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Which film best represents Melbourne in its current state? I pondered this one evening recently during what felt like the millionth week in lockdown, the wheels of my beloved home city having slowed to a virtual halt during this lonely era of the coronavirus.
I concluded that the answer must be Stanley Kramer’s 1959 post-apocalyptic drama On the Beach, which famously depicts Melbourne CBD as a ghost town – one ominously compelling image capturing a large banner, waving in the breeze outside an abandoned State Library, bearing the words “THERE IS STILL TIME… BROTHER”.
And which films best represent where the population is at emotionally? If you’re one of the reasonable folk, viewing lockdown as a sad but necessary experience, the title of Paul Cox’s 1982 romantic drama might resonate: Lonely Hearts. If you’re feeling more morose, maybe the title of Pino Amenta’s 1988 cancer drama is more apt: Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
All the titles you’ll see in this article were filmed in this city. And oh lord how I miss it: the restaurants, the bars, the cafes, that friendly guitar-playing busker who inserts the behaviour of passers by into his songs (“I see you, putting rubbish in the bin, the biiiinnnnnn!”).
Given us Melburnians aren’t currently able to partake in our usual recreations, perhaps for the time being we can revisit films featuring characters who can. Let’s start with…
Dining and drinking
Some of us have improved our cooking skills during lockdown while others – such as myself – have increased the frequency with which we order takeaway. This of course constitutes the entirely benevolent act of supporting local businesses, such as the kind run by Stephen Curry in Take Away (2003). He plays a thinking-outside-the-box deep frier whose proudest invention is “dim sim on a stick”.
Brendan Cowell took his girlfriend to a nicer place to eat – a fancy restaurant – in I Love You Too (2010), where she expects him to propose but instead he presents a “commitment ring”. Awkward. But hey: a meal in a restaurant! I remember that! As somebody who tends to feel uncomfortable anywhere I am called “sir”, however, I’d probably prefer somewhere more relaxed – such as the cosy little restaurant, with kitschy wallpaper and red candles, Bruce Spence visits in Stork (1971). The place is so chill people don’t even bat an eyelid when, mid-meal, he shrieks to his companion in a wall-rattling voice: “How do you know you haven’t got cancer of the bowel?!”
Lowering the bar still, I’d be up for visiting the place Sam Neill’s two-bit chef lands a job at in Death in Brunswick (1990), where his co-worker deals drugs in the laneway and cockroaches roam the storage room. For discounted drinks and more relaxed vibes, there’s also the lawn bowls club Mick Molloy frequents in Crackerjack (2002), where he chats to Bill Hunter and enjoys beers at “genuine 1972 prices”.
And what about Melbourne’s famous laneway culture? We get a glimpse of it early in Any Questions For Ben? (2012). But the laneway that forms one of the central locations in Street Hero (1984), situated outside a boxing-themed cafe, illuminated by light coming from a large electric sign, is nicer and funkier. People come here just to stand around and hangout – a very Melbourne thing to do.
• I Love You Too and Any Questions for Ben? are available to stream on Stan; Death in Brunswick is available on Prime Video and SBS on Demand; Crackerjack is on Stan and Prime Video
Live gigs and house parties
Live gigs! I remember these! Dorothy (Joy Dunstan) in Oz: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Road Movie (1976) goes to great pains to attend a concert at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre, seeing an androgynous David Bowie-esque superstar named The Wizard. It’s a great performance: dressed in a wildly fabulous G-string-like jumpsuit, the star is magnetic and the whooping packed-out crowd lap it up (for this scene the film used footage from an actual concert held at Myer Music Bowl).
But even a small, grimy place covered in sticky carpet would do. Actually make that especially a small, grimy place covered in sticky carpet – given such places are a mainstay of the Melbourne music scene. Like the kind the hard-partying wastoids from Dogs in Space (1986) visit when they’re not at home getting stoned and sloshed.
And house parties… I miss them too. Including the kind of soiree captured in the hipstery dramedy Love and Other Catastrophes (1996) which consists of people drinking, smoking, discussing their favourite films and partaking in pseudo-intellectual waffle. My kind of party.
• Oz: A Rock n Roll Road Movie is available on Ozflix; Dogs in Space is available on Prime Video and SBS on Demand
Weekend getaways and strange recreations
Who doesn’t love going away for the weekend? The Kerrigan family from The Castle (1997) certainly do, with patriarch Daryl even having a theme song he performs en route to their second home Bonnie Doon – even if it is a mite repetitive.
For a more adventurous (read: horrific) weekend away, consult Long Weekend (1978), during which John Hargreaves and Briony Behets go on a camping trip to try to save their marriage, only to find nature itself has turned against them (the film was shot in multiple locations including Melbourne and particularly Bournda in New South Wales, so a crossing of the border would be necessary). Or there’s the lovely titular location in Hotel Sorrento, on the Mornington Peninsula, though the characters in this film put up with arguments, deep-seated resentment and other pleasantries we associate with the word “family”.
Soon, though, we’ll be able to have fun again in our own city without having to go away. For instance we could race slot cars like in the Anthony Hopkins-led drama Spotswood (1991). Or take a small weird vehicle on tram tracks for a joyride, as Colin Friels did in Malcolm (1986). And perhaps the more adventurous among us could ride a motorbike covered in flames over the arch of the Southbank Pedestrian Footbridge, before plunging it into the Yarra River. Here’s looking at you, Ghost Rider.
• The Castle is available to stream on Stan; Long Weekend is available on Prime Video; Hotel Sorerento is available on Google Play; Malcolm is available on Prime Video
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: From Dogs in Space to The Castle: exploring locked-down Melbourne through film | Film