Now for The Dreaming (1988), which Wayne also produced, or The Nightmare as it should be known for its subject matter and slightly troubled production.
It’s an epic! Well, for its limited budget of apparently just over two million, it is.
From the opening credits, which has a shot taken by helicopter as it glides over land and eventually to the ocean… we know it’s epic.
I once dreamed of opening a film version of Randolph Stow’s Merry-go-round in the Sea with a shot like that… with Mike Oldfield’s The Wind Chimes in crescendo. Dreamer!!
After the credit sequence we are thrust immediately into the story where an archaeological dig and the professor heading it, discover a 200-year-old mass grave and an Aboriginal relic, a bracelet of sorts… which segues into the past when whalers came to rape and pillage off the coast of South Australia in a time before it was settled as a free colony… then young urban Aborigines break in and rob the South Australian Museum of the relic found at the dig…then to Penny Cook’s role as a doctor who tries to save the life of an Aboriginal girl bashed by museum security…and then Penny’s hallucinations, which are linked to perhaps “incestuous” feelings for her father and a failed suicide attempt. Not to mention that her father may also be the reincarnation of one of the whalers who led the mass killings! And that’s just the beginning!! Then there’s the government cover-up of the ancient massacre.
When Penny tries to have police look into the case of the dead Aboriginal girl (also a possible reincarnation), a colleague tries to stop her. Then the same colleague, after Penny sees a giant gash on the neck of the dead girl that isn’t really there, says: “It’s nice to see you’re… human”. Aren’t some people just basically conflicted!?
Penny Cook (1957-2018 cancer) was a good actress. She was more than just Vicky Dean in the television series A Country Practice (1981-93). This and her role in Craig Lahiff’s CODA (1987) as well as a long association with the theatre are testament to that.
She is probably at her prettiest in The Dreaming with her blonde bob haircut.
The film also offers an early role for Gary Sweet (1957-) as Penny’s yuppie husband before he made it big on the television show Police Rescue (1989-96).
Sweet went to Warradale Primary School in Adelaide and his parents lived down the road from my friend Paul. My maternal grandmother taught Sweet at Warradale and she kept a specimen of his handwriting, which she said was the most beautiful she had seen by a child. It was among her possessions when she died.
Meanwhile back to the plot, of sorts…automatic handwriting, a sudden death in the family, protests for Indigenous land rights – the ideas just keep coming, some original, some less so.
There are five writers credited to the story and screenplay, as well as uncredited ones, and usually too many cooks spoil the broth… but this one works despite the fact that sections of the script were apparently physically removed.
The supernatural theme of The Dreaming is about the life of Indigenous Australians, both physical and spiritual, being forever psychically disturbed by the appearance of the white man, especially these murdering whalers who come at night in their longboats from their ships with their horrific whaling tools or boarding knives… well, you get the picture. It doesn’t touch on the slavery and murder of the Indigenous population after white settlement. This continues to the present day with the cover-up of the massacre and the manslaughter of the aboriginal girl swept under the carpet! Neglect goes on. Also at the heart of the story is Penny’s character’s possible sexual assault by her father and her suicide attempt. This was toned down in the final screenplay. Sexual abuse is a factor in the high rate of suicide among Indigenous youth today.
Penny heads off to the archaeological dig on “the island” off the coast. On her way there she has premonitions or memories from a past life of big, dirty whalers smothering her. Perhaps repressed memories of being molested by her father or someone? She also sees the Aboriginal girl again who is this time being sexually abused by the whalers on their ship headed by the man who looks like her father. It really is a nightmare!
Incidentally this scene was shot in the old HMS Buffalo restaurant at Glenelg!
So Penny turns up on the island where her father is chopping wood at the local homestead with an axe. They obviously have a bit of dough.
Arthur Dignam (1939-), who plays Penny’s father and the whaler, is a consummate actor of both stage and screen and his performance adds gravitas to the entire film. His character is at odds with a government that leaves him “treading on delicate political and ethnic ground”. His possession by an evil whaler and his relationship with his dead wife and his daughter are not going to resolve happily. Dignam’s character is truly haunted.
So what is the real reason he is there? Penny can’t work it out, she’s very confused… he’s suffering a hangover from a past life and it’s all coming to a head with Sweet turning up as night falls. And as ghostly whalers arrive on the horizon, the local lighthouse beckons…
The movie is well directed by Mario Andreacchio (1955-), who had already made the excellent “heroine in peril in the outback chased by evil men in a big truck” thriller Fair Game (1985).
What is in essence a B-grade horror Andreacchio has lifted with earnest performances and glossy camerawork using some great locations, including the now demolished and apparently “haunted” Royal Adelaide Hospital, the beautiful yet spookily empty interiors of the Mortlock Library as well as the beautiful architecture of the South Australian Museum, once again deserted inside.
The music is by Frank Strangio, who composed for such cult Aussie films as BMX Bandits (1983) and Dead End Drive-In (1986). Wayne used him again for the television movie Strangers (1991). It is very effective and adds to the almost eerie and strange feeling the movie has, something not quite tangible, like The Dreaming of the Aboriginals itself.
