The Aussie Film Database

The Club

Bruce Beresford


 


Film Credits

List of Principal Cast :

Director : Bruce Beresford
Scriptwriter : David Williamson, who produced the screenplay from initially being a stage play.
Cinematographer / Director of Photography: Don McAlpine A.C.S.
Producer : Matt Carroll
Associate Producer : Moya Iceton
Film Editor : William Anderson
Production Designer : David Copping

Lead Actors

Jack Thompson
Harold Hopkins
Graham Kennedy
John Howard
Frank Wilson
Alan Cassell

Production Company :

South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC)

The release date for The Club in Australia was 18th September, 1980. THE CLUB wasn’t very successful at the box office and was definitely over shadowed by Bruce Beresford’s previous film Breakers Morant, also produced by Matt Carroll with the SAFC.

According to SAFC reports, Breakers Morant was the major Australian revenue earner for its company. In 12 months Breaker Morant had paid back production and marketing costs and was making a profit, the film grossed $4.5 million and screened in 72 countries. The other two films that the Corporation had invested in were Pacific Banana and The Club, which paled into insignificance fairing poorly in sales and Box Office returns.

One major distribution breakthrough for SAFC was the establishment of it’s own video label, Australian Video. Among their first releases was The Club, which meant there could be more scope for the wider public to see the film which didn’t last very long at the cinema (couldn’t find specific dates).

The Club wasn’t included in a list of The All Time 100 Grossing Films in Australia list compiled a year after the films release. The last Australian entry was ‘Caddie’, which grossed $906,000 which means that The Club must have made less than this amount.


Criticism

Critical Review.

The Club concentrates on the politics of an Australian Rules football club. People usually only see the players in action, the huge crowds cheering their chosen team to a win, but this film exposes the wheeling and dealing that takes place behind the scenes, in the boardroom between club executives, coaches and players.

This film typifies the stereotypical Australian male in the 1980’s with their ocker Aussie accents, stringent values and even the way they appear. There’s knocking these boys over with a feather, these are tough footy blokes.

The Collingwood football club bids and subsequently pays highly for a new young recruit at a high price causing an initial conflict between top club executives and the coach. The rift spills into the press forcing the conflict public and the coaches future becomes shaky within the club.

The teams players then become involved, causing the whole club into anarchy with strikes threatened and insults traded. The whole tradition of the club is re-examined as times change and suddenly material gain is highly valued. This transition period is what causes the main rifts.

The club president nearly forces himself into bankruptcy to keep players as they demand more money although they had since played there purely on the merits of the club. The film uses a lot of still photography and pacy editing which gives The Club more of a documentary / video clip feel even though there is a strong narrative which given this feature depth. The Club is a very parochial film and one can feel what it is to be Australian.

The film really captivates the essence of Australian culture through it’s focus on an Aussie way of life that is rarely given much thought to : Football just is. Football in Australia is something that tends to be part of life, however, The Club gives us an insight into the way a football club really functions and melodrama, and politics :

Personally I thought The Club was interesting in this way because I never really had much time or respect for Football players running around in their little shorts with their huge egos evident. This film gave me an opportunity to see that there is much more to Aussie Rules than kicking a football around and drinking beer after the game ‘with the boys’, so to speak.

Scriptwriter David Williams gave some of the scenes a rather comical outlook, which also added to the films entertainment value. For a film of its period, I would class The Club as a quality adaptation of a play, yet for myself, I found the film a little tedious as I don’t really have a passion for the game as some people in Australia obviously do.

Discuss the critical review of the film both at the time of its release and subsequently.

The Club at its time of release received mixed reviews among film journals and in newspapers, but the majority weren’t favourable to Bruce Beresford’s adaptation of the David Williamson stage play.

Various publications had reviews of the film such as The Bulletin, The National Times, Cinema Papers, theatre Australia, The Film Goers guide to Australian Films and Variety. To give some indication as to the press reaction, here are some excepts :

‘merely an amusing, entertaining lightweight bit of nonsense’. 1

‘Somehow the point of play has been lost, buried under the weight of footballs myth. Such a shame !’ 1

‘Using a screenplay by Williamson, Beresford has made a vigorous and funny film which preserves the warmth and ruefulness of the play.’ 2

‘This film is rather inconsistent in as much as there are good pacy scenes, well shot with powerful dialogue followed by lots of ‘sports padding.’ A first-rate stage play that should have stayed there.’ 3

Footnote 1: John Hindle, National Times, Sept. 27, 1980.
Footnote 2: Sandra Hall, The Bulletin, Sept. 30, 1980.
Footnote 3: Halliwell, William, Flimgoers guide to Australian Films, 1985.

