Matt Van Acker
18/4/06
Bibliography and Critical Review

Don’s Party
Part I.

Random Facts
-Don’s Party was premiered on November 10, 1976 and it opened commercially (first) in Canberra on November 17, 1976.
-90 min runtime
-Filmed in Australia on location in Westleigh, New South Wales (which is northwestern Sydney area)
-Shot almost entirely at night
-Rating – MA 15+ Oz or R in US
-Distribution Company – Miracle Films
-Released on DVD in 1999 by Wellspring
-Sound Mix – Dolby Digital Mono
-Format – 35mm (1:1.85) Color
-Production cost was covered by the Australian Film Commission and a small bit from Twentieth Century Fox and added up to be about $270,000 which seems to be pretty average for that era.  For a movie fueled by beer, sex, simply satisfactory acting and filmed almost entirely (just about 99%) at one location, it seems as if it could have easily been produced for less.

Production Company – Double Head Productions/Australian Film Commission

Awards
AFI awards in ‘77 include:
-Best Achievement in Editing – William Anderson
-Best Achievement in Sound – William Anderson
-Best Lead Role Actress – Pat Bishop
-Best Supporting Actress – Veronica Lang
-Best Director – Bruce Beresford
-Best Screenplay – David Williamson
-Jeanine Drynan was nominated for best actress in a lead role and Phillip Adams was also nominated for Best Film award as producer for Don’s Party.

Bruce Beresford was also nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear award that year.

Principle Players

Director – Bruce Beresford (Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, Driving Miss Daisy, Black Robe and Breaker Morant are a few of his other highlights though he has quite a few movies under his belt all in all.
Assistant Director – Mike Martorana
Assistant Assistant Director – Toivo Lember

Script Writer – David Williamson (Wrote the original Play “Don’s Party.”  Other highlights include “Dead White Males,” “The Club,” “Money and Friends,” and “Stork.”)

Producer – Phillip Adams (career appears to have ended in the 80’s)
Associate Producer – David Barrow

Characters (Cast)

Mal – Ray Barrett (with a career spanning from the 50’s to 2004, Barrett has just about held hundreds of roles, many of which were in TV episodes)

Susan – Clare Binney (short career in 70’s and 80’s)

Jenny – Pat Bishop (most recent role in “Soft Fruit” (’99), her career as an actress started in the 60’s)

Simon – Graeme Blundell  (most recently in Star Wars episode III, and based on his performance in Don’s Party as the oddball at the party, I would imagine he fit in just fine with the Star Wars crew.)

Kath Henderson – Jeanine Drynan

Don Henderson – John Hargeeaves (most recently in a flick called “Lust and Revenge” in ’96)

Cooley – Harold Hopkins (most recently in “The Secret Life of Us”)

Mack – Graham Kennedy
Jody – Veronica Lang
Kerry – Candy Raymond
Evan – Kit Taylor
John Grey Gorton – Himself (Prime Minister of Australia 1968-71)

The Crew

Original Music by: Johnny O’ Keefe, Johnny Young, and Thomas Evans
Singer for “She Wears My Ring” – Johnny O’ Keefe
Song Performer for “The Star” – Ross Dwyle
Song Performer for “Without You” – Doug Parkinson
Non-Original Music by: Leos Janacek

Cinematography – Donald McAlpine (“Anger Management”, “Mrs. Doubtfire”, “Predator”, director of photography for “Moulin Rouge”, and “Romeo + Juliet”)

Editor – William M. Anderson (most notable (in my opinion) is “Dead Poets Society” while his most recent (2006) work is “.45.”)

Casting – Alison Barret (she has done the casting for heaps of Australian films such as “Muriel’s Wedding,” and most recently “The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course”)

Set Decoration – Rhoisin Harrison
Costumes – Anna Senior
Hair Stylist – Judy Lovell
Make-up Artist – Judy Lovell
Sound – Desmond Bone
Sound Mixer – Peter Fenton
Assistant Sound – Graham Irwin
Sound Editor – Lyn Tunbridge

Small Time Crew

Runner – Linda Blagg
Production Secretary – Bronwyn Brostoff
Camera Loader (Clapper Loader) – David Brostoff
Title Designer – Fran Burke
Key Grip – David Fetley
Ass. Grip – Neil Matthews
Still Photos – Mike Giddens
Director’s Ass. (responsible for saving the directors ass as well) – Moya Icetan
Continuity – Moya Icetan
Gaffer – Alan Martin
Focus Puller – Peter Mass
Ass. Chief Lighting – Simon Perton
Wardrobe – Anna Senior
Ass. Editor – Andrew Stewart
Camera Operator – Gale Tattersall

Online Presence – Fairly strong since there is information on both David Williamson’s original play and the movie version…I was surprised to find as many reviews and lists of cast/crew as I did since I myself have never even heard of “Don’s Party” before, but once again I think this is due to its play-turned movie status.