Sadly this film got no cinema release and went straight to videocassette. I only discovered it in the two-dollar section at The Reject Shop about five years ago. What an epic find!
PS There’s another Aboriginal themed ghost story entitled Kadaicha (1988) but that’s another story.
The film Wayne Groom is most well-known, or the film which he made that is the most well-known, is the “notorious” Maslin Beach (1997). It’s his masterpiece as writer/director.
Set on the titled nude beach south of Adelaide, the film is full of natural full frontal, female and male nudity (I think there was only one penis in Centrespread, here there are several, but who’s counting?), presented not at all coyly as it links together a number of vignettes about life, love and philosophy.
It is not an “erotic” movie in the strict sense, although people touch each other naked. It certainly isn’t as “in your face” as Centrespread is in terms of sexuality. It’s more tasteful than that. Those films are poles apart. It’s essentially a “European” movie, not necessarily an art-house movie. It maybe even a mainstream one. If everyone was clothed you could take your kids. Even with clothes off you could take your kids, depending on your sensibilities, just like going to the beach itself. But that’s what makes it European. What may pass as average entertainment there may seem offensive here.
My maternal grandfather, who took me to see All the President’s Men (1976) at nine, was a Maslin Beach regular, but I was always too self-conscious and priapic to go (nobody’s perfect!). I remember a mate in the change-rooms at high school had bright red sunburn from head to toe and everywhere in between from when his mum took him and his brother there one day.
Maslin Beach is an emancipated work, full of fertile dialogue and very innovative for an Aussie movie, especially when the only set is the beach itself. And just like Centrespread, there is a kernel of a sweet love story at its heart.
I call the film notorious because people roll their eyes when I mention it, as all they remember is the nudity.
Incidentally, Wayne directed the film naked, and he said he had a hoot making it. It must be some kind of first for a local non-soft or hard-core sex movie.
The story begins on a nice sunny morning on Maslin Beach with couple Simon and Marcie arriving with their umbrella and sundries. Simon, the hero of the piece, poses the question in his mind: “Is there such a thing as perfect love?… If there is, I wonder what it feels like?”
He thinks Maslin’s the most beautiful place in the world, but Marcie disagrees: “For god’s sake Simon, it’s just a beach full of lumpy old bodies and pervy men. I don’t know why you insist on coming here”.
Marcie keeps her clothes on, it’s optional, while Simon strips off.
It’s a jumping off point for some unconventional – and I hate to say this because it is now such a cliché – quirky situations and conversations among the various people who populate the beach and the surrounding sand-hills.
For example, talking convention, is there anything more conventional than reading a newspaper and looking forward to the sports section on a nude beach? Here convention is turned on its head as the clothed “paper reader” suddenly realises his naked girlfriend is pashing a nude dark-skinned magician, whose rabbit from his hat has peed on the reader’s sports section.
As much of the movie makes use of the Australian vernacular, he asks her twice: “What are you doing?” before discussing the meaning of love and then bursting out: ”I hope you get AIDS, you f#$%*@g slut!”. The film is often absurd in some ways and I mean that in an Eugene Ionesco-type way (perhaps not that absurd!) not as a criticism of the movie itself.
It’s Australian down to the core, even the fart jokes, with one especially large-breasted woman relating a story about her ex-boyfriend and his member and a tube of superglue.
The people shed their clothes, or partially shed them, along with their inhibitions, as they deal honestly with relationships and the different problems they pose. Some more troubled than others.
There’s dirty old men, apple eating women, hungry vaginas, sexual frustration and dysfunction and some meddling guy who sells ice cream from a truck that weaves in and out of bathers, whose philosophy is: “If you can’t fart, you can’t shit, and if you can’t shit, you die!”. An old joke which kind of sums up the human condition. Then he has the wisdom to tell a slightly devo Simon, recently dumped by Marcie: “Time changes everything. Life will show you the way”.
And for a film made in 1997, it has a couple on the beach that can’t relax because both of them are on mobile phones. They even have a third mobile phone!
In terms of the French New Wave, Maslin Beach is typical with its feminism, social commentary and impatience with conformity. The New Wave was also known for not having a narrative that the audience must be riveted to, for shooting in public places, a naturalist soundtrack and the use of extended shots with little intrusive edits. All are elements of Maslin Beach to some degree. Wayne even threw in a French poodle and a character with a beret!
The basic thread of the movie is Simon and how he sheds his false relationship with Marcie, only to begin by pure chance a promising new one with Gail, played by Bonnie-Jaye Lawrence, as the sun sets over the ocean (a beauty tip about Adelaide) on a new Adam and Eve in Paradise once again.
Maslin is an unexpected film from Adelaide and yet it could only have been made in Adelaide, probably because it was independently produced and Wayne didn’t compromise on his shoestring budget.
There, so Wayne Groom is exposed as one of Australia’s most underrated and innovative filmmakers.
For an interview with Wayne Groom about Centrespread, The Dreaming and Maslin Beach PRESS HERE.
For an article which looks further into The Dreaming and its director Mario Andreacchio PRESS HERE.
For an article about the Aussie Hitchcockian movies of director Craig Lahiff PRESS HERE.