Alvin Purple

Part One

Genre: Comedy
Running Time:
97 minutes
Rating: R 18+
Tagline: “We did it for Alvin!”
Alternate title: The Sex Therapist (USA)

Director:  Tim Burstall
Written by: Alan Hopgood
Produced by: Tim Burstall and Alan Finney
Cinematography: Robin Copping
Original Music: Brian Cadd

Starring
Graeme Blundell - Alvin Purple
Alan Finney – Spike Dooley
Christine McClure (billed as Elli Maclure) – Tina
Penne Hackforth-Jones – Dr Liz Sort
George Whaley – Dr McBurney
Abigail – Girl in See-Through
Lynette Curran – First Sugar Girl
Jackie Weaver – Second Sugar Girl
Dennis Miller – Mr Horwood
Jill Forster – Mrs Horwood
Jenny Hagan – Agnes Jackson

Production Companies
Bilcock & Copping Film Productions
Hexagon Entertainment

Distributors
Village Roadshow
Warner Bros. Pictures

Date released
Australia – 20th December, 1973
USA – 11th October 1974

(All details care of the Internet Movie Database - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069698/)

Reviews
“It's pretty much what you'd expect from an Australian cinema enjoying its first phase of liberal censorship: an adolescent insistence on outraging 'decency' with a display of sundry organs, tits and bums; a story that could well have been written as they were going along; and jokes comprising a barrage of appalling double entendres. Ponderous at every level.”
Time Out London -
http://www.timeout.com/film/reviews/77786/alvin-purple.html

“By today's quite liberal cinematic standards, the smutty soft-core porn antics of Alvin Purple, and the explosive sex comedies of Australian film during the 1970s, seem somewhat tame and non-eventful. But in the context of the repressive time when they were released to Aussie audiences, these saucy little sex capers were cutting edge stuff, pushing the boundaries of censorship, thumbing their nose at a stuffy 'establishment' and giving audiences something to get, well, excited about.”
Craig Miller, Urban Cinefile -
http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=9299&s=DVD

“For those of us that enjoy seventies sinema, Alvin Purple has a reasonable amount to offer. There's a fair amount of naked flesh - both female and male - and pretty mild, but entertaining sex on display. The actresses are all attractive and enthusiastic. The swinging seventies ethic take full flight in this one. Blundell's a generally appealing, kind-faced lead, but it's suprising how unfunny this film is. He doesn't have many amusing lines, and the extent of the humour is basically a few fast-motion scenes of him taking cold showers, running from desperate women and so on. So I'd have to view this one as a failure if it's being sold purely as a comedy. Interestingly enough, the film does seem to try to explore the emptiness of Alvin's sexual obsession - that he lacks true companionship no matter how much fun he has. There are obvious moments of seriousness in the film, that begin to resonate as a character study of loneliness. Don't let me put you off Alvin Purple, though. I found it slightly disappointing in some aspects, but quite fun in others. It's certainly a nice fantasy concept - that a man who has virtually nothing to offer, can be irresistable to women.”
Boris Lugosi, Girls, Guns and Ghouls - http://www.girlsgunsandghouls.com/alvinpurple.html

“When released in 1973, Alvin Purple was highly controversial, both due to its subject matter and the frequent nudity and innuendo. Seen today it is hard to work out what the fuss was all about. It certainly does not go anywhere near as far as films like Baise-Moi or Romance in depictions of sex. In fact, it is rather coy at times. The difference between Alvin and these more recent films is the tone. Where contemporary film-makers seem determined to camouflage the smut with excessive seriousness, Alvin is a light-hearted, good-natured fantasy that still manages to skewer aspects of the so-called sexual revolution of the Seventies.”
Phillip Sawyer, michealdvd.com.au - http://www.michaeldvd.com.au/Reviews/Reviews.asp?ID=5549

Interviews
No interviews could be found online after much searching, due to the film being released in the pre-internet years but the Alvin Purple DVD includes interviews with Tim Burstall, Graeme Blundell, Alan Finney, Alan Hopgood, Jackie Weaver, Christina McClure and Robin Copping. They all reflect on its beginnings, concepts, casting and filming, as well as the impact it had on the Australian film industry and their experiences after the release.

