WEA Sydney Film Society, Sunday 27 August
Three stories of human dramas behind the bluestone facades, galvanised side fences and 20 minute rush hours of suburban Adelaide.
Who Killed Jenny Langby? Anne Deveson searches for reasons behind a desperate mother ‘s suicide.
Parklands: Kathryn Millard directs her own script about a young woman returning home to Adelaide and discovering her policeman father’s hidden life. See future superstar Cate Blanchett just before she luminesced into Lucinda and Elizabeth I.
Return Home: Directed by Ray Argall, in which another Adelaidian returns to his roots and rediscovers himself in Adelaide’s palindromic gulfside suburb of Glenelg.
Who Killed Jenny Langby?
1974 Australia 49 minutes colour/bw
Directed by Donald Crombie
South Australian Film Corporation for the Department for Community Welfare. Producer, John Morris; presenter, Anne Deveson; photographer, Peter James; script, Greg Barker, Donald Crombie; editor, Rod Adamson; sound, Bob Allen.
Julie Dawson (Jenny Langby), Peter Cummins (the husband).
The capital of South Australia always maintained a respectable conservatism compared with its more raffish sister capitals until the early 1970s, when the a new Labour premier, the dynamic and cultured Don Dunstan, overturned that staid image with a sweeping program of social reforms and arts initiatives, which included the first Australian state film corporation, with powers to finance and produce films.
The Corporation’s earliest productions were made for government departments, the most ambitious being Who Killed Jenny Langby? funded by the Department for Community Welfare and designed primarily for screening on commercial TV and thereafter for staff training and community discussion groups. This was Donald Crombie’s next film following Caddie, his feature debut.
Jenny Langby is a quietly struggling mother of four, married to a taciturn unemployed husband and living a joyless life without hope in an impoverished social culture. Scene follows scene of lives wasting away on the bottom rung of an indifferent society: Jenny taking a sick child to the doctor, isolated from her society in a crowded and noisy “red rattler”, or the couple sharing a glum “celebration” in a cheerless pub, the best night out the husband could manage. In a cast who seem to be living their roles, Peter Cummins is a standout, his minimalist style skilfully portraying the husband as an insensitive emotionless shell.
Unbearable stress leads Jenny to a tragic solution. Anne Deveson asks “Who was to blame — and how could it have been prevented?”
Australia 1996 53 minutes colour/bw
Directed by Kathryn Millard
Soft Fruit Pty Ltd. Producer, Helen Bowden; screenplay, Kathryn Millard; cinematographer, Mandy Walker; editor, Frans Vandenburg; set designer, Prisque Salvi; sound, James Currie, John Patterson; music, Richard Vella.
Cate Blanchett (Rosie), Tony Martin (Cliff), Carmel Johnson (Jean).
Adelaide is the capital city of the only Australian state not initially colonised for the transportation of the human consequences of England’s 18th century policy of zero tolerance justice. It is also Australia’s only capital city planned from the outset. In 1836 its founder Colonel William Light laid out a city grid over one square mile, completely surrounded by 24 000 acres designated as “parklands”, gradually reduced to 17,000 acres by annexures for public uses.
Light intended the parklands “to divide city from suburbs, workplace from home — two separate worlds”. The allegorical parklands of this eliptically told mood piece of recollection and discovery are the barriers that a beloved father has built between his happy family life and shadowy elements of his working life.
From Paul Byrnes’ 1996 Sydney Film Festival program notes:
“After the death of her father, Rosie (Cate Blanchett) returns to Adelaide to mourn him. He had been a policeman all his life and a keen amateur photographer. Rosie and her mother weren’t close, so she accepts an offer to stay with Jean (Carmel Johnson), the woman her father moved in with after the separation, Returning to Adelaide brings back a flood of memories which Kathryn Miller evokes with brightly-coloured old footage of the city in the ’50s and ’60s. These utopian visions of a city ringed with parks, with safe tract housing for all, evoke a second level of more private memories, which are jolted when Rosie finds her father’s police diaries. The film has a strong psychic reality. Blanchett’s reserved, interior performance, Tony Martin’s likable performance as Cliff, and a strong sense of place, make the film absorbing and quietly dramatic. Parklands is personal, in the best sense. Kathryn Millard grew up in Adelaide. Her ancestors were among the first colonists, arriving on the Buffalo in 1836. As far as she knows, no-one else in her family has ever left South Australia.”
Australia 1990 86 minutes colour
Directed by Ray Argall
A Musical Films Production. Producer, Cristina Pozzan; screenplay, Ray Argall; director of photography, Mandy Walker; editor, Ken Sallows; sound recordist, Bronwyn Murphy; production designer, Euan Keddie.
Dennis Coad (Noel), Frankie J Holden (Steve), Ben Mendelsohn (Gary), Mickie Camilleri (Judy) Rachel Rains (Wendy), Gypsy Lockwood (Clare), Ryan Rawlings (Wally), Alan Fletcher (Barry).
Noel and Steve have been raised in the pleasant Adelaide gulfside suburb of Glenelg (a smaller Manly, without surf). Noel has “escaped” to Melbourne and become a successful insurance broker, leaving his older brother Steve to carry on the family’s independent service station. A short holiday back home gives Noel a realisation of the very different life he might have led, the rebellious energy of Steve’s young mechanic (Ben Mendelsohn) reminding him of his own restless frustrations twenty years earlier. He is forced to re-examine his values and compare his childless divorced state with his brother’s contented, if financially insecure, family life.
Argall’s acute observation of these everyday relationships and his compassionate probing of repressed emotions and regrets give an unusual depth to this likeable Australian production that deserves to be better known and remembered. This is another absorbing film of everyday lives where the well-chosen actors seem to inhabit their roles.
It is somewhat ironic, given that Return Home was largely funded by the Victorian Film Office, that cheerful struggling in Adelaide suburbia seems to come off rather better than living the high life in the Melbourne CBD.