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Velimir 'Bata' Zivojinovic,
At the beginnings of this centuary a man, his son and a piano player travel around Australia showing the first silent movies (naturally in black and white). But what they really want is stay at one place and open up a cinema. Written by
A bittersweet story of Australia's early film history
Few are better qualified than Joan Long to tell this, a story of the trials and tribulation of early Australian cinema. A renown film historian, she based the film on the recollections of real-life picture show man Lyle Penn, but also draws on the rich knowledge of the era she gained by rediscovering and interviewing many of its leading players.
Travelling picture showmen were once common in Australia. Living out of caravans or even tents, they serviced the rural areas that did not yet have their own permanent cinemas, often providing variety acts as part of the show.
The film's tone is somewhat reminiscent of these early films. The story is delineated (and performed) in the same broad strokes as every Australian classic from 'Dad and Dave' to 'The Castle'. All the usual characters are present - the uneasy young man, the eager young tomboy who can't bear to act like a proper young lady, the shifty villian. Yet the simple, enjoyable story is studded with authentic period details such as how films were presented to country audiences, and ultimately the effect that the coming of sound had on the phenomenon of the travelling showman.
Garry McDonald's performance as an opportunistic, shambolic pianist, is probably the most enjoyable, yet fans of `Muriel's Wedding' would do well to look out for an early appearance from Jeannie Drynan, who played Muriel's mother - and, as can be seen here, could once have given Audrey Hepburn a run for her money.
Though very much a product of its time, the film is still a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to Australia's rich film history - a fascinating story which, without scholars such as Long, might have disappeared forever.
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