Head On Review

"They tell you that God is dead; but, man, they still want you to have a purpose. Look at your parents: hard-working migrants, work two jobs, struggle all your life, buy your kids a house...there, that's purpose. They tell you to be a doctor, a teacher, be creative, do something, believe in something, believe in family and the future, save the world, believe in love. But fuck it, I'm no scholar, I'm no worker, I'm no poet."

With this opening voiceover, during a family wedding, director and co-writer Ana Kokkinos sums up the nihilistic philosophy of her protagonist. Ari (Alex Dimitriades) is caught between the demands of his Greek-Australian family, with its machismo and strong family values, and his identity as a gay man. Over the course of a day his conflict reaches crisis point...

At the 1994 London Film Festival, I saw a 59-minute 16mm feature called Only the Brave. A coming-of-age drama about two Greek-Australian girls, it showed considerable talent. (Only the Brave went on to have a brief release at the ICA. Its two leads, Elena Mandalis and Dora Kaskaris, have featured roles in Head On.) Head On, co-written with Andrew Bovell and Mira Robertson, based on Christos Tsiolkas's novel Loaded, is Melbourne-based Kokkinos's first full-length feature. It's a character-led piece that follows Ari's journey to self-realisation. The film is frank about Ari's sex-and-drug-fuelled lifestyle – anyone easily offended should keep well clear – but is forcefully directed and keeps us watching until an open ending. Present in virtually every scene, good-looking Neighbours graduate Alex Dimitriades gives a compelling lead performance that draws us in: however wrong-headed some of his actions are, you still want to watch what he does. Among the supporting cast, Paul Capsis stands out as Ari's drag-queen friend Johnny, alias Toula. Unlike Ari, Toula has come out to his community, and attracts abuse and violence as a result. In a pivotal scene, Ari is unable to defend him.

Some comment has been made about a female (lesbian) director making a film about a gay man. To which the answer is why not? You have to allow anyone their subject matter; it's the results you have to judge. And in those terms Head On is an entirely convincing success. Just as importantly, Kokkinos as a Greek-Australian herself, clearly knows this ethnic community inside out; the film is very clear-eyed about racial tensions between different ethnic groups. Also, the women characters in this story are better drawn than is often the case. I certainly look forward to what Kokkinos does next.

Head On was filmed in a ratio of 1.75:1; this DVD is in 16:9 which is near enough for all but the most pedantic. The DVD transfer is good enough, with strong colours and only occasional artefacting. As it's non-anamorphic NTSC, it may lose quality on widescreen TV sets.

The soundtrack is Dolby Surround. As the film has quite a lot of dialogue (in two languages), the mix doesn't make a great deal of use of the surrounds, apart from the music. Scenes with Greek dialogue have locked electronic subtitles, which – unfortunately again for widescreen TV owners – overlap the bottom black bar. There are no other subtitles, unfortunately for anyone who is hard of hearing or speaks English as a second language. There are thirteen chapter stops, which isn't really adequate. (Incidentally, the packaging says the running time is 104 minutes, which matches the length of the uncut cinema release passed by the BBFC. However this DVD actually runs 100 minutes. PAL speed-up isn't an issue here, and I doubt censorship is either, given that Strand have released the film without a MPAA rating. I don't know what is missing – playout music perhaps?)

The only real extra is the theatrical trailer, a full-frame effort running 2:07. There are six other trailers on this disc, all of other Strand Releasing titles pitched at a gay market: Beefcake, Psycho Beach Party, Edge of Seventeen, Show Me Love, Love is the Devil and Steam: The Turkish Bath (known as Hamam: The Turkish Bath in the UK). Note that the trailers for the two foreign-language films (Show Me Love and Steam) avoid including any dialogue to avoid putting off the subtitle-phobic. In fact, the Steam trailer is only 30 seconds long and consists of virtually nothing but critical quotes.

Apart from a German R2 edition which I haven't seen, this appears to be the only DVD release of Head On available at the moment. It hasn't had an Australian DVD release yet. As such it's something of a missed opportunity. A director's commentary, or at least an interview, would be interesting, and maybe an enterprising distirbutor could include Only the Brave as an extra. As such, we're left with the film which is certainly worth your time.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 18:19:24

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