Production date: 1971
Format: 16mm B&W film
Duration: 52 min
Production house: Sydney Filmmakers Co-operative
Producers: Richard Brennan and Grahame Bond
Director: Peter Weir
Ass't Director: Brian Hannant
Script: Piers Davies, Peter Weir
Editor: Wayne Le Clos
Production Manager: Richard Brennan
Continuity: Adrienne Read
Music: Grahame Bond & Rory O'Donoghue
Grahame Bond (Mr Kevin)
Richard Brennan (Robert 1)
Barry Donnelly (Mr Vaughan)
Kate Fitzpatrick (Miss Greenoak)
Geoff Malone (Mr Malfery)
Philip Noyce (Neville)
Doreen Warburton (Mrs Sharpe)
Peter Weir (Robert 2)
Awards: Grand Prix, Australian Film Awards,1971.
HOMESDALE was made while Peter Weir was still a staff writer-director making documentaries for the Commonwealth Film Unit. This intriguing short feature was his first major solo outing, one of several notable films made with the assistance of the Experimental Film and Television Fund set up by the Gorton government. It was also one of a number of collaborations between Weir and his friends Grahame Bond and Rory O'Donoghue, with whom he had collaborated on stage, radio and TV ventures since the late '60s. Bond and O'Donoghue shortly become famous for THE AUNTY JACK SHOW (in which Weir was also involved) and for other comedy series for ABC-TV.
While it's undoubtedly a sophomore effort, HOMESDALE was only Weir's third dramatic subject; the first two were experiemental short works made in his spare time in the late '60s, while he was working at Channel 7 on the THE MAVIS BRAMSTON SHOW. It's clear evidence of Weir's rapidly maturing ability as a filmmaker, and there are many features of interest to fans of both Weir and Bond.
The storyline and style are reminiscent of one of the more whimsical episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Twilight Zone. It's a black comedy, featuring an assortment of odd characters who spend a weekend at the isolated Homesdale Hunting Lodge. Under the guidance of the decidedly odd staff and the Director -- who keep elaborate dossiers on their guests -- the visitors are forced, cajoled, enticed or tricked into participating in a bizarre series of games and situations, some designed to confront, others evidently to fulfil their secret fantasies, and the staff also play the guests off against each other to increase the "fun".
The guests include Mr Vaughan, a Korean war veteran obsessed with death and murder; Mr Kevin, an obnoxious butcher who fantasises about being a rock & roll star; the prim Miss Greenoak, who uses Homesdale to fulfil her sexual fantasises and Mrs Sharpe, a migrant widow haunted by memories of the war. All the characters are evidently regulars, except one newcomer, the wimpy, introverted Mr Malferey.
The film has many engaging moments, but not all the characters or situations are successful. Malferey doesn't have much to do besides looking weak and helpless. His increasing intimidation is rather obvious and heavy-handed, and doesn't really carry much emotional weight. Thus, it's no real surprise when he snaps and hacks off Mr Kevin's head at the end of the film. The twist in the final scene, also fairly obvious, is that he has become a member of the Homesdale staff.
Mrs Sharpe features in only a couple of scenes, functioning as the butt of Mr Vaughan's abuse. The elderly male guest gets only one major scene, in which he (apparently) accidentally blasts a staff member while clay pigeon shooting, a scene which was potetntially quite funny, but marred by its perfunctory treatment.
Weir's use of music, and his eye for composition and mise-en-scene are also noticeable, and although there are a few clunky moments, overall he's quite successful in establishing the sense of isolation, and the peculiarity of the Lodge and its staff and guests.
He's also fairly successful at maintaining the black comedy line without allowing to get either too silly or too sinister. The only embarrassing scene is the concert, although it's quite possible that Weir actually wanted it to be as lame and silly as it turned out.
The undoubted star is Graham Bond, who does a fine comic turn as Mr Kevin. It would be interesting to know how much of his performance was scripted and how much improvised. Even at this early stage it was clear that Bond was a natural comic performer and he pretty much dominates every scene he's in. Aunty Jack fans will recognise "Mr Kevin" as the first appearance of Grahame's popular Aunty Jack Show character Kev Kavanagh; this early portrayal is quite recognisable and differs little to Kev's later appearances -- basically, he's just a bit nastier! It's possibe that Kev was a character that had aldready emerged from a previous collaboration, possiby one the revues that Weir and Bond worked on together. There is even a mention of Kev's former group, Kev Kavanagh and the Kavemen, a name which also figures in the Kavanagh canon later on.
Most of the action centres on Mr Kevin, Miss Greenoak and Mr Malfrey and the other cast have relatively little to do. Fitzpatrick give as good a performance as the part allows, given limited nature of the character, and she certainly looks great and photgraphs beautifully. Both Weir and his friend and colleague Phil Noyce -- both now Australia's most famous international directors -- make a couple of brief cameos as staff members. In this regard, HOMESDALE is notable as the last time that Weir appeared in one of his own projects. (Apparently he saw Monty Python's Flying Circus soon after, decided that he coud never match that level of comic performance, and resolved not to appear in front of the camera again.)
There are references to well-known movies - such as the parody of the Psycho shower scene -- and there are many elements in this film which were obviously formative ideas for Weir, and concepts on which he expanded on significantly in his later work.
During the dinner scene Mr Robert talks about a famous killer who murders his victims by staging car crashes. This was a plot idea that had come to Weir during his time in Europe in the late 60s, and it was evidently of major significance to him, since it became the central plot point for his next movie, THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS (1973). Likewise, it's difficult to resist comparisons between the treasure hunt scene, where the incongrously dressed guests traipse through the bush, to the now famous scenes of the schoolgirls in PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK.
The film's central motifs -- that of groups or individuals isolated, marginalised or otherwise alienated from society -- and the classic motif of appearance vs reality -- will be familiar to Weir aficionados and recur in almost all of his subsequent work.
Weir: "It's an hour-long, black and white film, that I shot in a house I was living in at the time. And it has something of the same, it definitely belongs with Cars, as Picnic does with The Last Wave. Sometimes it seems to take two films to work through a theme, or an idea. ... It was the name of a guest house on a remote island, and they only took single people, for the weekend. It's about one of those weekends, it begins with the guests arriving, and they don't know each other. They've been carefully screened by the management, and really, the management provides a kind of Luna Park of events for the weekends - unexpected events. The people who come tend to be very staid people, lonely, rather neurotic. So certain things happen which they put on, as part of the entertainment... they have studied the particulars of an individual, and will provide things relevant to that person. A series of games, some of them rather cruel. You gather the others have been there before, except for one, new guest, who's not played the game before. A Mr Malfery. He's related I think to the character in The Cars That Ate Paris, the little Mr Waldo; he's the little man, the little worm that turns. Over the weekend, he's always lagging behind and failing, not joining in really, and the denouement is that he takes their games very seriously, and he commits a murder. You begin to get on to what they're doing when you see one man go into the shower. He pulls the shower curtain and turns on the water ... and the music from Psycho is in the background, and the shadow is on the shower-curtain and the knife, and the stabbing and screams; then you see him come out dressed, to the drinks before dinner, and he says to one of the other guests, 'Have you tried the shower?''
[Kyla Ward, Tabula Rasa, 1994]
"[Weir's] first solo film was Homesdale, a black comedy made at least in part from funds supplied under the Experimental Film and Television Fund (EFTF), which was established by the government in 1970 and gave 'underground' filmmaking a mainstream status."
[From Killer Koalas: Australian (and New Zealand) Horror Films - A History by Robert Hood]
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