I've been watching another iconically curious little Australian film recently, They're a Weird Mob, which dates back to 1966 and was filmed on location in Sydney during the summer of 1965/66. As that date-dial wenched into 1966 my brother was about to turn 8 and my sister was 11 years old. I was nowhere in the picture, in this physical body. I was merely a potential at this stage, and being a potential, I could have landed anywhere. Instead I landed in Sydney in 1970 where, 40+ years on, I still find myself living.
The film itself is not wonderful. It's hokey and dated and the plot itself is stilted, a little too make-believe, being much like the plot of a musical without the film actually being a musical. It's a pithily enjoyable film to watch nevertheless, both as a period-piece and for the sense of innocence conveyed in the film, particularly for its comic innocence. The romantic plot is quite conservatively portrayed, particularly when compared to that which we see in films of our current era. And yet, the romance is achingly real, heroic, true. It makes me yearn for the good ol' days, it makes me yearn to turn back the clock to 1965.
They're a Weird Mob is ostensibly about an Italian sports writer who comes to Australia by boat to work for his cousin's magazine. Unfortunately his cousin had left the country leaving Nino to find work on his own. He calls for a builders labourer's job and is taken in by a most affable bunch of fellas (the contemporary cream of Australian male TV/film talent) and almost too readily so to be deemed realistic. Notably, the film's depiction of racism as a constant undercurrent in burgeoning sixties society is filtered through comedy and, for the most part, a sense of good-natured tolerance. The terms being used back then were "new Australians" and the yucky "dago". (I know in the fifties my dad belted someone up for calling him a dago).
On the whole I feel moved by the sense of promise this film depicts. There is almost this thread of charmed fascination running through the film, of how lucky the people are to be living in such a beautiful place with such a magnificent harbour and abundance of sunshine. There seems to be an equally indolent detachment to the history and achievements of Western civilisation that were in a rapid phase of ascendance in the Northern Hemisphere during that time. As They're a Weird Mob was being filmed, Bob Dylan was about to record Blonde on Blonde, the Beatles had just finished making Rubber Soul and Brian Wilson was about to start writing Pet Sounds; The Sound of Music had been filmed and released. Compared to the rampant creativity of her northern, western counterparts during 1965, there's no sense at all of a 'swinging' Sydney in this film, other than that it is the location itself that "swings" with the city's residents partaking eagerly in the swing of a landmass that's somehow bestowed upon them: a day at Bondi Beach, or a harbourside party, locales that seem larger than life, particularly when viewed through the lens of this film circa 1965. What you can glimpse through watching this film is a possibility, a potential, of what is to come. And what's become since 1965 is the city having doubled in size with close to half of the population now decking the foreshores for the 2011 NYE party. Many more buildings came up in the CBD and the Opera House was finished (it's halfway there in the film). An Olympics came and flew by in 2000, and residential property prices have soared to levels unbelievable to anyone in 1965.
What a weird mob..
All of the main cast of male leads have passed on since this film's production, including Italian actor Walter Chiari who died of heart failure in Milan, age 67, in 1991. The local cast of men, granted, would or may have lived great Australian lives and left the joint when their time was up. I was not there, just as these men are not here now. They left their imprimatur, their psychic imprint, over their city and country, just as I do now. The female leads have survived and live on, including knockout Italian actress, Alida Chelli.
As I watched this film I felt a rumbling in my chest and stomach region, I felt myself as I may have been in 1965, drawn to this place by forces we cannot comprehend and understand, to be finally made physical by March 1970.
It's the sense of innocence that I'm drawn to in this film and the feeling of timeless Australiana that comes with that, and it's a sensation that part of me wishes we could go back to. But there's no turning back the clock, is there? One has to find this in oneself, within one's own being.