Don’s Party

Year: 1974
Production Co: Australian Film Commission
Director: Bruce Beresford
Producer: Phillip Adams
Writer: David Williamson
Cast: Ray Barrett, John Hargreaves, Graham Kennedy, Graeme Blundell, Claire Binney, Jeanie Drynan, Harold Hopkins, Veronica Lang, Kit Taylor, Candy Raymond

This film is a time capsule from a very specific era that's long gone, making it an invaluable cultural relic.

It's got the peculiar hallmarks of the time – the blokes are all buffoonish ockers while the women (and any man depicted as having any class) spoke with English accents – but apart from the cultural cringe that spawned that strange motif I recognised the landscape, language, cultural trappings, clothes and types of people instantly.

It's the eve of the 1969 federal election in Australia that would see John Gorton deposed in favour of Gough Whitlam, and Don (John Hargreaves) and his wife Kath (Jeanie Drynan, who'd go on to play the mum from Muriel's Wedding) are throwing a get-together to watch the result happen.

The guest is as eclectic as the cast list is full, from Don's yobbo friends Mack (Graham Kennedy) and embittered university professor Mal (Ray Barrett) to the straight laced Simon (Graeme Blundell) and his well-heeled wife Jody (Veronica Lang), who turns out to be all too ready to party.

As Kath prepares the food and Don clowns around, drinks stubbies and checks the election results on TV, more people arrive at the party.

You're not clear in each case how they all know each other, but each new arrival just throws things into further disarray, whether it's serial rooter Cooley (Harold Hopkins, who can't hide his classical theatre training even though he's playing a confirmed larrikin/bachelor) his latest uninhibited girlfriend Susan (Clare Binney), or terminally angry dentist Evan (Kit Taylor) and his sultry artist wife Kerry (Candy Raymond).

The goings-on at the party perfectly reveal the social and sexual mores of the time with the shamelessness that could only have come from the pre-political correctness era. Don and his mates do their best to get any woman they can into bed, spew profanity, drink, giggle like schoolboys and argue, the fallout of everybody's antics going through the gathering like a tornado.

There's a lot of simmering, unspoken history between all these people that sometimes breaks out into arguments (especially at the end), but the story is constructed and the characters drawn in such a way that even the most vitriolic hatred is treated like just another half-notable interaction, as if following the old credo that it's not really a party until someone cries.

Quentin Tarantino can tell you about German expressionist and Japanese romantic era cinema – he knows almost every film movement there ever was (including the Ozploitation genre that was kicking off at around the same time the left-leaning, government-supported film industry in Australia was producing films like this).

Along with The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, this is a world I know not necessarily because I saw these films at the time – I was too young, and they only played at snooty cinemas in the inner cities while the rest of us out in the burbs went to see Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind – but because as I grew up and saw them, I very much recognised the time and place I'd come from.

It's funny, free-wheeling, profane and sexist and might not be the most accurate depiction of urban lefties in Australia at the time, but the film itself is now a piece of rich artistic history.

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