Shannon Fox 30325037
MED231 Australian Cinema
Garry Gillard, Thursday 2pm
Bibliography and Critical Review

Monkey Grip(June 1982)

“Loving, hurting, caring, fighting, winning, losing, all part of ... Monkey Grip”

Directed by
Ken Cameron   
Ken Cameron (in association with Helen Garner)  

Based on the Novel “Monkey Grip” by
Helen Garner   

Patricia Lovell 
Danny Collins (executive producer) 
Treisha Ghent (associate producer) 
Director of Photography
David Gribble   

Production Company
Pavilion Films
                                                                                                                       Monkey Grip DVD
Key Cast                                                                                               Running Time: 101mins
Noni Hazlehurst…      Nora
Colin Friels ...              Javo
Alice Garner ...             Gracie
Harold Hopkins ...       Willie 
Candy Raymond ...     Lillian
Michael Caton ...          Clive
Tim Burns ...                Martin
Christina Amphlett ...  Angela
Don Miller-Robinson ..Gerald
Lisa Peers ...                 Rita
Cathy Downes ...         Eve

Ken Cameron (director), Patricia Lovell (producer) and Alice Garner (cast) were all interviewed coinciding with the films release on DVD in 2004:
Monkey Grip. DVD. Directed by Ken Cameron with performances by Noni Hazlehurst, Colin Friels and Harold Hopkins. Australia: Umbrella Entertainment 2004

Further Discussions
Monkey Grip was voted one of the hundred greatest films of Australian cinema when compiling a book of the same name. A discussion of the film by Bill Craske is included:
Hocking, Scott. 100 Greatest Films of Australian Cinema. Victoria: Scribal Publishing, 2006

Internet Presence
Monkey Grip is from a pre-world wide web era, so there are not a lot of resources on the film beyond personal reviews and film information. Below are the most prominent/useful: : for cast, crew and film details. It also has some interesting reviews from users. : is a review of the DVD’s technical quality : a review from the New York Times, but to get any different information than available on other sites you must subscribe

Noni Hazlehurst and Alice Garner

Further Material
There are plenty of other materials available from the National Film and Sound Archive (, including audio interviews and negatives from the film, however, they are hard to access and can incur a fee. 

Critical Review

“I am through with hanging around with all the boys in town. Now I want a man around, get me out of here” sings Chrissy Amphlett from behind a thick fringe, thrashing a fluorescent microphone stand. “Boys in Town”, a song she made famous off screen with her band Divinyls, and with her fictional band on screen, is the perfect summary of Ken Cameron’s film adaptation of Helen Garner’s novel Monkey Grip. The song sums up the protagonists journey through the film, as well as that of all the other women, who are dealing with the effects of feminist politics and sexual liberation in their relationships.

“Monkey Grip” the novel was released in 1977, in a decade feeling the aftermath of the feminist movement. The effects of feminism were not reserved for women, men were influenced too. As Helen Garner said in an interview with Steve Stockwell, people suddenly thought it was ok to be ruthlessly honest about sex. More specifically, who they wanted to sleep with regardless of whether this person was attached and ignorant of the repercussions for all involved. People were sleeping around, but at the same time trying to stay detached. Unfortunately, it is human nature to become involved and as Noni Hazlehurst’s character Nora puts it “a person shouldn’t be ashamed to wish for love.” Today’s society is less fervent about bed swapping within small circles, as portrayed in the film, and Garner says “Monkey Grip” has become somewhat of a period piece.

Noni Hazlehurst’s character Nora is a single mother living a bohemian lifestyle amongst a group of artists in Carlton, in and out of share houses and aware of the drug culture inching into their group. Amongst her circle of creative friends, relationships can stop and start freely, as Nora says “I’m not all that worried about futures; I don’t want to love anybody forever.” However, the viewer understands that as she says this to her friend, she may not mean it. It is simply a reflection of her society, particularly her group of friends. As the film progresses, we discover she does crave love, as she worries she will break without it.

Nora disentangles herself from her partner Martin (Tim Burns) early on in the film when she begins to fall for his friend Javo (Colin Friels). Martin is the first man in the film to feel the effects of the feminist stance on relationships. Nora barely tells him they have stopped seeing each other, as ignoring him is more effective. While his heart breaks and Javo is confused about his loyalties, she drifts between them happily. She begins seeing Javo, a junkie, and finds herself hurt and confused by his handle on their relationship. While she becomes addicted to love, he is increasingly addicted to heroin. She seeks refuge from their rocky relationship with other, attached, men, almost costing her the friendships she has with the women in the film. It becomes confusing for everyone, who wants who. Angela (Chrissy Amphlett) is the most honest of the group with her feelings about the casual nature of the relationships within their circle. Her partner Willie (Harold Hopkins) has been the centre of many women’s, including her friends, affections, and as she says to Nora “I don’t know what he wants any more; you, me, Rita or all three of us.” Ultimately, the drugs and more so the flippant way the characters treat each other, cause the demise of any real relationships and Nora ends the film where she began, at a public swimming pool, alone save for her daughter, but hopefully a little bit wiser. 

Although drugs play an integral role in the film, Ken Cameron “never thought of it as a drug film.” The drug use portrayed in the movie is part of the story telling. The film doesn’t glorify drug use or even criticise it, it is simply there to enhance the realism of the film. Javo’s smack habit disgusts Nora and causes her heartache, but even so it is not the reason they separate. Nora is given the same treatment she gave Martin when Javo leaves her for another of their friends. Nora finds is hard to detach herself from Javo when he moves on because, as Ken Cameron says, the story is about her “love addiction.”

