Musical comedy triple bill: The Night We Called It a Day (2003), Thunderstruck (2004), BoyTown (2006)

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Last week, Down Under Flix kicked off a month on comedies from the noughties and thereabouts, highlighting a triptych of Australian romantic comedies. This week’s featured trio are linked by a shared focus on music, milking comedy from real-world entertainment lore, rock ‘n’ roll hagiography, and satirical jabs at manufactured pop music.

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Tag team review: Ghosts … of the Civil Dead (1988)

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Director: John Hillcoat

Stars: David Field, Mike Bishop, Chris DeRose, Kevin Mackey, Dave Mason, Nick Cave, Bogdan Koca, Freddo Dierck, Vincent Gil, Tony Clark

Second viewing, via DVD

Ghosts … of the Civil Dead is a prison drama set in Australia’s Central Industrial Prison. A flagship of Australia’s “New Generation Prisons” based on existing American prison models, Central Industrial Prison is, according to the film’s title card, a “maximum security facility designed to house the prison system’s most violent, unmanageable and predatory inmates”. At film’s start, the facility has just initiated 37 months of lockdown after a long string of violent incidents. The film backtracks to chronicle the lead-up to this event, following the paths of various prisoners as they are systematically abused and dehumanized by each other and the system. For this tag team review, I’ll be joined by music critic and commentator Cristian Stromblad, whose work can be found at the website Ugly ‘n’ Weird.

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Dad and Dave: On Our Selection (1995)

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Director: George Whaley

Stars: Leo McKern, Geoffrey Rush, Joan Sutherland, Noah Taylor, Ray Barrett, Barry Otto, Essie Davis, David Field

First viewing, via DVD

The characters of Dad, Dave, and the rest of the Rudd farming family date back over 100 years. Author Steele Rudd (aka Arthur Hoey Davis) began composing Dad and Dave’s adventures in the late 1800s, and the first 26 stories were collected into the book On Our Selection in 1899. Further adventures followed and the characters went on to appear in other mediums: there was a stage play in the 1910s; a silent film in 1920; a quartet of sound films directed by Ken G. Hall starting in 1932; and a radio series spanning from the late 1930s to early 1950s. While the characters haven’t figured in the cultural landscape too prominently in recent years, there’s no denying their place in popular culture: a large billboard for 1938’s Dad and Dave Goes to Town (which marked the film debut of Peter Finch) stands alongside similar commemorative billboards for Jedda, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Storm Boy, and Crocodile Dundee at Sydney’s Moore Park/Fox Studios entertainment precinct.

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George Whaley’s 1995 film Dad and Dave: On Our Selection revived the characters for late twentieth century audiences, and was designed to celebrate that year’s centenary of Australian cinema, as declared in the film’s end credits. The film adapts a number of Rudd’s stories and chronicles the exploits of the Rudd family and farm. Dad (Leo McKern) runs for state parliament against the slippery JP Riley (Barry Otto); Mother (Joan Sutherland) tends to house and home; oldest son Dave (Geoffrey Rush) falls in love, as does sister Kate (Essie Davis); and wayward son Dan (David Field) proves a miscreant, to name just a few story threads.

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