Bibliography of Reviews

1. Film Review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat of spirituality and practice.
http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/films.php?id=8086

2. Film review by Stephen Groenewegen of eFilmcritic.com
http://efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8032&reviewer=104

 

3. Film Review by Vincent Canby of The New York Times Thursday May 27, 1982 edition.
http://movies2.nytimes.com/mem/movies/review.html?_r=3&title1=&title2=Don%27s%20Party%20%28Movie%29&reviewer=VINCENT%20CANBY&v_id=14307&partner=Rotten%20Tomatoes&oref=slogin&oref=login

4. http://www.channel4.com/film/reviews/film.jsp?id=102881

5. http://www.hollywood.com/movies/detail/id/169474

6. http://lastnightwithriviera.blogspot.com/2006/01/end-of-era-dons-party.html

7. National Film and Sound Archive.  A lot of good info about the movie and quick synopsis
http://www.screensound.gov.au/ScreenSound/Screenso.nsf/allDocs/RWP06D7C6B20F9C4F84CA256B5F001B307D?OpenDocument

8. Internet Movie database tells all…this is where I got most of my technical info. and cast/crew details from.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074422/combined

Interviews

-Interview with David Williamson on Radio National in which he talks about and defends his style.  http://www.hccy.cg.catholic.edu.au/home/pamela_cohen/removalists/davidwilliamsonabc.htm

-Speech by David Williamson on “Australianness” where he briefly mentions Don’s Party
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/01/24/1042911546241.html

-Interview-esk thing with Phillip Adams on George Negas tonight.  He comments on Australian Cinema in the 70’s
http://www.abc.net.au/dimensions/dimensions_in_time/Transcripts/s796788.htm

 

Part II

Detailed Plot Summary

            “Don’s Party,” the title itself has a double meaning which tells you what the film is inherently about.  First and foremost the title refers to the actual party or gathering of people that Don Henderson has on election night of 1969.  Secondly, the title refers to the Labor Party which is in fact Don’s choice party, or rather, the political party that Don and most of his other invited guests, save “neutral” Simon and his liberal wife Jody, hope to see win the election.  Don’s wife Kath groans and moans throughout most of the flick as the party was entirely Don’s idea yet she gets stuck doing most of the work to prepare for, and host, it.  Kath believes that Don and his friends are simply using the election as a good excuse to get hammered and that Don really isn’t into politics that much.  By the end of the movie it sure seems like she hit the nail on the head considering when all votes are in and the liberal party wins the election, the loyal labor party party-goers are too drunk to care.  In fact, the movie itself may at first appear to be politically themed, but in reality it is not so much about politics but more about alcohol, sex, and the unveiled kinks in the party goers’ relationships.  The guests that Don invites include Simon: an introverted and timid plastic manufacturer, Jody: Simon’s wife who is quite beautiful, a bit overdressed, very naïve and votes liberal simply because she loathes the sound of, and images she gets from, the word labor.  Also in attendance we have the former college professor Mal, who is both bitter and broke; broke mainly due to his extravagant spender of a wife, Jenny, the most physically unattractive and depressed of the women present.  Then we have Mack, recently separated from his wife of whom he brings a nude picture and also claims to have photographed in bed with other men (specifically Cooley) who he encouraged her to seduce.  The fourth couple present is an odd match made up of a stuck-up, seemingly humorless, asshole dentist named Evan and his gorgeous wife, an artist named Kerry.  Finally, we have the last couple…if you could call them that, which consists of Cooley the obnoxious, loudmouthed, anything short of modest lawyer and his recently acquired girlfriend.  Cooley’s extremely attractive and uninhibited, 19 year old lady friend, who immediately finds herself attracted to Don upon arrival, is named Susan.  As the house gets full of guests and the fridge/countertop even more full of booze, the party gets fired up rather quickly.  With hardly any hesitation and seemingly little alcohol in them initially, Mack and Mal try feverishly and in a rather frank manner to get first Jody and secondly Kerry to have sex with them.  As the night goes on and everyone gets progressively more pissed, save Kath, we find Mal, who obviously has no sex appeal, unsuccessful in winning Jody, Kerry and Susan.  Jody in her drunkenness Somehow is attracted to Mack and when she finally gets the guts to cast away her dull husband and bring Mack to bed, he proceeds to fall asleep before he even gets his pants off.  Don and Kath who haven’t been on the best of terms, even prior to the party, become more distant as Susan slides between them and has the audacity to ask Kath if she might screw Don.  Cooley, as obnoxious as he is, manages to get Kerry to have sex with him.  The two are soon discovered by Kerry’s husband who ends up initially sulking away without Kerry, but coming back later for revenge only to find Cooley back with his 19 year old friend Susan and his wife long gone; Evan proceeds to beat up Cooley anyway.  Mal and Jenny’s relationship also proves to be sour as they have sex and money issues.  By the end of the movie almost all of the characters are left naked…either physically, mentally, emotionally or all three.  Undoubtedly some may definitely regret the night while others such as Mack, Mal, Cooley, and Susan may never learn.

