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Adventures Of Barry McKenzie, The

Barry Humphries can be an amazingly subtle comedian when he feels like it. Not so with this creation, an endless fusillade of ‘Pommie poofter’ jokes and innovative but ultimately wearying Ocker euphemisms for lager, piss and vomit, ham-fistedly shackled to the sort of crumpet-seeking sub-plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a minor Carry On. Barry Crocker, later to warble the Neighbours theme, is the Akubra hat-toting bludger, seeking fame and fortune in London with his Auntie Edna (Humphries) in tow. Cameos from Peter Cook, Spike Milligan and Joan Bakewell come and go in perfunctory manner, though Dennis Price’s pervy Home Counties schoolboy fetishist is memorable. Humphries-ims occasionally shine through the coarseness – Barry advertising ‘High Camp Cigalettes (sic)’, the band Raspberry Ripple and the Y-Fronts, the headline ‘Leprosy panic sweeps Birmingham’, etc. What’s more interesting is the way director Bruce Beresford ladles on that slightly off-kilter, slightly threadbare style that you can see, to varying degrees, in all manner of Antipodean cinema from this through Mad Max and up to Peter Jackson’s pre-Rings efforts. It’s hard to define, but the basic elements are: lots of wide-angle close-ups of faces, often made all the more jarring when they’re not being employed for any dramatic effect at all; one- and two-person shots frequently filmed ‘straight on’, with the characters seemingly pressed against the wall; the AFC money often appearing to stretch to a lighting rig that must number two in total, giving a kind of pasty flat look, with loads of too-dense shadows; and loads of showy low angles and long zooms, as if to try and make up for the previous points. Add to that the general shapelessness of the film as a whole (just what was that desert dream sequence all about, exactly?) and you have a kind of cheerily ramshackle quality to Aussie film proceedings that’s unapologetically gung ho in its sheer lairy, uneven, government-funded oddness. The sequel, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974), moved to Paris, where evil Transylvanians, under the aegis of a marvellously bloodless Donald Pleasence, kidnap Edna, assuming her to be the Queen, and the cameo roll call features John Le Mesurier, Roy Kinnear, Clive James and Edna-ennobling Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

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