Dvd let­ter­box

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

AMID all the re­cent rave re­views for the Ten Net­work’s reimag­in­ing of the beach teen clas­sic Pu­berty Blues, there wasn’t al­ways an ac­knowl­edg­ment of its deep un­der­cur­rents of the time: the racism, sex­ism, drug use and flatout emo­tional and phys­i­cal abuse. Ev­ery­one gets that they’re there, but one of the things about drama that’s as good as this is how it can draw you in, mak­ing the darker bits of grow­ing up all seem so nat­u­ral.

The flares and brown prints and ca­sual drink driv­ing may ap­pear quaintly amus­ing at this re­move from the 1970s, but the story-lines that amount to gang rape — or the one that plots the in­evitable, in­sid­i­ous de­cline to­wards a point­less death in the em­brace of heroin, the poi­son that wrapped it­self into so many com­mu­ni­ties of the time but par­tic­u­larly the surf­ing one — are blunt re­minders of how frag­ile the en­tire set-up is. And while this col­umn hasn’t gen­er­ally been a place where any­thing other than ‘‘proper’’ films get a leg-in, for once it seems worth point­ing out that if you haven’t seen Pu­berty Blues (Road­show, $39.95) in its en­tirety, you need to. Any­one with even a pass­ing in­ter­est in how we got where we are to­day should be watch­ing it; al­though it has only just fin­ished its first-sea­son run on net­work TV, a sec­ond is re­port­edly in the works and all eight episodes of the South­ern Star-pro­duced se­ries here are well worth your time.

Their re­lease is enough of a rea­son to rec­om­mend also watch­ing Bruce Beres­ford’s 1981 orig­i­nal, if you didn’t al­ready get back to that on the strength of the re­cent pub­lic­ity. That film, based on Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey’s 1979 novel of the same name and star­ring then teen ac­tors Nell Schofield and Jad Capelja, stands up re­mark­ably well as a doc­u­ment of its times. (And there’s Tim Finn’s de­light­fully whim­si­cal theme song, sung by Sharon O’Neill, to en­joy.)

There was some sani­tis­ing of the story even in Beres­ford’s film — quite clearly the two leads are not the 13-year-olds of the book, nor, pre­sum­ably, would au­di­ences have ac­cepted them be­ing por­trayed as such. There’s a limit, ap­par­ently, to how young a per­son can be when you’re go­ing to abuse them on-cam­era.

But there’s an­other rea­son to go back to the TV se­ries, and the film, and even Lette and Carey’s text (which, ob­vi­ously, is worth also pick­ing up again for the un­var­nished pic­ture of the Cronulla they de­picted). That rea­son is the reve­la­tion barely two weeks ago in a pow­er­ful episode of the ABC doc­u­men­tary se­ries Aus­tralian Story of the sad end of Capelja. While Schofield has gone on to have a var­ied ca­reer in the arts, in­clud­ing be­ing one of the orig­i­nal de­vis­ers with Baz Luhrmann) of Strictly Ball­room, Capelja’s life went off the rails, caught in the grip of schizophre­nia and drug use, and even­tu­ally she suc­cumbed to sui­cide. There’s no moral here; just a painful ac­knowl­edg­ment that a ten­u­ous hold on health and hap­pi­ness can so eas­ily be sev­ered — and that’s what the best sto­ry­telling re­minds us of. Pu­berty Blues does it in spades.

This week

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