The Barry McKenzie Movies

Tony Moore,
The Barry McKenzie Movies.
Currency Press: Australian Film Commission National Film and Sound Archive, 2005.
ISBN: 0 86819 748 3
Au$16.95 (pb)
(Review copy supplied by Currency Press)

For more than two decades, Currency Press has been Australia’s foremost publisher of titles concerning Australian drama and film. The current slim volume is one of their Australian Screen Classics series, edited by Jane Mills – a series that has already produced Adrian Martin on George Miller’s Mad Max films (2003), Louis Nowra on Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout (2003), and Christos Tsiolkas on Fred Schepisi’s The Devil’s Playground(2002). Like these, Tony Moore’s homage to the two Bazza films is just as much a story of the writer’s journey towards, through and beyond the films as it is of the films themselves.

So the introductory chapter places the films in the social context of the 1970s: Moore explains that “they provided my generation with a way of making sense of social changes we were living through” (3). As the films playfully (or sometimes viciously) mock many sacred cows, they propose that “any Australian patriotism should be, first and foremost, based on taking the piss, of laughing not just at one’s self but at the powerful, whether they be upper class Brits or the PM himself” (6).

This chapter also provides the background – the early history of the main players in the production (writer Barry Humphries, director Bruce Beresford, producer Philip Adams and actor Barry Crocker) as well as of the character of Barry McKenzie in the comic strip written by Humphries and drawn by Nicholas Garland.
Then there is a chapter on each of the films: The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (Australia 1972) and Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (Australia 1974). In each of these, Moore affectionately comments on the story, the language and the targets of the humour, concluding that the first film is more innocent and episodic, the second more intellectual and logically constructed. Moore delights in the language – often himself using terminology that Bazza would have instantly recognised, and providing at the back of the book an appendix of ‘Bazza’s lingo’.

In the third chapter he sums up the significance of the films, as representing ‘the ocker mask,’ linking class with public culture, Australian nationalism with our relation to the ‘Mother Country.’ The conclusion speaks first about the critical backlash which swamped the films, problematising Beresford’s film-making future in Australia. It then covers the recent revival of interest, at a time when Moore considers that the social commentary through the ‘larrikin carnivalesque’ of the Bazza films has much to offer to an industry that seems to prefer escapism. In fact, “As long as we can produce a bullshit detector like Barry McKenzie all is not lost.” (12)

This is an affectionate and accessible discussion of the films, that will hopefully spark the interest of those who have not yet seen them, and prompt those who saw them many years ago to take another look…

Ina Bertrand

Created on: Thursday, 9 November 2006

About the Author

Ina Bertrand

About the Authors

Ina Bertrand

Ina Bertrand is Principal Fellow, Cinema Programme, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, Australia. She was foundation editor of Screening the Past.View all posts by Ina Bertrand →