Critical Analysis
Stephen Groenevegen criticizes Jeanie Drynan’s acting, calling her a “vacant performer.”  I’m thinking he simply doesn’t like her style and wonder if he would have appreciated her superb work in “Muriel’s Wedding” as the tragic mom since her role in Don’s Party was vaguely similar style wise.  Personally I felt that Drynan along with Hargreaves, Bishop, and Barrett all did fantastic jobs.  I am curious if Barrett and Hargreaves were actually drinking alcohol as they filmed because by the end of the movie they both play their respective drunk characters, Mal and Don, quite well.  Though Veronica Lang was awarded best supporting actress by the AFI for her work as Jody, I really am not seeing what they saw in her.  Lang’s role was not very hard to play and her portrayal of Jody, along with Raymond’s portrayal of Kerry and Taylor’s portrayal of Evan, seemed choppy.  All three of the actors I listed gave me the feeling at times that I was watching the play instead of the movie which I did not like.  Pat Bishop however was a very convincing “Mal’s wife” and definitely earned her AFI award that year playing “Jenny.”  While on the topic, I must say that the relationship between Mal and Jenny was the most believable and the couple’s relationship to the other party members was fairly well developed compared to the other odd-shaped/non-believable relationships in the film.  As stated by Vincent Canby of the New York Times, “If you can accept the form for what it is, and don't mind that some of these people are most unlikely friends, ''Don's Party'' is often entertaining in a decently conventional way” (Canby, 1982).  I would definitely agree with him that some of these people are indeed most unlikely friends and argue that Williamson didn’t really pay much attention to detail in the area of character choice and development.  Furthermore, we must ask the question, are these real Australians; to what extent is Williamson trying to accurately portray or satirize Australian Society in the 70’s?  Although Journalist Vin Maskell of the Sydney Morning Herald nominated Don's Party as one of his six favorite expressions of Australian summer (screensound.gov), what is this movie really saying about Australian people, specifically the middle class-educated folks.  Did Williamson have any loftier goals in writing the script than simply making a bit of sex and alcohol fueled entertainment?  Looking back from 2003 Williamson says, “Australia's chauvinism, materialism, conservatism and its suburban conformity were put under the microscope, but even as I was savaging such tendencies in plays such as Don's Party it was apparent to me and to audiences that I found my country endearing as well as horrific - our black sardonic humour, our energy, our directness and our hatred of pretentiousness.  In those days there was a sense that there were common characteristics across the whole of the population that could be thought of as typically Australian” (courtesy of theage.com).  If you talked with Williamson about his movie or play for that matter, he would most likely tell you that he is a satirist and Don’s Party is something of a satire.  Yet as Malcolm Pettigrove of the 1974 Canberra Times comments on the play, “At times, Williamson records their language and life style so faithfully that it is difficult to tell whether he is writing a satire or a celebration of it” (Pettigrove, 1974).  I personally agree with Pettigrove, but after solely watching the movie I would have to come to the conclusion that Williamson was both trying to depict the vulgarity, crassness, materialism, quirky humor, etc. that is “uniquely Australian” and at the same time satirize it, meaning that there is definitely some exaggeration involved…most parties aren’t quite like Don’s. 
Despite my intense yet fruitless search for actual numbers, I have gotten the sense that Don’s Party as both a play and as a movie was fairly well received.  Canby’s review in the ’82 New York Times (presumably when the film debuted in America) was rather indifferent or slightly in favor of the film at best, but according to Lycos Movies, “Though five other directors had passed on “Don’s Party,” assessing the material as hopelessly stage-bound Bruce Beresford took on the grim comedy-drama and counter to expectations it was a big box office success (entertainment.lycos.com).  As for the play, it was so successful that it went on tour for over a year.  (this was information that I gathered from a website dedicated to Nick Tate, a well known Australian actor who played “Don” in the play version for a while).  As for the movie in today’s day and age, it does not seem to be very prevalent/popular.  My first clue would probably be that not a single student has picked this film that has been around for a while to do this report on.  I was lucky enough to find a copy of it in the Murdoch library, however upon mention of the film to many of my peers (people who weren’t alive much less into movies in the 70’s) they simply shrugged their shoulders in ignorance.  I don’t believe that there is a huge market for a movie like “Don’s Party” in recent times and part of that may have to do with the fact that Australian Cinema has long grown out of the “ocker” stage in its film making. 
As far as genre is concerned, “Don’s Party” would be considered mainly a comedy, partly a drama, or more specifically, a party-politics film (notice the dash and not slash between party and politics), but more importantly, this film fits into a genre described as “ocker” that was alive and well in the beginning half of the seventies.  Tom O’Regan describes the ocker film as, “A film with a contemporary, often urban setting, which (by and large) minimized psychological motivation and relied upon forms of social typage.  They were also explicitly geared towards a local audience” (O’Regan).  The ocker film makes use of visual or verbal (often quite vulgar) “gags” and requires little subtlety.  Examples of ocker films include “Alvin Purple,” “The Adventures of Barry McKenzie,” “Don’s Party,” “Muriel’s Wedding,” and “Stork.”  Both Williamson (writer) and Beresford (director) are considered ocker “creators”.  Tim Burstall, another ocker “creator” described the ocker film as “self-consciously highlighting the Australian” and one that emanated, “disruptive and anarchic entertainment values.”  One of the main themes one can find in an ocker film is sex, and “Don’s Party” is no exception.  By the mid to late 70’s the public outcry for reform in the film industry was starting to rise in volume.  The Australian public was not happy with: how they were being portrayed in the cinema, what a shallow cultural statement it was making about Australia, how sexuality was being exploited and depicted in such a vulgar light, and simply how low quality the films were.  Also there was a rise in feminism at this time and the ocker films were pretty much the antithesis of Feminist values (O’Regan).  Considering that “Don’s Party” was filmed and produced after the “quality film” revolution had already taken root, I’m surprised that it received much of its funding from the AFC.  “Don’s Party” is definitely an ocker film, but was released right about the time that the transition from ocker to “quality” film was taking place in the 70’s…the later half of the 70’s stressing the quality film with examples such as “My Brilliant Career,” “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” and more recently, “The Piano.”
Bruce Beresford is no stranger to making low budget films and I might argue that more often than not they have ended up being low quality films as well.  His most famous work would most likely be his 1989 hit “Driving Miss Daisy,” which harbored the talent of Morgan Freeman, Dan Aykroyd, and Jessica Tandy and was sure to give every viewer a wonderful warm and happy feeling as they walked out of the theatre quite unlike the feeling one might get from “Don’s Party” or some of his even-more-unpopular films such as “King David,” “A Good Man in Africa,” “Sharon Stone,” and “Last Dance.”  His other major successes include “Breaker Morant,” a low-budget classic anti-war, war film that turned out to be quite alright…according to the 1980 New York Times it is, “one of the most acclaimed Australian films” and “The Black Robe” a Canadian drama.  All in all Beresford has had his hand in the making of many a film and has definitely won fame as a prominent Australian director yet I would have to say that based on his number of successes vs. failures, he is just about as average a director as “Don’s Party” is a movie.  However, Not only did “Don’s Party” jumpstart the career of Beresford and provide a bit of fuel for the re-kindling of Australian Cinema on the whole, but it also served as a semi-starting point in the career of extremely successful cinematographer Don McAlpine, being the fourth of about 50 films he would end up working on including the likes of “Breaker Morant,” “Predator,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Romeo+Juliet,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Anger Management,” and most recently (2005) “Cronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.”  
What else can I say about “Don’s Party” that hasn’t already been said?  Well probably not much, especially considering there hasn’t been much said in the first place.  In the end, “Don’s Party” is not much more than a satisfactory satire/depiction of Aussie middle class folk, an opportunity for Williamson to take a few pokes at teachers/college professors and a fairly good time.  Hardly one of Australia’s best, maybe Beresford should have left the plans for Don’s Party on stage where he found it after all.
        

