Fair Game Review
Jessica (Cassandra Delaney) runs a wildlife sanctuary in the outback. Then three kangaroo hunters, Sunny (Peter Ford), Sparks (Garry Who) and Ringo (David Sandford) rock up and decide to have a little fun with her too. The local police disregards her concerns, and their threats escalate. But then she fights back...
To use a term that was not around at the time, but has become frequent in the last decade, Fair Game is an Ozploitation film. At the time it was made, Australian cinema was in the middle of the 10BA era. 10BA (more formally, Division 10BA of the Income Tax Assessment Act) was a tax incentive designed to attract private investment in film production: finance a film and receive a 150% tax concession on your investment. Before the 1980s, most film production, in the decade where the local industry revived and attracted world attention, was funded by the Australian Film Commission and its counterparts in state government – which was the case with the South Australia-shot Fair Game. However, there was soon a sense that the films being made tended to be literary adaptations and period/historical pieces that sometimes attracted audiences but more often didn't, and genre films that could be sold to audiences worldwide were not only not being made but being actively looked down upon. With the rise of home video, there was now a significant market for films to be watched on the small screen.
With 10BA, the number of films made increased, but it was a mixed blessing. The requirement to make the films in the financial year of the investment meant that the greater demand for local crew members put their prices up. With many films conceived as tax losses, quality wasn't always a consideration. And many of the films didn't get the cinema release they were at least in part aimed at, so were sold to video or television. While Fair Game did have a cinema release, it was a minimal and unsuccessful one and it found much of its audience on tape.
Fair Game is an unabashed exploitation movie. Beyond a few opening scenes showing Jessica at work in her animal sanctuary – showing she's at one with the natural world, of course – she's threatened from the outset, Duel-style by the customised Ford 1000 called the Beast and driven by Sunny, Ringo and Sparks. These three could have walked in from Wake in Fright or Razorback, as representatives of outback Aussie men having fun and hunting for sport. But what they're hunting aren't just kangaroos, but one isolated woman. At the halfway point, this metaphor becomes literal as they capture Jessica, cut off most of her clothes, tie her to the front of the Beast and drive wildly around, for all the world to see her, showing off a hunting trophy. According to Mario Andreacchio, this sequence was inspired by Martin Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha.
The popularity of Ozploitation, as a word and as a genre, comes from Mark Hartley's 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood. In that film, Quentin Tarantino (who referred to it as “Aussiesploitation”) enthused about Fair Game and this scene in particular. “To me that's the reason you watch exploitation cinema,” he said, “is to have those moments like, 'Is this actually happening? Am I actually seeing this? Am I having an acid flashback or is this going on?'” You may well ask yourself the same thing. The BBFC, on passing Fair Game for its straight-to-video British release, cut 57 seconds from this sequence before passing the film 18, so as to remove imagery (clothes-tearing, breast exposure) that it at the time habitually excised as being potential rape-triggers.
Fair Game is structured like a rape-revenge movie, though one apparently without the rape, with just over three quarters of the running time devoted to the threat, the remainder to the revenge. There are no subplots, a credited cast of eight (plus Kyla the Dog) and a clear urge to do what it said on the tin. As such it's undeniably tense for much of its running time. The cast for the most part did their own stunts (an exception being someone's leg set on fire) and the late Andrew Lesnie's cinematography makes the most of the hot, dusty setting. It was mostly shot in the Burra area north of Adelaide, in and around the village of Booborowie (a place with a three-digit population count) in February and March 1985. Its brief cinema run was in the winter of the following year, July 1986. You can acknowledge the skill with which it was made, while also not escaping the fact that it leaves something of a nasty taste in the mouth.
Cassandra Delaney didn't have a long film career, making her debut two years before in John Duigan's nuclear-war movie One Night Stand, and her last in 1992. This was the only time she had top billing. She's quite adequate in a role which makes more physical demands than acting ones, which is much the same that you can say of the rest of the cast. This was the first feature for director Mario Andreacchio, after a number of short films, five of which are included on the Blu-ray. In 1988 he made a horror film, The Dreaming, followed by television work and rather more family-friendly cinematic fare like Napoleon (1995), the title character being a Golden Retriever.