Online Presence
Google the words “Alvin Purple” and results will find a bevy of information about the film’s DVD release and purchase, including reviews and details of bonus features but interviews regarding the film were difficult to uncover.  There are also a many tributes to the film’s late director, Tim Burstall, who died in 2004. You can also read more about the film at the Australian Music and Popular Culture website MILESAGO, which is referenced in this review at: http://www.milesago.com/visual/alvin.htm
Other helpful links include:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069698/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Purple
http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=9299&s=DVD
http://australianscreen.com.au/titles/alvin-purple/ (where you can also view clips from the film)

Part Two

Synopsis
Alvin Purple is a troubled young man. He’s not very good looking or charming, he’s unemployable with no qualifications and he can’t understand what women want, even though they find him utterly irresistible...
So confused by the female mind, he concludes he must ring in the “Sexless Seventies” but quickly changes his mind when his lusty neighbour comes by for more than a bit of sugar. She’s not the first apparently. Young women have been using for him for years, if not for sugar, then for him to “help” with their homework. In a flashback sequence, we see Alvin as a 16-year-old student, who watches on as girls fight over his attentions towards them. So much unrest causes his teacher Mr Horwood to explain to Alvin that this sort of behaviour of “helping” his fellow female school friends can’t be made into a career, but winds up in a more compromising situation.
It is Mr Horwood’s wife who eventually saves Alvin from the hoards of screaming schoolgirls who he tries to avoid, but in the end, Mrs Horwood would prefer Alvin to herself. The two begin an illicit affair which Mrs Horwood helps Alvin escape from many ladies into just one. It does not last long, when Mr Horwood finds out and any chance of a future career seems over.
Five years later, at Alvin’s 21st birthday, such academic hurdles and feminine attention has left him directionless, unfulfilled and unemployed, much to the chagrin of his parents. But one thing is for sure, he is in love with his friend Tina, a pretty but plain young girl, whom Alvin has no sexual desire for. She rebuffs his declaration of affection, as she finds him unreliable but she remains sympathetic to him.
Alvin’s friend Spike convinces him to join his waterbed company as a salesman and installer. Initially reluctant of his abilities, Alvin finds he is better than he thought when his female customers take notice of his, ahem, testing procedures. He is roped into some strange methods of durability, such as dressing in spurs and a top hat, getting involved in S&M games, nude body painting and almost sleeping with a transsexual.
On Tina’s suggestion, Alvin seeks help for sexual addiction treated by the uptight, “humourless feminist” type psychiatrist Dr Liz Sort. Liz is intrigued by Alvin and gives him some strange methods to help overcome his rampant desires, such as taking a cold shower and doing exercises outside his flat. It’s crazy enough to work when the next sugar girl comes to his door in the form of a naked Jackie Weaver. So well do these methods work, Liz finds herself drawn by Alvin’s unusual sexiness and awkward manners but he is not interested in her. 
Her colleague Dr McBurney is also very interested in Alvin and takes him on to help with his psychiatric practice by “helping” women with their repression issues. Under this cover of sex therapist, Alvin becomes a gigolo, with McBurney as his pimp. Like his days as a waterbed salesman, Alvin once again takes on the attention his female customers with enthusiasm, knowing that he’s doing it to help them out. Yet McBurney’s interest in helping his clients runs far more sinister and it’s enough to take Alvin’s life from one sensationalist turn to another.

