My Dreadful Failure as an Australian Filmmaker
published in Spinach No.3, Melbourne, 2004
Ten years ago, I thought it would be really fun to get the then 'Coles girl' (Lisa McCune) to drop her placenta one month prior to child birth, then have the placenta force its way down her husband's (Brett Climo) throat while her womb explodes. I also thought it would be a barrel of monkeys to kill a whole lot of soapie stars in a feature film.
I also thought people would like it. Here in Australia, they sure didn't. Body Melt had no 'hero', no 'journey', no '3-act-structure', no 'multicultural aspirations', and no condescending dismissal of bogan suburbia (very important in quality Aussie comedy). Late last year Tarantino proclaimed Body Melt 'the best Australian film of the 90's' - but hey, what would he know? David Stratton hit it better on the mark: "Pity."
Since that failure - and seeing that I so sincerely respect David Stratton's beard and Margaret Pomeranz's earrings, I've been trying really hard to fit into this glorious place we call Australia. I've been taking special drugs that allow me to say how great the 'industry' here is, plus I've had shock treatment that is making me start to feel that Cannes and Sundance are actually important places. I've got to keep up the medication, though. It's expensive, but if the great critical experts we have in Australia don't mind getting tongue rash from cleaning up other countries rear ends, I guess I can put up with a little irritation.
The first really cool idea I had when I was high on my medication was to have a group of 30-something accountants to rebel; a la 'information warriors'. You see it's the future and the media controls people (that's an original idea of mine), and these guys are way cool. They're all dressed in early 80’s black leather, (your mum would think they're kinda spooky) - and they wear dark sunglasses even when it's not bright. So they run around everywhere until they find out that there's an alternate reality - which is the real reality but which they didn't know about, and - well, I kind of got lost there. It was too confusing for me. It kinda freaked with my limited worldview, plus The Matrix came out and became a great model for accountants, real estate agents and digital animators, so I figured I better try something else.
Of course I had the standard idea about drag queens. My one was about a rock band formed in Perth who had never heard of The Village People, and they all ended up dressing as the same characters totally by chance. Then some Melbourne A+R dude signs them up and they become huge. As the A+R guy says to everyone: "No - they're actually straight!" This script got very near to development, but in the end most producers felt it wasn't vehemently misogynist enough. I tried putting in some 'smells-like-fish' jokes in - plus I had the whole band turn gay after being enlightened by a gay that all straights are really gay but just don't know it (a concept that still blows my mind). Unfortunately I realised I just didn't have the right fake-gay-pride that makes these cute movies so successful internationally.
After this, I contacted the producers of Survivor and sold them the concept that Australia was the biggest wilderness in the world. I even convinced them there are no cities here. Well, that's only a white lie, cos it's half-true despite what Sydney Harboursiders believe. So they fell for it. But the royalties for selling that concept only just pays my medication.
After I shifted to a new medication (the one I was using was taken off the market 'cos of a copyright breach in their slogan "See an Australian Movie tonight!"), my ideas became a bit too, well, ambitious. After doing some favours for a guy who made a heap of money managing an agency devoted to ex-rockers making 'quality' music for children (I gave him the idea 'Penises in Pyjamas' - but he's suing a network over breach of copyright on that one), I contacted Kylie's management with an offer to have sex with a dog. (Her, not me.) It was meant to be a comedy, sort of like The Annabelle Chong Story meets Milo and Otis. They were interested because of the huge sum of money I was able to offer them, but then my contact married his boyfriend who thought it was in bad taste to make fun of Kylie. Plus I stupidly didn't realise that Kylie was an important cultural ambassador for Australia, and that what she does is really very clever, and that her success is to be endlessly lauded. I thought she just sang crappy retro gay-bo 80's Euro-trash disco with no irony - but clearly I'm wrong.
I then thought sci-fi might be good to jump onto especially since there's now no difference between NASA and Star Trek - plus I was really impressed by Kenny G's performance on a Star Trek special a few years back. So I came up with an idea about a bunch of ravers from the late 80's who trip really bad on E and are jettisoned into the future 15 years and find themselves in a movie made about 'the rave scene' by a bunch of finger-on-the-pulse ex-marketing dudes. But people might think I'm ripping off One Perfect Day.
My current project in development is sort of getting back to my roots I guess. I get 100 of the most popular cable show presenters here in Australia - you know, all those ex media students and wannabe spokesmodels with messy funky hair who have incredibly perceptive wild 'n' wacky things to say at the drop of a hat - and have them die in prolonged agony for 60 seconds each (a homage to that high quality ethical journalist show of the same name). Granted they're all bad actors, but my approach is to inflict acceptable levels of pain for realism. The project's called "100 Australian Cable Show Presenters - Dead". I'm just going through the final negotiations now, as Village Road Show like the idea - especially as I said it's like a reality show but there's no competition and everyone wins. But they want it to be only 90 minutes. I just don't like that as a title: "90 Australian Cable Show Presenters – Dead".
|Body Melt, new Blu-ray cover. Purchase only at JB-Hi Fi. Limited edition of 2000 copies|
Editor’s Note: The Australian film Body Melt was made in 1993. It has just been restored to 4K digital and released on Blu-ray. For an explanation of what happened to it, who liked it and how it near sank without trace you can click on this link to a most generous piece by the venerable Adrian Martin.
The piece above was first printed in 2004, a decade after Body Melt’s release. The pain of it all was then still raw.
I’m grateful to Philip Brophy and producer Rod Bishop for retrieving the article and providing it here for re-publication. It's an epic in a thousand words or so as to just what's wrong with Australian film production, a full road map of just how tiny and closed minds ensure that standards of mediocrity prevail.