The reactions to the film weren’t encouraging and nearly all reviews and discussions that I found in Australian publications The Club did not provoke any sort of response or critical reactions in major international journals and newspapers which indicates the limited market the film had.

Audiences that weren’t familiar with Australian football would have tired of the film quickly as the way the movie is scripted does assume knowledge of the game, players and the place football has in Australian culture. John Hindle made mention of this in his review in The National Times.

The film has become parochial football fans may have fun in putting real names and faces to the fictional characters in The Club, but quite a large portion of the world cannot be said to be in Melbourne and the potential customers in those other parts of the globe may find it tedious. 1

Most reviewers had a very high opinion of David Williamson’s original stage play and script, which gave the film a hard act to follow. In most critic’s views the screen version didn’t achieve all it could have and therefore the critical uptake wasn’t all positive, and at times disappointed in the end result.

Outline the circumstances of its production and release and its box-office.

The Club was released in September 1980, and had a production time of two months. The film, according to one reviewer from Cinema Papers appeared to have been rushed to be finished. The release date needed to coincide with the Victorian Football League (VFL) finals, so the film could capitalise upon the heightened sense of football fever. Films are in essence, made purely for maximum entertainment value but also maximum earning potential.

Releasing the film in time for the finals was a well planned ploy to capture as much of its limited market as possible. However, even though the film was released at what seems as the best time it could have, box-office earnings were minimal and faired poorly against its competition. The South Australian Film Corporation, (SAFC) the films production company, revealed this in it’s report to the 1981/2 Australian Motion Picture Yearbook, as it’s earnings were well over shadowed by Beresford’s previous film Breaker Morant.

Some of the only comical successes the film could claim was numerous nominations at the 1981 AFI Awards and it’s exclusive distribution throughout the Australian Videos label, set up by the SAFC. Unfortunately, the critics opinions were reflected in The Club’s performance at the Box-Office, mainly because of it’s limited market.

Situate the film in relation to the subsequent or prior work principally of the director but also the cinematographer, producer, scriptwriter and lead actors.

The Club was actually an attempt at trying to capitalise on an award winning production team and a lead actor that had been used on Bruce Beresford’s film ‘Breaker Morant’ which was made directly before The Club. Breaker Morant depicted an Australian contingent of soldiers headed by Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant sent over to South Africa to fight in the Boer War of 1901.

Breaker Morant was also adapted from a play and Jack Thompson was in a lead acting role, as he was in The Club. Breaker Morant was shown in 5 international film festivals in its year of release, including being the official Australian entry into the 1980 Cannes film festival. The film also won several awards at that years Australian Film Industry Awards, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor.

As Peter Coleman said in his book, ‘Bruce Beresford : Instincts of the Heart’, ‘Beresford returned to the ‘man’s world’, in the late 1970’s with Money Movers, The Club and Breaker Morant. Three films about crime, sport and war, all shot by Don McAlpine, designed by David Copping, edited by William Anderson and produced by Matt Carroll of the SAFC.’

Breaker Morant had been such a success for this team that The Club would have looked like an absolute failure in comparison. What needs to be taken into account however, is that Breaker Morant was based on a story that was a lot more marketable and it could relate to a much larger audience on a global scale, not just confined to a minor Australian market. Primarily this is why Breaker Morant gave Beresford’s team success, but in my opinion it was a better quality feature film and deserved the accolades it received.

It is also significantly Jack Thompson was in a lead role as he was becoming a very popular actor at the time of release and a very familiar face. ‘Skilful promotion of Australian actors and their films in the weeklies and in the magazine sections of the dailies kept audiences aware of their local product. Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown became nearly as familiar to audiences as Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzeneger .....’ p. 328 ( ‘Cinema In Australia.’ )

Using known Australian faces and a sport that majority of Australians had a passion for was a good move for Beresford in trying to seize the full potential of his limited market share.

Use the film to estimate what it’s uptake and current place on contemporary critical and market horizons tells you of the general position of Australian film and its value.

