Thursday 19 October 2023

Vale Stan Dalby - Barrie Pattison remembers one of the pioneers of Australian film-making

The recent death of Stanley Dalby (pictured above) has passed without a half-page obit in the Sydney Morning Herald,  an evening new items or a retrospective at the Arc Cinema but, as an in-house filmmaker at Film Australia, Stanley had once been one of the busiest movie directors in this country.

Until their status was eroded, first by TV and then by a feature film industry, Film Australia (previously the Dept of the Interior Film Unit and then the Commonwealth Film Unit) had been the prestige end of local production. They turned out the official entries you would see in schools, theatrical first halves and in their privileged status as contributor to local film festivals. John Heyer, the country’s most respected film maker after his Back of Beyond carried off its awards, ran up to speed at the D.O.I. and when They’re a Weird Mob launched Australian feature making, it recruited talents like Tom Cowan and Don Crombie from Film Australia.

Stanley Dalby didn’t desert the ship and continued making their official documentary shorts  includingThe DSTO laboratories in South Australia (1982) a film produced for the Defence Research Centre in Salisbury, South Australia by Film Australia. He was a good fit with Film Australia. While the progressive element plotted Vietnam protests, Stanley volunteered for the coverage of Royal visits and was chuffed when the Duke of Edinburgh (doubtless with a prompt from a diligent social secretary) greeted him “I believe we have met before, Mr. Dalby.” But Stan’s respect for authority was tempered. He had a bobblehead of Queen Elizabeth on the mantle piece.

Stanley’s family had fled the Communists replacing the Nazis who controlled Czechoslovakia during Stanley’s school days. We once at a party did the Horst Wessel Song as a duet.  I’d learned it propping up Kevin Brownlow on It Happened Here. Arriving with basic English, Stanley became a jackeroo and graduated to the city and the circle generated by Hayes Gordon at the Ensemble Theatre. Stan’s own amateur theatre company put on “Hedda Gabler” at the Wizard’s Club in George Street, because the cast list matched his membership.

He made a short dramatic film called Night Wait, where a hunchback’s attempt to move on a waitress, who shares the bus stop, ends badly. For someone who had never made a film, it showed a remarkable understanding of the form and a sensitivity with actors. This was the point at which the Underground Movie movement reached Australia and Night Wait was scooped up in their screenings. Stanley did a feature-length Biblical spectacle, which became the operation’s most ambitious undertaking, till the last copy went up in smoke in the Hobart fire. He made experimental pieces under the name of Frank Radd.

This attracted the attention of Film Australia. Stan moved up through the ranks joining reliables like Jack Rogers, Don Murray, Richard Mason, Ian Dunlop, Robert Kingsbury and Tony Colacino there.

When a new broom brought that to an end, Stan didn’t turn to his window boxes, though smart investments in property had given him a measure of independence. He moved to Goulburnhome of the Big Merino, and ran the A.V. Unit at the police academy. He translated an art theory book by famous Czech animator Jan Ň†vankmajer. In with all this, he acquired three wives and a daughter. He was an epicure cook and he traveled widely. I knew him for sixty years and, like his many long-term associates, valued his friendship. His was a full life. 

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