The Naked Bunyip (1970)

Next viewing project: the three volumes so far of Umbrella’s Ozploitation series… these are six disc sets collecting an assortment of 70s/80s Australiana, all of which have been released separately before (and there’s probably enough left for them to make up a fourth volume at some point; I can envisage Money Movers, Stunt Rock, Nightmares, Fair Game, Return of Captain Invincible, Thirst all potentially making it in) but it’s handy having them all together at comparatively low cost; I expect a few shudders of horror over the next… well, however long this takes, but it should still be fun getting properly acquainted with things I’ve mostly been familiar with only through excerpts in Not Quite Hollywood.

We begin with an unlikely landmark in the revival of whatever constitutes the Australian film industry, therefore… and it galls me a bit that Phillip Adams, who I’ve always found a bit loathsome, was responsible for it (consider too his delusion, expressed in the making-of piece on the DVD, that it single-handedly saved Australia from the world’s most repressive film censorship regime and led it into a liberated age of enlightenment; any consideration of the OFLC’s actual history after 1971 very clearly reveals otherwise). Phil has since revealed himself to be as much of a snob about Australian film as the late 60s audiences purportedly were, as witness his sneers throughout NQH; and yet, to some degree at least, you could argue Naked Bunyip was as cynical as some of the later films he sneers at. Director John B. Murray is fairly honest in his lengthy article on the film’s making about coming up with a safe bet idea that would guarantee bums on seats (initially to be a drama about AFL); however seriously the film may have been intended as an exploration of Australian sexual mores at the end of the 1960s, it was also meant to be an attention grabber. And when it ran into censorship trouble, as it was bound to do, the film exploited that fact by refusing to actually make the demanded cuts and then highlighting them by covering the “offensive” bits with the titular bunyip. Attention-seeking to make Adams look like the fearless slayer of the dragon of censorship rather than the tedious git I’m sure he was even then. But apart from my dislike of the producer, The Naked Bunyip actually holds up surprisingly well, watchable and at times even moving in a way I doubt many similar films of that vintage are; it’s obviously terribly dated but it makes a pretty fascinating time capsule four decades after the fact. That it actually retains the bunyipped and bleeped bits rather than restore those things actually highlights this aspect; the censored bits all survive and are included separately as deleted scenes, and serve as their own time capsule of things that couldn’t be shown or said on Australian screens in 1970.

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