Critical Commentary and Production Background
One wonders what this generation would have made of Alvin Purple if it had been released in the 21st century rather than the 1970s. Of course, at the time of the release, the R 18 rating in Australia was barely two years old and seeing full frontal nudity and sex scenes in the Australian media had once been the product of underground cinemas and adult magazines.
But Alvin Purple is not your average porn or artistic erotica, it’s a comedy – a tongue-firmly-in-cheek look at the dawn of the 70s, where feminism was seeing drastic changes in attitudes between the sexes and yet, sensationalism still ruled, the Whitlam government was making sweeping changes and explicit films were being allowed into the mainstream. Although not as explicit as any porn film ever made, Alvin Purple does tick off every cliché in the book of porn in the first half an hour of the movie, often in hilarious and shocking circumstances. To say it is sexist and exploitive could easily be proved when watching the female characters and their behaviours, but its humour is more geared towards those who didn’t want it to be an R-rated film in the first place and works extremely well.
Graeme Blundell is particularly memorable as our titled hero. Although he is now working as a respected journalist, author and director, Alvin is one who always stands out in his career. He is played with genuine sensitiveness, but has no qualms about exposing his body with gusto. Alvin is like every Aussie young man, he loves the attention of the ladies and he is naturally interested in sex, but he’s not exactly confident about himself or the manner of the attention which he gets. It is the women who chase him, rather than the other way around and having the traditional roles reversed is not an easy feeling. They are extremely beautiful women, with needs to be satisfied. So frightened of such concepts such as love and desire being attached to sex, Alvin is a willing victim to his female admirers but must deal with the consequences of having his life put on trial where nobody can take anything seriously and everyone scrutinises these aspects the media.
Director Tim Burstall wanted to push the boundaries and identify more with what the real Australian public wanted after the failure of his first film. 2000 Weeks - a serious-minded drama of a writer, who only has two thousand weeks to live, ended up being a critical and commercial flop for Burstall, deeply affecting his outlook on Australia’s cinema industry for the rest of his life. This film could be his revenge and it was pretty sweet. Alvin Purple has the notoriety of being the first R-rated film in Australia and the highest grossing film, from 1971 to 1977, according to the Australian Film Commission.  It was also the first major feature to be bought for global distribution in the USA. The film was made on $200 000 and ended up grossing $4 million, making stars out of its cast and crew, many of whom had successful TV careers. It seemed that while the critics hated it, the Australian public, and the rest of the world, loved Alvin for his true Aussie charm and outrageous fortune. It paints a salacious view of Australian culture, yet celebrated the “Ocker” male, as The Adventures of Barry McKenzie had done the year previously. It was one comedy that kicked off the run of Australian film’s most successful eras in cinema. But whether you love it or hate it, there is no doubt that Alvin Purple had a significant impact in challenging the country’s attitudes towards sex and gendered roles.

Place in Australian Cinema
We don’t see too many sexploitation films being made in Australia these days and this film is notable in its own right. When the R rating was introduced in 1971 to allow more adult films to be shown, Alvin Purple took full advantage of this and tested its audiences with the soft porn scenes that aren’t exactly portrayed in an artistic sense, but rather to make you laugh.
Alvin in particular is personified as the ocker gentleman – defined by his cheekiness, vulgar but good nature, not content with the status quo and lover of a good time, including drinking and having fun with his friends. Tom O’Regan discusses the ocker comedy genre in Australian Film in the Reading Room, which centres around the urban, contemporary setting, where these “normal working-class blokes” attempt to live a normal life, with such attempts become an object of spectacle and ridicule. They are unglamorous, misrecognised men celebrated amongst the glamorous tokenised women.  Many of the sex scenes were seen as daring, shocking and surreal, due to this dull-looking naive young man being ravished so much by such gorgeous women. You find yourself laughing along as Alvin struggles to keep up with his partner and becomes so funny in its moment of chaos.
At a time when the feminist movement was at its peak in the spotlight, Dr Liz Sort is seen as the scariest character in the film. She is the one with power, though she is haughty and plain-looking compared to her female co-stars. Upon discovering McBurney and Alvin’s secret therapy sessions, Liz blackmails Alvin into satisfying her own sexual appetite, which is enough to tire Alvin and put him off from sex. Alvin’s desire for Tina is also factor which slows him down from the attention of admirers, thus takes the film’s fantastical aspects down a peg and turns to show the genuine trouble of sex as an obligation, without letting the action settling down.
So unlike the Hollywood characteristics of the “macho” alpha male, Alvin was tailored to be something to be easily identified, mocked as well as loved. O’Regan claims director Burstall wanted a character that embraces “the disruptive, anarchic entertainment values of the cinema-going public” and this was also applied to the creators of the Barry McKenzie films, such as Bruce Beresford and Barry Humphries. Alvin also touched a nerve on a public which had been unfamiliar with the sex comedy, or indeed, sex portrayed so amusingly in the mainstream media. Perhaps what made it work so well is the portrayal of the Australian man as you’ve never seen him before. Unlike the Carry On camp humour values it was Alvin Purple went one step further to show sex in all its absurdity, farce and outrageousness, by portraying the act and underpinning such neurotic ideas about it. All it took was an ordinary Australian man, with an extraordinary gift, to show it like it is.

Works Cited

Alvin Purple on michaeldvd.com.au
http://www.michaeldvd.com.au/Reviews/Reviews.asp?ID=5523

Australian Screen – Australia’s Audiovisual Heritage Online
http://australianscreen.com.au/titles/alvin-purple/

Australian Music and Popular Culture Online
http://www.milesago.com/visual/alvin.htm

“Australian film in the 1970s: the ocker and the quality film” by Tom O’Regan
http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/film/1970s.html