Cameron “just fell in love with [“Monkey Grip”] and it was about things [he] was very interested in. It was about the addiction to love and obsessive relationships and the difficulties people have in relationships.” After reading the novel and taking it to his producer Pat Lovell, he worked with Helen Garner to create a screenplay. “Monkey Grip” was Garner’s story. Although not an autobiography, she had lived what Nora had, “a single mother in a web of casual relationships.” Therefore, while the film has aspects of social realism, as do most Australian films, it can best be described as participating in the genre of the woman’s film. This genre “is defined by the centrality of its female protagonist, its attempt to deal with issues deemed important to women, and its address to a female audience.” This is where the aspect of social realism enters. For a woman to identify with the protagonist there must be something recognisable about the character.

Social realism is an important part of Monkey Grip, particularly the Australian setting. It allows for the vernacular the viewer can identify with, as well as a landscape that represents our home. Although set in Melbourne, and filmed in Sydney due to funding problems which are often incurred by independent productions, any Australian can recognise something familiar on screen, be it at the beach or in the city. Small things add to the sense of setting, like a pet pink and grey galah, or Gracie saying she doesn’t like going to the beach because she “[doesn’t] like the sand, it gets up your bum.”  

Producer Pat Lovell says that she thinks “the best thing about Monkey Grip is that it’s a very honest film.” This too is typical of Australian cinema. One of my favourite scenes in the film is of Nora killing time eating a sandwich, stretching and jumping about with boredom. It is like taking a scene from my lounge room and putting it on screen. Noni Hazlehurst’s performance in Monkey Grip as “both the girl with the faraway eyes and the down to earth share-house veteran with the surgical mind” was so honest and beguiling she won the Australian Film Industry (AFI) award for best actress in a lead role.
Monkey Grip was critically acclaimed at the time of its release, and has remained so. Upon release in 1982, many of the cast and crew, along with Hazlehurst, were nominated for AFI awards, including Chrissy Amphlett and Alice Garner, Helen Garner’s daughter who plays Nora’s daughter Gracie in the film. Recently the film was featured as one of the hundred greatest films in Australian cinema in a book of the same name compiled by numerous Australian film critics. It quite possibly set the standard for many other Australian films since.

The film initially received an R certificate due to the unguarded sex scenes. Cameron says that to get an M rating he simply needed to cut some of these scenes, however, this would have detracted from the films heartbreaking honesty. Also, the R rating attracted a lot of attention from viewers upon release. They were intrigued as to what warranted such a classification. The film might have missed its market had it been given a more palatable rating. However, it’s interesting to note that the 2004 DVD release of Monkey Grip, twenty two years after the films cinematic release, came with just an M rating.

Monkey Grip was Ken Cameron’s first film, Helen Garner’s first novel and the first film for many of the cast. While Hazlehurst and Friels had both starred in the Australian institution that is “Play School”, and other television shows, neither had a lead role to their name before Monkey Grip. In fact, Friels was only offered the part after the Angel’s frontman Doc Neeson had to pull out due to touring commitments. Since then, both have become familiar faces in Australian cinemas and particularly on television. Alice Garner, who features in the book and the film, has frequently graced our television sets. Many of the supporting cast are now major players locally, especially Michael Caton who injected the catch phrase “tell him he’s dreaming” into our dialect from his role in The Castle. Ken Cameron has since become a popular television director, but has not ventured into film recently. Unfortunately, Chrissy Amphlett didn’t venture into acting again despite critical acclaim for her performance.

Amphlett’s role in the film went beyond her on screen presence. Her group Divinyls, some of whom appeared on screen too, lent their music to the film and the film’s fictional band. Their music “added so much to the film on every level” said Ken Cameron. The music was the backdrop to these characters existence, but it was the lyrics that acted as an added protagonist. Beyond “Boys in Town”, the song “Girlfriends” is integral to the film. Angela has heard that Nora “lay it on” Willie, although the viewer knows that is not true. However, Nora has begun to get a reputation for using people. Angela lets Nora know that she doesn’t hate her anymore before sauntering into the studio half drunk with a cigarette between her lips. There, she struggles to sing the track “Girlfriends” which details a woman’s unflinching approach towards men, the very problem the film addresses, while Nora sits back in tears at the indirect assault. The viewer knows the song is about her due to the cuts between the two women. This song marks the turning point in the film where the characters realise they need to be accountable for their actions.
In the final scene Nora is confronted by Javo at the public swimming pool where they first met. By this stage she has had enough of “hanging around with all the boys in town” and as he kisses her, she pulls away and it’s then she realises her love for him has passed. Her addiction has gone. Earlier Gracie predicted that this would happen. Nora was doubtful, “how would you know?” but Gracie, having loved someone briefly herself, understood more than Nora realised. It is when Nora’s addiction is quelled she becomes happier; free to dance to Angela’s music being played on the radio. Helen Garner said in her interview with Stockwell that she was not trying to make a point with her novel, she was just showing life how it is, something viewer’s can relate to. “I guess I’m basically a realist.”

Period piece, social commentary and love story, Monkey Grip is a classic Australian film. Critical accolades aside, the story is told with heart-breaking honesty and beautiful performances. It is subtle enough to be identifiable and languid enough to be realistic whilst being totally enjoyable.

Divinyls: Boys in Town. Lyrics Freak.

Monkey Grip. DVD. Directed by Ken Cameron with performances by Noni Hazlehurst, Colin Friels and Harold Hopkins. Australia: Umbrella Entertainment 2004

Moran, Albert and Vieth, Errol. Film in Australia, an Introduction. Victoria: Cambridge University Press, 2006

Gillard, Garry. “Teenpic” in Ten Types of Australian Film. 118. Murdoch: Murdoch University, 2007

Craske, Bill. “Monkey Grip” in 100 Greatest Films of Australian Cinema, edited by Scott Hocking. Victoria: Scribal Publishing, 2006