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Australia 1976
Directed by
Bruce Beresford
90 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Don's Party

Anyone under the age of 30 seeing this film is likely to marvel at the near pre-historic state of Australian middle-class culture at the beginning of the 1970s. It may seem awfully crude but scriptwriter David Williamson, who adapted his own hit play about a schoolteacher and failed writer, and his milieu, no doubt drew on a good measure of autobiographical content..The film, shot almost entirely at night in a single interior, was a commercial and critical success with both Williamson and Beresford winning AFI's (and other awards going to Pat Bishop (Jenny) and Veronica Lang (Jody) for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress and William Anderson for editing).

Australian films of the 70s tended to fall into two camps - tasteful period dramas like Picnic At Hanging Rock 1975 and bawdy sex romps like Stork, 1971, which Williamson also wrote). Don's Party falls, if not exactly between the two, then at the top end of the sex romp category being dignified by its more developed characterization and thematic issues, qualities apparently giving it a satiric cast which is perhaps less evident in hindsight.

John Hargreaves plays Don Henderson who is holding a party at his house on election night of 1969 to celebrate what he expects to be the victory of Gough Whitlam's Labour Party over John Gorton's incumbent Liberal Party. The party, which is made up a small group of Don's friends, gradually comes unstuck as, fuelled by their disappointment at losing the election, the men get hammered.

One imagines the stage version would have been more effective as the casting here never seems particularly convincing, even if the performances are - Graham Kennedy and Ray Barrett are too old to be Don's University pals, let alone the fact that they are hardly credible as mates and Harold Hopkin's supposed lawyer is far too crass even by the standards of his peers, low as they may be. The women seem much more credible but this is perhaps only because they have less to do except forbear their male counterparts. Equally, the narrative development seems forced, as if the characters from the get-go had set about turning the party into an inter-personal free-for-all, perhaps Beresford with his Barry McKenzie experience behind him more so than Williamson, being responsible for playing for comedic entertainment rather than social critique, an endemic characteristic of Australian film.

FYI: The film revived Beresford's reputation after the drubbing he received for the Barry McKenzie films whilst cinematographer Don McAlpine also went onto to a successful Hollywood presence..

DVD Extras: Umbrella Entertainment have released the film in a nicely packaged 2 disc set that includes an extensive specially produced documentary on the film with interviews with Beresford, producer Phillip Adams and cast members; a 55 min documentary on David Williamson; the original theatrical trailer; stills and poster gallery and the music video clip for You Am I's What I Don't Know About You which was inspired by the film.

 

 

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