|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Obituaries|
Film writer, producer, director
|Born: 20 April 1929,
Stockton-on Tees, England
Died: 19 April 2004, Melbourne
Alan Finney, general manager of Australian-based film distributor Buena Vista International, worked with Burstall in his production company, Hexagon Productions, and helped produce Alvin Purple, Peterson and other films.
"We didn't have a film industry in Australia then. What Stork, along with the likes of The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and The Naked Bunyip did was lead us to believe that there was a possibility that we could continuously make films in Australia, that we could establish an industry where the stories came out of here and the actors, directors and other technicians came out of here. Tim was always the combination of a fantastic creative filmmaker. At the same time he had a very good sense of business strategies."
Burstall was born in Stockton-on-Tees, England in 1929. His family came to Australia in 1937. He and Patrick Ryan established Eltham Films, in 1959. Burstall's first film was a black-and-white short, The Prize, which won an award at the Venice Film Festival in 1960. It is the story of a boy who wins a goat in a fairground competition, then has it stolen from him, and it featured Burstall's two young sons in acting roles.
Working with other leading Melbourne film identities
David Bilcock, Dusan Marek, Giorgio Mangiamele, Gerard Vanceburg, Allan
Harness and composer Geroge Dreyfus, Eltham Films made many short
subjects, including aclaimed documentaries on modern Australian art and
the pioneering children's TV puppet show Sebastian The Fox,
which first screened on the ABC in 1962-63 .
Eltham's art films encompassed the contemporary
internationally recognised artists, the artists of the Melbourne set --
Sydney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, John Perceval, John Brack, Albert Tucker and
Clifton Pugh -- and these proved influential in the formation of his
views on Australian cultural identity. The Eltham documentaries also
covered Australian historical figures, aboriginal bark paintings and
the treasures of the National Gallery of Victoria. Together, Eltham
Films and Collings Productions were the main contributors of a filmed
record of Australian art in the 1960s.
In 1965 he made two films for the Commonwealth Film
the documentary Painting
an overview of the work of some of the artists he had surveyed in his
earlier documentaries, and the children's film Nullarbor Hideout.
collaborated on the Eltham Films production The Magic Trumpet,
feature co-directed with Dusan Marek.
On the 30 July 1967 the La Mama theatre opened in
Melbourne. The theatre was the brainchild of Tim's then wife Betty
Burstall and was modelled on the "off off Broadway" theatre of the same
name in New York. Betty and Tim had just returned from a trip to the
U.S. and wanted to re-create "the vibrancy and immediacy of the small
theatres there". It became a hub of cultural activity -- within the
first two years of its life 25 new Australian plays had premiered
there, and La Mama also fostered new works from composers, poets, and
filmmakers. The theatre gained considerable notoreity in 1969 when Alex
Buzo's controversial play Norm and Ahmed premiered
there, leading to the arrest and
charging of several of the actors by the Victorian ViceSquad for the
use of 'obscene' language.
Tim earned a place in Australian cinema history as
and director of 2000
Weeks. Released in 1969, it was
Australia's first locally-made feature film since Charles Chauvel's
in 1955. Although it was a commercial failure and was savaged by the
critics, it was an important influence on Bruce Beresford and Philip
Adams when they came to make The Adventures of Barry McKenzie.
The poor critical reception of 2000
Weeks affected Burstall strongly. It's clear that the
to the film and its serious tone, combined with his close contact with
APG, were instrumental in changing his views on film-making, and led to
the making of the more populist Stork
and Alvin Purple.
Burstall briefly returned to documentary for the
cult surfing film Getting
Nothing (1970). It was followed by Stork
in 1971, which
was a moderate commercial success. Burstall raised the money for the
film by selling several of his Arthur Boyd paintings. It also marked
the first screen credit for acclaimed playwright David Williamson,
being an adaptation of one of his first plays, The Coming Of Stork,
premiered at La Mama in 1970. The film featured most of the La Mama/APG
ensemble including Bruce Spence, for whom the title role had been
Williamson went on to work with Burstall on three more films, Petersen, Eliza Fraser and Duet for Four. Speaking of Burstall, Williamson said that he "couldn't stomach" Australia's lack of a film industry. "He was determined to do something about it and he had the energy and spirit to do it. (He) was a very important cultural figure: highly intelligent, widely read, with a succinct and often highly controversial opinion on everything."
After forming a new production company, Hexagon
produced, directed and co-wrote (with Alan Hopgood) his next feature,
Purple, which was a huge hit with audiences, held the
Australia's most successful film release between 1971 and 1977, and is
one of the key works in the revival of Australian cinema in the '70s.
Alvin was a
defining work in the
genre of so-called "ocker" films that were deliberately pitched at the
mainstream popular market. It was a huge commercial success and was
also very significant in the revival of the local industry, being the
first major feature to include significant backing from a local
A portrait of Burstall won the 1975 Archibald Prize, but the artist John Bloomfield was controversially stripped of the honour after it was revealed he had painted it from a magazine photograph, since the prize conditions stipulate that portraits must be painted from life.
Burstall won a number of Australian Film Institute awards for his work and was awarded an Order of Australia in the Australia Day honours list in 1996. He also worked extensively in television, directing episodes of Special Squad, Return to Eden II, The Man from Snowy River and Water Rats.
Tim Burstall died suddenly and unexpectedly on the evening of Sunday 18 April. He suffered a massive stroke while attending a screening of his short films, organised by Eltham Council, the Melbourne suburb where he made his first feature, The Prize. He was taken to hospital, but died soon after, in the early hours of 19 April.
"It's a tragic loss and most unexpected," said Bruce Spence, whose acting career was launched by his starring role in Stork. "I was talking to him about two weeks ago and his creative flame was still burning incandescent."
Burstall is survived by his wife Betty and his sons Dan, a cinematographer, and Tom, a film producer and husband of actor Sigrid Thornton.
Filmography (to 1975)
The Prize (1960)
Ned Kelly: Australian Paintings By Sidney Nolan (1960)
The Dance Of The Angels: Ceramic Sculptures By John Perceval (1961)
The Gold Diggers Ballad: The Water Colours Of S.T. Gill (1961)
On Three Moon Creek: Australian Paintings By Gil Jamieson (1963)
The Pioneers: Australian Paintings By Frederick Mccubbin (1963)
The Crucifixion: Bas Reliefs In Silver By Matcham Skipper (1963)
Sydney Blues (Paintings By Robert Dickerson) (1969)
Sculpture Australia '69 (1969)
2000 Weeks (1969)
Getting Back To Nothing (1970)
Alvin Purple (1973)
Alvin Rides Again (1974)
References / Links