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The panel art here on the IMDb is wrong...
Micro budget showgirl drama made in a tiny studio in suburban Sydney wedged between a cargo rail link, a highway and a rhinestone jewellery factory, BELINDA is almost as much a product of its studio location as it is the story of writer director Pamela Gibbons. This blonde leggy showgirl, a little on the drag queen side in stage looks was a staple TV and nightclub appearances in the 1960s. She was the local Julie Newmar of her day. It is her teen years explored here with newcomer (and gone-er) Deanne Jeffs as the ballet student who drifts into out of tune sleazy back alley antics of Kings Cross, the stripper hub of Sydney. Nastiness and rudeness is hurled at her as she tried vainly to have a career start. It is probably ripe for a remake and given a more CABARET/CHICAGO musical treatment or even a HAIRSPRAY style John Waters makeover. It borders on self parody at times and might seem laughable if it wasn't all probably true. In the years far before MOULIN ROUGE here is one little Oz backstage Ruby Keeler attempting to shed being a youngster to try being a star. Well she gets belted for trying - and by other horrible showgirls. It is a curiosity and well worth a DVD release if only to be studied by film students and considered for a bigger budget remake. The 1947 Marilyn Monroe burlesque musical LADIES OF THE CHORUS is a close US counterpart.
The difficulty of finding this 1988 film to see it in 2010 amounts to a
sad (or weird) comment on film archival in Australia, as does Quentin
Tarantino's need to buy his own print of Frog Dreaming. You can't buy a
DVD of Belinda, and there's no copy of the film in the National Sound
and Film Archives, only posters and press material. I'd be happy to get
a look even at that stuff because there's nothing to be found online.
My minor irrational obsession with this film is a direct consequence of these difficulties. I first saw Belinda on VHS in the early 90s, either during high school or early university years, and remembered filing it away in my memory as one of my favourite Australian films. By the time I was pining to check this memory by seeing the film again, it was the year 2008. Google searches turned up next to nothing on Belinda - though there was a very old interview with the director on a website about adult thumbsucking(!) - and ironically the easiest way to obtain a copy turned out to be by buying an NTSC video from the USA on eBay. The film wasn't even called Belinda in the US, it had been renamed 'Midnight Dancer', and the woman on the front cover of the video hadn't actually appeared in the film, but looked like a refugee from Flashdance, and I had to manually repair this ex-rental video with a screwdriver and great difficulty before I could watch it... but I got there in the end.
So I sat down to watch Belinda for the first time in probably 15 years. Sadly, I discovered that the film wasn't as good as my memory of it. Belinda is an innocent young dancer who ends up in damaged company in Sydney's King's Cross during the 1960s. The strand of the film about her straightlaced parents never really goes anywhere, while the major strand about the wisened old dancer who becomes a drizzled mother figure to Belinda is kind of maudlin or corny by turns. Crime and seediness rub around the edges of the club, and there are a lot of unhappy and dysfunctional women on display.
The film is kind of effectively grim, but just not particularly well paced or involving, and Belinda comes across as too slight a presence. The sexual assault scene is still pretty nasty, and was something which really stuck in my head from the first time I saw it. The standout actor in the film is Kaarin Fairfax (later one of Col'n Carpenter's roommates) who puts in a killer performance as a really lively and dangerous-seeming dancer at the club. Seeing her here makes me wish she'd had more film roles.
In spite of its flaws, I will always have a soft spot for and interest in this film, probably because I had to jump through so many hoops to find it again. IMDb says that the film also received four AFI nominations. You would think an AFI nominated film would be available or distributed somehow in Australia, but not this one, at least not at this time of writing.
The film does have John Jarratt in it, Tarantino's favourite Australian actor, so maybe he will buy a print from somewhere and save it, a la Frog Dreaming.
'Belinda' is one of those bizarre films that never really leaves your subconscience, despite the fact that it's a lame attempt at drama. It basically follows the story of a girl, Belinda, who becomes an Exotic Dancer at an upmarket nightclub. She falls in love with the guy who makes the costumes, and has to withstand torment from the other dancers. No real storyline, but intriguing all the same.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I thank God there is a ray of light at the end of this well acted, but depressing film. It is about a young ballerina (Belinda) who earns money by dancing in a Kings Cross cabaret theatre. She befriends one of the older dancers who seeks to protect her from some of the other vicious and cynical women who inhabit the theatre. Not that she is successful - in one scene, Belinda is accosted by three women, one of whom proceeds to sexually abuse her. On the same night, the theatre owner announces that the cabaret show is closing, to be replaced by a disco. Belinda's protector, who sees no future for herself now, commits suicide while the other dancers are completing their final routine. Belinda, barely recovered from her assault, seems destroyed, but she regains her strength in the following weeks to succeed in an audition to a professional ballet company. The point of the film seems to be that despite her descent into hell, Belinda emerges with her own values and virtue intact.
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