The Club is about a very ordinary subject, Australian football, the only drawcard to the movie is the known expertise of David Williamson, who scripted the movie and had a successful run with The Club, as mentioned, also had a limited market audience as the film was generally for Australians about Australians and even more specifically Australian Rules football fans.

In the context of this film, Australian cinema can be seen as very unambitious and limiting. The subject matter, style of the film and production quality isn’t good enough to rival international blockbusters or even the better Australian films of that year. In itself, this demonstrates the low profile of Australian Cinema was keeping, mainly because of very limited funding available to finance any sort of competitive production on the international film circuit.

Currently the Australian film industry is a lot more heavily funded than when The Club was produced 17 years ago, lifting standards and giving Australian film a higher standing within the international film community. Australian film has always had a unique reputation for producing cinema that has been markedly different to what the people expect, which are the glossy American blockbusters.

There was a generally negative uptake to The Club at it’s time of release, as the press was generally unimpressed with adaptation of David Williamson’s play onto the screen. The film was nominated at the Australian Film Industry awards of that year but was certainly overshadowed by Breaker Morant, which won every major award and was included in several international film festivals, such as the Cannes festival.

Situate the film in relation to Australian National cinema as a medium sized English language cinema.

The Club as a medium sized English language cinema piece can be seen as well placed to communicate Australian cultural values. As the film is obviously in the English language it can bridge communication barriers and gives the film an edge in marketing terms over non English speaking films.

However, the film is very specific to the Australian way of life and doesn’t have a very marketable subject matter as other Australian films such as Breaker Morant, Crocodile Dundee and Mad Max. All films, including The Club have a distinct Australian voice and style which all builds the Australian National Cinema profile.

Australian films in some ways seem to reject the cliched style and subject matter, for example, Hollywood films take on. The Club gives a glimpse of a unique aspect of Australian life and the way in which a sport can rule lives and the way they live them.

In this way The Club can relate to other English speaking countries as in their countries they would have Gridiron for Americans, Soccer for the English and so on. So the film basically just communicates the way Australians manage a part of life that is in fact common to all.


Bibliography

Bibliographical details of interviews with the Cast and reviews :

As The Club wasn’t a film that demanded much attention from the media, interviews and reviews appeared in the same context.

Bibliography

1. Bailey Peter & Ross Lansell (ed) (1982)Australian Motion Picture Yearbook 1981 / 82Melbourne, Four Seasons

2. Bailey Peter & Ross Lansell (ed) (1987)Australian Motion Picture Yearbook 1983Melbourne, Four Seasons

3. Coleman, Peter (1992) Bruce Beresford :Instincts of The HeartNew South Wales, Angus & Robertson

4. Halliwell, William K. (1985)The Filmgoers Guide to Australian FilmsSydney, Angus & Robertson

5. Murray, Scott (1994)Australian CinemaNew South Wales, Allen and Urwin

6. Murray, Scott (ed) (1980)Cinema Papers : Issue 29, Melbourne, p. 377


Presence online and in the literature

The Club had very little on the presence in the web literature. I searched the Australian Cinemas home page and through the listed essays related to my film, also through most of the links given such as the AFC Site and Films Australia’s.

I was unsuccessful in trying to find a South Australian Film Corporation Site. The only site I managed to even find a mention of The Club was in Cinemedia’s Site (WWW.CINEMEDIA.NET) which gave some film information essential lists of principal cast and credits and short synopsis.

However, this site was more of a video catalogue. It was quite easy to find information on the director, Bruce Beresford, but no mention was made of The Club when referring the films he had made.

In my search for information on The Club, I used different libraries, the internet and other films made by Bruce Beresford gave me within the Australian Motion Picture Yearbook and Filmgoers Guide to Australian Films, there were a few quotes from other publications about The Club.

Hall, Sandra, The Bulletin, Sept 3-, 1980

Hindle, John, National Times, Sept 27, 1980

Milna, Variety, (New York), Oct 8, 1980.

Reviews and interviews were absent from publications such as Film Comment, Film News and Sight and Sound and other overseas publications. This indicates the place of Australian Cinema within an international context and the low profile films such as The Club could expect.



text author: Tammy Doig
html coding: Nicole Turner

This page was produced as part of the Australian Cinema Unit at Murdoch University

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