 

Works Cited:

Canby, V. (1982). “‘Don’s Party,’ From Australia.” New York Times,  
http://movies2.nytimes.com/mem/movies/review.html?_r=3&title1=&title2=Don%27s%20Party%20%28Movie%29&reviewer=VINCENT%20CANBY&v_id=14307&partner=Rotten%20Tomatoes&oref=slogin&oref=login.

http://entertainment.lycos.com/movies/celeb_bio.php?id=19149

Groenewegen, S. (2003). EFC review of “Don’s Party”
http://efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8032&reviewer=104.

Internet Movie Database
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074422/combined.

Maskell, V. of the Sydney Morning Herald. excerpt courtesy of Screensound
http://www.screensound.gov.au/ScreenSound/Screenso.nsf/allDocs/RWP06D7C6B20F9C4F84CA256B5F001B307D?OpenDocument.

O’Regan, T. (last modified 2000). Australian Film in the 1970’s: the ocker and the quality
film. An essay off of Australian Film in the Reading Room which can be found at:
http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/film/1970s.html.

 Pettigrove, M. (1974). Canberra Times, Excerpt pulled from:
http://www.currency.com.au/preview/dons.htm

Williamson, D. (2003). A Nation United in its Unique Disparity, a speech.  Documented on
theage.com
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/01/24/1042911546241.html