|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Film|
CATEGORY: feature film
GENRE: crime drama
DURATION: Original version: 126 mins (DVD version: 98 mins)
FORMAT: 35mm colour film
Premiere: 28 June 1974, Forum Cinema, Sydney
PRODUCTION: Hedon Productions
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: David Hannay
DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, PRODUCTION DESIGNER: Sandy Harbutt
SCRIPT: Sandy Harbutt / Michael Robinson
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Graham Lind ASC
MUSIC: Billy Green; songs performed by Doug Parkinson
Editor: Ian Barry
Art Direction: Tim Storrier
Costume Design: Helen Morse / Margaret Ure
Makeup: Rina Hofmanis
Assistant Director: Dewey Hungerford / Gordon Nutt
Sound: Ian Barry / Cliff Curl / Peter Fenton / John French / Tim Lloyd / Ron Purvis
Stunts: Peter Armstrong / Craig K. Brown / Hamish Cameron / Brian Martin
Technical assistance: Steve Allsep / Big Al Bradford / Les Jackson / Vincent Tesoriero
Gaffer: Brian Bansgrove
Assistant camera - Nixon Binney
Custom painting: Dave Hart
Bike mechanic: Victor Hoffman
Film graphics: Peter Ledger
Bike wrangler: Michael Robinson
Additional photography: John Lowry / Ross Wood
Title designer: Adrienne Rolf
Ken Shorter (Stone)
Helen Morse (Amanda)
The Grave Diggers:
Billy Green (Sixty-Nine)
Victoria Anoux (Flossie)
James H. Bowles (Stinkfinger)
Dewey Hungerford (Septic)
Barry Butler (Buzzard)
Leonora Cornall (Lola)
Rebecca Gilling (Vanessa)
Vincent Gil (Dr. Death)
Jane Gilling (Euridyce)
Sandy Harbutt (The Undertaker)
Bruce McPherson (Go Down)
Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toad)
Bindi Williams (Captain Midnight)
Tony Allyn (Birdman)
Terry Bader (Hanburger)
Deryck Barnes (Doctor Townes)
Ray Bennett (Larsen)
David Bracks (Boots)
Slim DeGrey (Insp. Hannigan)
Julie Edwards (Karma)
Reg Evans (Solicitor)
Deborah Foreman (Bud)
Drew Forsythe (Fred)
Bill Hunter (Barman)
Eva Ifkovitch (Tiger)
John Ifkovitch (Zonk)
Lachlan Jamieson (Hip)
Michael Kent (Chappie)
Peter King (Ferret)
Harry Lawrence (Caretaker)
Sue Lloyd (Tart) /
Karyn Love (Skunk) /
Barbara Mason /
Jude Matthews (Blue) /
Garry McDonald (Mechanic) / /
Anne Mitchell /
Lex Mitchell (Ballini) /
Marilyn Lee Mitchell
Neville Overall (Scrag)
Michael Robinson (Pinball) /
Ron Ross (Biggie) /
Fred Shaw (Ted) /
Ros Spiers (Whore)
James C. Steele
Charles Stringer (Photographer)
Rosalind Talamini (Sunshine)
Margaret Ure (Jay)
Rhod Walker (Chairman)
Jim Walsh (Bad Max)
Patrick Ward (Alistair)
Roger Ward (Hooks)
Owen Weingott (Adler)
Synopsis: A police detective goes undercover with a motorcycle gang to investigate why its members are being killed off.
Stone has been conspicuously ignored by critics and commentators for a over a quarter of a century. For evidence, one need look no further than Scott Murray's book Australian Cinema -- although it is one of the most widely available reference books on Australian film, it contains no mention whatsover of Sandy Harbutt's landmark movie. It wasn't until the occasion of its 25th anniversary that a fairer picture of the true influence of this remarkable film began to emerge.
Stone is not a perfect film, and there are of course elements that have dated badly, but it was a strong and original first feature which signalled the debut of a promising new film-maker and it broke box office records on its release, so the fact that Harbutt has never been able to get another project off the ground can only be seen as sad indictment of the Australian film industry. Deplorably, this seems to be a fate shared by some of our most original filmmakers: Bert Dehling (Dalmas, Pure Shit) has also never made another feature. Unfortunately these are not isolated examples -- despite despite winning the AFI 'Best Film' award in 1985 for his first feature Bliss it took director Ray Lawrence fifteen years to get the backing to complete his second feature film (Lantana). Stone executive producer David Hannay is unequivocal in his belief that conservative elements in the film industry and the government film bureaucracy ganged up against him and Harbutt and tried to hinder the film, and consistently opposed any project he and Harbutt have since tried to mount.
