Wayne Groom Exposed! (Part One)

*contains spoilers

He is the head of Australian International Pictures, and it is no coincidence that it sounds like Roger Corman’s American International Pictures. Adelaide-based filmmaker Wayne Groom produced his first independent movie in the early 80s with a film on a microbudget which still sent him broke. It was unfortunate because what low-budget dreams may have come from Groom had Centrespread found the audience it intended!

Centrespread (1981) Poster

To me, Wayne Groom (15/10/1949 for the record) has always been a legend. As a movie-mad twelve-year-old with an 8mm camera (very much like the kids in J.J. Abram’s Super 8, 2011), my parents, who knew Wayne’s brother, had him come round to inspire my next production.

What I remember is this long-haired man with an unkempt beard taking me to Jetty Road at Brighton where he bought me an ice-cream and gestured wildly as we walked up the jetty talking about movies including The Blob.

My resultant film entitled Attack of the Eggs probably wouldn’t make David Stratton’s year’s best list – well, neither do Wayne’s. In fact, the feted critic calls them “atrocious” and “depressingly poor”.

For me the dream of making movies would be over that summer, despite my parent’s insistence they would buy all the film I wanted… They weren’t rich and the extra equipment I needed was expensive and I realised that an Adelaide boy of my social standing wasn’t ever going to film school in Melbourne or Sydney… and then there was high school.

But back to Wayne, whose career was embryonic at that stage. He started in documentaries before he moved on to features, his career coming full circle, as his last few projects have been documentaries – and excellent ones.

A couple of years after meeting Wayne, my parents went the premiere of his first film as producer, Centrespread (1981). When they got home, I asked them what it was like and mum answered: “ Wayne’s made this dreadful movie where everyone was naked and they couldn’t even afford extras!”

For years this R-rated film would remain a mystery to me. Decades passed before I was able to get a bootleg copy on DVD – and viola, Centrespread!

Since then I’ve watched it some fifteen or twenty times, and even in a friend’s lounge with Wayne a couple of years ago when we renewed our acquaintance. He almost seemed embarrassed by the movie back then and had almost blocked the experience.

However, for a film made on a budget of under $100,000, it’s a masterpiece.

This view was reinforced when the final cut, not the shaved bootleg, was released by Umbrella Entertainment using the negative from the Australian Film and Sound Archive.

Wayne thought the negative was lost although he stumbled upon a master tape in his garage just before he got the call Umbrella were going to release it.

The complete version has extended and missing scenes and a complete soundtrack.

Centrespread could be termed sexploitation or “erotica” as there is a lot of nudity, mostly of models. However it has a bit of class, as it is the type of film a guy with a Playboy might take his girlfriend to and she wouldn’t cringe. It is not a film for the “raincoat“ brigade.

It tells the tale of a photographer named Gerard (Paul Trahair, no info) who shoots naked pictures of models for a government-controlled magazine in a dystopian future.

The magazine is one of many, part of the “bread and circuses”, which keep the masses happy – and this magazine, which is the jewel of the crown, features many a nude model, mock sex and violence, masturbation and very hot showers!

But it is not a soft or hardcore porn movie and in fact the love story between Gerard and virtuous shop girl Niki (Kylie Foster 1961-) is an inherently sweet one.

However, if you like naked women and I say that for the third time, you’re in for a treat!

Tony Paterson (1948-), who was an editor on softcore feature Fantasm Comes Again (1977) as well as on Mad Max (1979) and later Phar Lap (1983), the latter two picking up AFI awards for him, makes his directorial debut. And for the money, he has worked miracles.

Mad Max (1979) Poster

The original script was rewritten, and the results are a far darker movie than the celebration of “colour and lightness” which was originally intended, working on sets such as abandoned warehouses, right through to one of Adelaide’s then state of the art luxury homes. Apparently the home came as a bonus as its owner Chris Wilby supplied the vintage car used in one scene. Locations such as Maslin Beach, the spectacular Morialta Falls and urban backstreets, give the film atmosphere galore backed by an opening score that still sounds futuristic.

The opening nude photo shoot, which was ridiculed by Stratton in his seminal book The Avocado Plantation, features a bald model with a shaved vagina lying down on what appears to be a perspex white dome.

It was a costly opening, according to Wayne, as when it came to doing the scene, the pubic hair was still in place and the film-makers decided it would look better shaved… and the model would only do it for $1000! Now women pay for it to be done!! So Wayne went down to the local branch of his bank immediately to withdraw the money for the model. Too much information?! It was over a percentage point of the budget!

Director Paterson was so economical with film that unfortunately he didn’t do enough coverage and the rough cut came in under the 80-minute mark, which is regarded as the shortest a film can be if it is to be deemed feature length.

So Wayne had a major headache as he had to shoot extra scenes to get the running time a bit more above the eighty minute-mark. Reshoots included the motorcycle “rape” scene and the make-out scene between two models, complete with tanning oil, on Maslin Beach.

