Way back in 2003, Nigel Buesst did a solitary excavation of Melbourne filmmaking during the 1950s and ’60s. Those years were characterised by what seemed like a rather large amount of naively optimistic filmmaking by directors, “producers”, writers, actors, photographers, editors, sound recordists, and so on, all of whom worked for nothing. The only people who got paid were the labs that supplied and processed the inevitably black-and-white film stock. Nigel’s documentary concentrated mostly on films made in and around Carlton, though there were digressions to films made at the young Latrobe University, way out in the backblocks of Bundoora, but already home to a bunch of leftys and radicals who lead the fight against the Vietnam War and the conscription laws. Latrobe also had a film department where Professor Jerzy Toeplitz was being warehoused before he could be appointed the first head of the Australian Film and Television School. From out of that environment came Dave Jones’ classic Yackety Yack (1974) and Beginnings(Rod Bishop, Gordon Glenn, Scott Murray and Andrew Pecze, 1970),a doco about the anti-Vietnam War Moratorium marches whose footage still pops up today whenever somebody needs to illustrate the times.
Buesst’s Carlton + Godard = Cinema was more than an exercise in nostalgia for a time when things were simpler and filmmakers had day jobs. It’s a clarion call for a more personal cinema, one where filmmakers are engaged with the thrill of making something about their own circumstances. There were no genre films on show, no parodies of popular pictures, no star turns – at least not intentionally.
After the film came out and had a screening at the Brisbane Film Festival (one of only a small number of public shows, these being limited because of the use of copyrighted material from abroad), Bruce Hodsdon contacted me with a couple of simple questions: “Who is or was Peter Elliot? Whatever became of him?” I don’t know the answer to the second question.
Back in the ’60s however, Peter was the son of “Uncle” Doug Elliot, a big bluff radio and television personality who not merely handed out hams to footballers who appeared on Channel Seven’s World of Sport but who, with Ron Casey, actually owned the show and took the profits. Doug Elliot was well known and quite feared at Channel 7. (When one TV executive refused to allow the Melbourne University Film Society [MUFS] to borrow some Raoul Walsh movies from the station’s library, Peter Elliot arranged for his father to get in touch and shortly thereafter a phone call was received to ask me to come in and discuss the selection we required.) In his later years Doug was rewarded for years of selfless fundraising for the ALP with a seat in the Legislative Council.
Peter was a member of the MUFS Committee and he, like others, harboured the ambition to make movies. He was, however, unlike most of the dreamers lazing around on campus, someone with a smooth and clear line of sight as to how,once at least, he would do it. He enlisted help from playwright Jack Hibberd to make his short The Girlfriends and it is the long excerpts from this film in Nigel’s doco that captured Bruce’s attention for the first time. (Goodness knows where and indeed whether Peter’s film ever had screenings outside Melbourne.)
Fortunately for viewers of Nigel’s time capsule, it has included in it the scene that set everyone buzzing. Given Nigel’s title it may well be the most serendipitous moment in his film as well as the neatest in Peter’s. After much satirical banter between the two girls and their university tutors and colleagues (including one very funny scene where a student, played by Graeme Blundell, underneath a crash helmet and behind dark rimmed glasses, arranges an appointment with his tutor and is told, in trademark Hibberd dialogue, “Loosen yourself up with a few jars first”!) the near to final dinner party scene explodes in an extended homage to Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part (1964) via the daggiest dance number ever committed to film. Jack and the two girls (played by then campus objects of desire Jane Washington and Margaret Harrison) leap up from a series of dinner table pontifications (“I think Kafka is one of the greatest bores that ever existed…. I mean why didn’t he go to the dogs or something”) – though we’ve already had a clue about the next event when Kate says, “My idol for this week is going to be that weedy little man in Godard’s film”.
Then the music starts. Nancy Sinatra sings “These Boots are Made for Walkin’”. All three eventually dance in an attempted replay of the number in Godard’s movie. Its shot front-on in the manner of Griffith, with the dancers moving towards and back from the stationary camera for almost all of the three minutes of the song, until near the end there is a cut to a medium close-up. Exhilarating. Funny. And remembered down the ages. But whatever happened to Peter Elliot…