In one sense, it can be argued that Stone failed because it was the exact opposite of films like Picnic At Hanging Rock, which were soon being lauded as laqndmarks in the revival of Australian cinema. Stone is definitively not an arthouse costume drama (films which David Hannay disparagingly describes as "frock movies"). Like the Barry McKenzie films, Stone is unequivocally Australian and contemporary in both setting and language; it was also raw, violent and uncompromisingly in-your-face, with sex, violence, nudity, bad language and drug use galore. In most respects its hard to imagine two films more radically different than Stone and Picnic. Yet from a another angle it can be argued that Stone operates in the same area where Peter Weir has worked very successfully throughout his career -- dealing with characters isolated on the fringes of 'normal' society.
I'm not trying to imply that Weir's choice of subject for Picnic was merely cynical or opportunistic, but it was certainly a fortunate one given the prevailing critical mood of the time. Picnic was based on one of the best known Australian novels of the postwar period; its oblique style, eye-catching costumes and locations and ethereal cinematography gave it broad appeal and set it apart from the "vulgarity" ocker films that were so detested by mainstream critics, notably the late and unlamented P.P. McGuiness, who hated films like Alvin Purple and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie with a passion, and said so regularly.
Despite the critical backlash, Stone was a major box office success and it was also a huge hit on the (now regrettably long gone) drive-in circuit. It had flaws, but it also had many strengths, and it is an one of the few independent releases of the period that has largely stood the test of time. Although it's only now being acknowledged, there can be little doubt that Stone (together with Weir's The Cars That Ate Paris which was in production at the same time) exterted a major influence on George Miller's hugely successful Mad Max series, and it surely can't be a coincidence that one of the characters in Stone is called "Bad Max"! It's also worth noting that two leading Stone cast members, Hugh Keays-Byrne and Vincent Gil, both turned up in Mad Max.The idea for Stone orignated while Sandy Harbutt was performing in the shortlived the police series The Long Arm. Harbutt wtote a script for an episode but the series was canned before it could be made. Harbutt was determined to keep the idea alive and he was eventually able to get support from the Australian Film Development Corporation, whic invested $154,000 in the project. Th rest of the $195,000 budget and most of the production facilities were provided by Ross Wood Productions. was provided by The basic plot of Stone is a murder mystery: the lead character, a detective, is ordered to go undercover to find out who is killing the members of a motorcycle club, and eventually discovers that the bikers have witnessed a political assassination and may be able to identify the men who carried it out.
The story's location within an Australian bikie gang gives the film a unique flavour. Road movies were not new, but the renewed popularity of genre had been dramatically demonstrated over the previous few years by the massive success of Easy Rider and subsequent films like Two Lane Blacktop and Vanishing Point. Stone delved much deeper into biker culture than any previous film, and it focussed on the Australian biker subculture which, like our local surfing culture, was significantly different from its overseas counterparts. The clothes, the language, the customs and even the choice of bikes was distinctively Australian -- Aussie bikers tended to favour faster and more powerful bikes than their American cousins, and often chose Japanese brands such as Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki, rather than the traditional Harley.
Stone is also particularly remarkable for its direct references to the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the often disastrous experiences of Vietnam veterans, who were then reviled and rejected by the very society they were supposedly fighting to protect. As David Hannay proudly points out, it was certainly years ahead of any other film in the world in that respect and is probably the first feature film in the world to deal with the problems faced by Vietnam veterans in a dramatic context, years before hit features like The Deer Hunter.
Stone also broke new ground (at least in Australia) with the subtext of the murder plot. The politician who is assassinated in the opening scenes is the leader of a pro-environment, anti-development party -- concerns very much at the forefront of progressive thought at the time, and exemplified by issues like the flooding of Tasmania's Lade Pedder, the sand mining of Fraser Island and the attempts to redevelop historic Sydney precincts like The Rocks and Kings Cross. Indeed, Stone was quite prophetic in that respect -- within months of its release Sydney had witnessed a very similar real-life assassination prompted by the conflict between pro- and anti-development forces -- i.e. the infamous kidnapping and murder of activist and publisher Juanita Nielsen.
To be fair, some elements of the film seem corny or exaggerated nowadays, but in general Stone avoided a lot of the pitfalls of typical genre biker flicks. Above all it's a movie that respects its subject reather than exploiting it. It's often been called the best biker film ever made, and its enduring appeal in the biker community was clearly demonstrated by the events of 1998. The memorable opening credits of the film feature the famous funeral procession in which 400 bikers roar up the (then newly completed) Gosford expressway. To mark the 25th anniversary of the filming of that scene, Sandy Harbutt put out the call for bikers to gather and recreate the scene. On the day an incredible 35,000 riders turned out.
The movie comes on fast and strong, and Harbutt hits the audience with string of unforgettable scenes in the first half-hour. The successive murders of the Grave Diggers are extraordinary -- one is gruesomely beheaded by a wire stretched across the road (although the shot of the decapitated head rolling onto the road was reportedly cut out in some versions); a second is blown up, a third (Go-Down) is forced over a cliff into the sea in a spectacular stunt that still looks terrific today. A lot of credit for these scences must go to stunt coordinator Peter Armstrong and his crew.