Umbrella's Blu-ray release of Fair Game is encoded for all regions. It carries the advisory M rating it has always had in Australia. As mentioned above, in the UK it was cut to get an 18 certificate for video release, though it would be a likely uncut 15 now. The disc has been authored so that you can't go back to the main menu partway through the feature or the extras. You can only do this by getting to the end, though you can fast-forward or chapter-skip to get there.
The film was shot in 35mm, and is presented on disc in the intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This was not a particularly high-budget film, to say the least, but it did have the services of a future Oscar-winning cinematographer, early in his career. (See Dark Age for another example of Andrew Lesnie's Ozploitation roots.) The picture is pretty grainy, especially in low-light sequences such as the film's opening, but that's to be expected and many Australian films from the 1970s and 1980s look grainy on disc, no doubt due to the film stocks used. The daytime scenes, exterior and interior, are brightly lit – no doubt the thought that much of this film's audience would see the film on a VHS tape was a factor. I don't have reason to doubt that this is how it would look if you saw it in a cinema, which very few people did.
By 1986, Dolby Stereo had arrived, and that's the basis of this Blu-ray's soundtrack, rendered as DTS-HD MA 2.0, which plays in surround. It's a pretty standard stereo track, with pretty much everything front and centre with just the music score in the surrounds, but there's nothing untoward about it. English subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing.
The extras begin with a commentary track featuring Mario Andreacchio and writer Rob George, brought forward from a previous DVD release from Beyond. It's a rather dull chat, with some lengthy gaps and quite a lot of describing what's onscreen.
Cassandra Delaney was interviewed in 2008 for Not Quite Hollywood (another Umbrella release, recently reissued on Blu-ray) and as is the way with many of Umbrella's Ozploitation releases, the full interview is included here (15:24). The interview starts off on an obvious note (paraphrasing: “What attracted you to Fair Game?” “It was a lead role.”) but it's clear that Delaney is fond of this film, which she considers ahead of its time as being an action film with a female lead. She, rather bizarrely, didn't think it a particularly commercial film and more of an arthouse piece, and says that in the “hunting trophy” scene she wasn't topless in the original script.
On Location with Fair Game (3:39) is pretty much what it says, B-roll footage with a music track overlaid. Next up are two items, both location reports, from Australian television. The first is from Action News, a programme from the Adelaide-based NWS-9 (part of the Nine Network), running 0:36 and transferred from what looks like a homevideo recording, with all the tracking errors and almost-vanished colour that implies. Also from a local station (ADS-7, then owned by the Seven Network, now ADS-10 and owned by Ten) is a longer piece (2:21) from a programme called State Affair, including interviews with Andreacchio and Delaney.
In 1981, Dean Bennett won first prize in a Young Filmmaker's competition run by Channel Ten and judged by Mario Andreacchio. By the time Fair Game was made, he had taken a stunt course and got work experience (his credit) on the film. Andreacchio allowed him to shoot behind-the-scenes footage on the location shoot, and this (52:01) is included on this disc.
Also on the disc is the film's trailer (1:03). After that is an image gallery which is self-navigating (running 24:18) but you can advance from item to item by chapter-skipping, ninety-nine of them in all. These comprise film posters, video sleeves from various countries, conceptual art for The Beast, a newspaper cutting (a less-than-complimentary review from the (Australian) Sunday Telegraph), the film's press-kit, a treatment (which reveals that Jessica was originally Brenda), and publicity stills. The film's storyboards, arranged in script order, get their own showcase (8:05).
Finally, there are five short films directed by Mario Andreacchio. There should perhaps have been a separate menu for these, as they are presented as a single item, running 89:30, and you can only select a particular short by chapter-skipping through it. However, they are: Vandalism (1981, 14:04), Break-In (1983, 13:33), Taken by Storm (1982, 23:39), Abduction...Who's Next? (1984, 14:18) and Under Pressure (1986, 25:06). These were all made for the South Australia Film Corporation, with sponsorship from various state bodies, such as the Education Department, the Police (twice) and the Coastal Management Branch of the Department of the Environment and Planning. These are basically public-awareness films, often with a talking-head appearing near the end in case we didn't get the message, but also with a lot of dramatised material. This is particularly the case with Taken by Storm, which is a private-eye pastiche, with the mystery to be solved the cause of South Australian beach erosion. The first two were shot in 16mm, the last three on video, and the transfer of Under Pressure is much cleaner than the others. All are presented in 1.33:1 with mono sound.