these youthful 1970s endeavours:

We yearned to focus, instead, on Australian stories, told by uniquely Australian voices, and we were prepared to experiment in a search for new ways to tell the stories.

The themes marked a return to that which had not changed, and were driven by an understanding that there were Australians who had missed out on the excitement, people still living lives of quiet desperation in suburbia.

Artists were also in search of stories that documented the overlooked individuality and creativity being expressed in the suburbs. After all, that’s where most Australians lived. The artist’s eye was also drawn to those who struggled at the margins, the outsiders, the alienated, especially among the youth sub cultures – as storytellers we were in search of unique characters, and unsung lives.

All of them capture something Australian, but Armstrong’s is arty – you can see why she ended up a star. The other two are about ungarnished reality and are as visceral as The Roof Needs Mowing is not.

That said, it’s impossible not to feel the unease that Nigel Buesst sardonically expresses in a 2003 interview:

On reflection I’d say that Melbourne in the sixties was seen as a fairly boring city and that we wanted to make films that might change that perception In fact I remember going to America in 1972, with a couple of films under my arm which I was not reluctant to show around at various film colleges. They had originality and bite. One film was George and Needles (1971) by Greg Dee who now runs Channel 31 [community television station], about a couple of alcoholic bums in Hawthorn. It was a bit of a ground-breaker, venturing into the dark, slovenly lives of a couple of outsiders. The middle class always enjoy perving on dysfunctional people – I think if Ken Park (Larry Clark & Edward Lachman, 2003) gets shown at the film festival, there will be a good full house, because we get some satisfaction from witnessing the inferiority of others. So anyway, the savagery and the honesty of George and Needles still stands up well. And many of the equivalent films being made in American colleges at the time were far less adventurous.

Curious to know what became of George and Needles, who weren’t even worthy of surnames in the credits – or did they not want to be identified? – I hunted around.  It’s worth going here: Film Buffs Podcast No 53 1 hour 56 minute mark, where Paul Harris interviews Greg Dee, the maker. It does discuss issues such as getting the trust of the movie’s protagonists. But still, it sounds like getting the trust of stray dogs or something. And the net consequence is that the film makers and we, the audience, are perving. I find nothing of these men who are the movie in my nosing around online.

But at least in Glenn’s Story, we have the surname of the boy who says he expects his next stop to be Pentridge. He has a LinkedIn page detailing his social work career, and summarised by his paraphrasing of a Dr Seuss quote: ‘To the world you are one person. But to one person you maybe the world.  Never underestimate the power of mentoring…’

So, who was Glenn’s mentor, between that grim late seventies film and his recovered life? Indeed he did go to Pentridge just a couple of years after this film, and his mentor inside was Chopper. Whilst finding it surreal, the way Melbourne has turned its underground into celebrity TV,  Chopper really does seem to deserve any amount of attention. For more on this story, how different Chopper was from the rest in Pentridge and how  important that could be to a young person in trouble, there is this report.  Glenn is one of those featured in Rachel Porter’s book Doin’ Time.

Meanwhile, after a long career at Channel 31 in Melbourne, Greg Dee became ‘The Accidental Baker’ and this short film of what he does here is rather inspirational on its own account. And here is an account of No Limits, a show he insisted upon in his time with community TV.

 

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