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Films: D is for...

Don’s Party

On election night, when Australia finally hopes to wave goodbye to twenty years of Conservative Ozzy rule, Socialist optimist Don decides to throw a party.

It’s been said that this film is more accurate in isolating the issues and climate of the 70s than Abigail’s Party. They’re right.

In style terms, it’s all there – the wood panelling, maxi dresses, lady’s bowl cut short bobs, beige safari man suits, large monochrome geometric patterned wallpaper, L-shaped sofas and swinging ceiling lights – but there’s more to this film than one Demis Roussos reference. In short, back-to-back with the frame of political idealism, lives are exposed for the slightly short-of-success stories they are.

Don fancies himself as a political leftie revolutionary type (note an A4 Che Guevara poster on the fridge) but on this night he appears to give more of a Castlemaine XXXX about beer and barbies, which is probably just as well, as more worldly events transpire to disappoint.

The quite frankly smutty party takes place as election night unfolds. The original Don’s Party was a 1971 play by Matthew Williamson, and Bruce Beresford’s film was made a few years afterwards in 1976. In real terms, in 1972 the Conservative government was ousted which had been in since 1949 (but the play is actually set during the slightly less eventful 1969 Australian election). Still, with us? Good, that’s your backdrop. Labour were expected to win that night in 1969, but they didn’t, and as the evening collapses for the ALP’s election hopes, so too do disappointments and betrayal pepper Don’s shebang.

And speaking of erm, shebangs, there’s some rum behaviour by the male members towards the women. The febrile Mack, having been dumped by his wife, rocks up with a naked picture of her, which he promptly unrolls and slaps up on the wall. This uncouth (even by ’70s Australian standards) gesture is the image that forms the centrepoint of frivolities. Chauvinistic tendencies don’t really improve beyond this but there’s much comedy to be derived from the lechy men. After all, there’s a sense that even though the women who are married to these goons are long-suffering, they somehow hold the balance of power.

It’s the women who’re scripted with acidic put-downs. “What’s he got that I haven’t?” asks Mack to vampish Suzy as she’s outside getting fresh with Don. “Sex appeal”, she snarls. Sexual conquests still do occur, despite deservedly sneery guardedness on the part of the women, but the ball’s in their court, so to speak.  Meanwhile the men come to the dawning realisation that life’s not the well of opportunity they imagined it would be at college. There’s balding, beer bellies and suburban barbeques to endure for starters.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Brian Rowland

    January 12, 2010 at 12:41 am

    I only saw this relatively recently, but isn’t mention made quite early on by Don’s wife that they’ve thrown other parties before? The rancorous atmosphere that rapidly and uncontrollably spills out of the situation is such that I continually wondered what previous parties could had been like, given that the same cast of characters could conceivably have attended those. But of course, as you’ve explained so eloquently, the prospect of political change (and I wasn’t quite aware of the chronology) can impact mightily on idealists with long memories, so that probably made things worse. The simmering and ultimately explosive confrontations are blackly, uncomfortably, and sometimes hilariously funny.

  2. Suzy

    January 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Yeah, it’s clear from the off there’s previous; a Malcolm Bradbury ‘history man’ type of flair for party throwing. I should imagine many of the antics were similar in previous parties but in addition to the political edge, there was an added bitterness to this one, as Mack’s wife had left him and two attractive women who you’re under the impression had not attended before help to set the insecurity bar a bit higher.

  3. Brian Rowland

    January 12, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    How iconic is the film in Australian culture? Was it a big hit film there at the time? Inevitably, perhaps, it has the claustrophobia of a TV play, and in fact, I came to it assuming it had been made for television, for some reason.

  4. Suzy

    January 12, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    The Labour Government injected big money into the Australian film industry after ’72 (Bruce Beresford went on to Hollywood…) and I think it’s safe to say, relatively speaking, this was as big as Abigail’s Party.

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