The motorcycle “rape” scene is integral as it pushes the boundaries of sex as exploitation within the framework of the film. Do certain situations cross the line? In the movie it does as the camera assistant thinks the shoot is “for real” when a knife is produced and interrupts, much to Gerard’s disgust, ruining the shoot. It’s an interesting sequence.

Even with all the reshoots the result in Centrespread is seamless.

Centrespread newspaper ad

The government in the film is called “Central” and they spy on Gerard, keeping computer tabs on him, some precursor to emails, like the Stasi. This 1984-ish type future is reinforced further with a loudspeaker or some radio transmission in the background of a couple of scenes spouting Central propaganda.

As Gerard fulfils his busy schedule of film shoots, he is asked by his dictatorial editor (an excellent Ivor Louis) to find a new girl for the magazine. Central wants “someone different, fresh”, “someone for the new century”.

So begins Gerard’s quest for the perfect girl.

He stumbles upon a forgotten antique shop in the city’s backstreets where a sweet and seemingly virginal girl named Niki works. He doesn’t realise it yet – we do – that she’s the one.

The second time Gerard returns to the shop, there is the first use of the haunting Centrespread piano theme that develops into a longer piece during the Maslin Beach scene where the two models make love. One of the girls incidentally was later a Playboy playmate! It is this scene that Paterson’s editing is at its most sensual.

This haunting theme music is the only credit for composer John Sharp – and what should also be noted are the two Lisa Edwards songs which bookend the film. First there is the catchy title song and at the end the rather beautiful and gentle Power. Both deserved more airplay in the day.

Gerard and Niki’s friendship grows as they meet in a café which is devoid of people and later a bus drives by also devoid of people – which I think is what mum was referring to in terms of there being no extras. One of the guys who helped finance the film found AND drove the bus! There is the odd, menacing “droog” hanging around in dark corners though, made all the more disturbing by the seemingly deserted city. I guess people stay at home and read magazines!

Niki at the cafe

Kylie Foster was barely out of her teens when she made Centrespread. There was a nationwide search for models to populate the movie but Foster was chosen because she had made an impression on several episodes of the Crawford Productions television series Skyways (1979-81). She went on to do short stints on enduring Aussie soap staples Neighbours and Home and Away. Foster will always be remembered for this performance, a mixture of simple ingenue and natural allure.

Trahair’s character Gerard comes across as a bit of a stuffed shirt at times despite his position and his powers as an artist. He even buttons his shirts to the top! It’s like he has built a wall around himself that has made him slightly aloof.

As one woman, whom he takes home to his mansion, says about him, although he seems to have everything: “Something’s missing”.

As Gerard’s relationship with Niki continues to grow, Gerard finally insists he wants to take her picture. He’ll even do it at home and not at the studio, and it is there that Niki sees samples of how good Gerard’s work really is.

“ I know exactly what they want and I deliver, no questions,” he says.

That evening at his mansion, Niki breaks down the wall Gerard has built around himself to keep at arm’s length from the exploitation he produces, and they finally kiss. After that first kiss, as they embrace, he whispers Plato: “Man-made dreams for those who are awake” and adds: “That’s what I’ve been making, man-made dreams.” Plato was apparently referring to the art of painting and here perhaps Gerard has a revelation that he is a true artist, not just an exploitation artist, and in his arms is the perfect muse and, now, model/lover. Here the muse and the model have combined with lover and the relationship is no longer platonic. Something is no longer missing in Gerard’s life.

When Niki finally agrees to be photographed nude, they make love, and the photos taken include shots of them together in bed as if taken by some omnipresent and dystopian eye in the sky. But it could also symbolise Gerard’s insight into himself and love, and lovemaking, as a part of the artistic process, especially in the business of modelling/acting. I’m not going to go there! So it is here that Gerard and Niki, audience and director/creator finally come together and are complete, for a moment…

Gerard at editorial meeting

After the lovemaking and the photo shoot, Gerard’s angst returns, and he doesn’t want to use the photos should he lose Niki as a result. Their love is not yet sealed. But Niki says it was her decision to let him take the photos, so it should be hers to use them.

Gerard misses his deadline and his editor who was never really impressed when he was impressed, chastises him.

Gerard waxes lyrical for a moment when he presents the portfolio: “She carries a sort of light in her eyes that deems beauty as it should be… as it was”.

Still not impressed by the fact that Gerard is truly an artist haunted by what he sees as the corruption of beauty in his profession, the editor demotes him and it is the end of Gerard’s career.

Lisa Edwards 45rpm Centrespread

The final scene, shot at Adelaide’s Montifiore Hill, is set a short time later. There, Niki finds a near-destitute Gerard. She is now successful and tells him she loves him and they kiss. She drops her disc/credit card/key, which is some sort of futuristic status symbol determined by colour… Gerard: Are you sure Niki? You have a great future. Niki: We have. Cue end song…

Ain’t love grand! And you get to see a few boobies!! Et al.!!

For Part Two of Wayne Groom Exposed! PRESS HERE.

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