The cast is a veritable 'Who's Who' of Australian stage and screen; besides Harbutt and Ken Shorter (both TV veterans) it included English-born actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, Drew Forsythe, Vincent Gil, Rebecca Gilling, Roger Ward, the ubiquitous Bill Hunter, Garry McDonald, Lex Mitchell, Ros Spiers, Patrick Ward, stage legend Owen Weingott and pioneering Aboriginal actor Bindi Williams. It's a curious irony that Stone was a career-maker for several cast members including Morse and Gilling. Gilling lucked into the film while taking a break from her studies -- prior to that she had only featured in a one shampoo commercial -- but her performance as a bikie chick and her striking good looks led a string of successful roles.
Shorter had already made a name for himself with his starring role in the TV adaptation of Jon Cleary's You Can't See Round Corners, causing a stir in the series' debut episode with a steamy love scene with co-star Rowena Wallace. He had worked with many other cast members on this and other TV shows including the action-adventure series Riptide, in which Harbutt, Morse and Shorter all appeared.
Business-wise Stone is also a classic low-budget indie success story. Made for only $192,000, it was shot entirely on location around Sydney. Many of the cast doubled as crew -- Helen Morse worked in wardrobe, Vincent Gil (Dr Death) worked as a grip. While "between jobs" Shorter had made leather goods to sell at local markets, and he made his own leather outfit for the film. The punchy score was by Billy Green, guitarist with Doug Parkinson In Focus, and Doug performs the opening song, a stirring rock adaptation of a poem by Dylan Thomas, which is played over the famous funeral scene.
The premiere at the Forum Cinema, Sydney (since demolished) was attended by members of the Hells Angels and the Gypsy Jokers, but the following week when it opened it was panned, notably by Mike Gibson, Susie Eisenhuth and (predictably) by National Times' critic, former libertarian and loudmouth-for-hire Padraic P. McGuinness. Despite the brickbats, it was a huge and immediate hit with bikers and the general public, and quickly became a hit in spite of its 'R' rating.
In 1998 Harbutt and Hannay made a documentary about the film entitled Stone Forever. When Stone was given its long-overdue release on DVD in 1999, Sandy Harbutt took the opportunity to recut the film. Remarkably, like Peter Weir's DVD release of Picnic At Hanging Rock, Harbutt made the unusual decision to shorten the film (in this case to 98 minutes) enabling him to finally make cuts he had been unable to effect in 1974 because of budget restrictions during production. One remarkable revelation in the "Stone Forever" documentary is that money was so tight that Harbutt was not able to see a complete run-through of the film until it was screened at the premiere!
"Meeting Sandy [Harbutt] in 1967
was most important. It was just meant to be that I would meet this
person who was going to take me on this extraordinary trip."
"Stone is the first movie from anywhere to be set against the background of the Vietnam War. It is about a group of sidelined, marginalized veterans, outlawed by the society they fought for, and it is the story of Stone [Ken Shorter], a policeman who in the final analysis fits nowhere. It is funny, moving, tragic, entertaining and totally involving. It broke twelve box-office records in its first week and the critics hated it."
"When it came out in 1974, it was vilified by the bourgeoisie, the trendy left-wing establishment that had grown up since 1972, which was interesting because Sandy's and my politics was probably far more radically left than the people who were gently left, who were now giving us a serve. I suppose we were seen as nasty."
"... If I hadn't done anything other than Stone and Mapantsula, I would have felt I'd done two things of extraordinary value and importance. Both are classics. Stone is more than a classic, it was also a commercially successful film, and, despite the vilification that it suffered when it came out, it is now being re-reviewed. Adrian Martin and Peter Castaldi have called it "an important film". From my point of view it has never been anything other than important ..."
"... The most negative experience I have had as a filmmaker is not being able to get another picture up for Sandy ... I should have been able to make it happen. He is far more talented than 999 of the 1000 other people I know."
"When I started out as a producer, there was an enormous level of camaraderie. I remember in 1973 when Sandy and I were doing Stone and the McElroys and Peter Weir were doing The Cars That Ate Paris, and we were sharing people and expenses. We both needed [stunt coordinator] Peter Armstrong, so we split the cost of a charter plane to get him backwards and forwards between the two pictures. People would say that we are more professional now, that we were possibly a little sort of cottage and amateur. If that was cottage and amateur, it was better than the negative attitudes that exist between professionals today."
- David Hannay, Urban Cinefile interview, 1 June 2000
References / Links
An official Stone website at www.stoneweb.com.au was opened when the film was reissued on DVD, but this has since been taken down.
Australian Cinema and national identity
Urban Cinefile -
'Stone Forever' Feature
"David Hannay: A Producer, his Demons, His Heroes and his Hates"
"Bitumen, Dirt Tracks and Lost Highways: Australian Road Movies - A select bibliography and filmography - Australian Film Institute"
Oz Film database