Oz Film Festival: Swinging Safari Review
Australia, the mid 1970s. Meet three families in Wyong Place, Wallaroo: encyclopaedia salesman Keith Hall and his stay-at-home wife Kaye (Guy Pearce and Kylie Minogue, acting together for the first time since Neighbours days), faux-posh travel agent Jo Jones and husband Rick (Radha Mitchell and Julian McMahon) and Gale Marsh and gadget-seller husband Bob (Asher Keddie and Jeremy Sims). Swinging Safari (also known as Flammable Children, which was the title on the print shown) takes us to a decade with, as our narrator (Richard Roxburgh) says, “too much time, too much money and too much cask wine”. A time when people had it all, or so they thought.
Stephan Elliott follows his big hit The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the less successful Welcome to Woop Woop and takes a look at aspects of his country’s culture with an eye that’s at once affectionate and merciless. There’s plenty of Seventies kitsch on display: the fondue sets, the lava lamps, the barbecues and the beach with plenty of bikinis and budgie-smugglers on display. The beach stuff apart, much of this will strike a chord with those from other countries. There’s certainly a lot I recognised from my own Seventies Southern-English childhood, though whether or not key parties took place near me, I couldn’t possibly comment.
Much of what goes on is viewed by the children of the district, some of them trying out the new sexual liberation, others looking on askance at the antics of their elders, for whom age doesn’t equate with wisdom. One of those is Jeff Marsh (Atticus Robb) who, enthused by seeing Jaws and armed with a Super 8mm camera given as a present, is making his own gory home-movie epics with titles like Jaws 2 People 0 – he’s a clear stand-in for director Elliott, which is not the only thing which gives the sense that this is a film very close to home. Jeff finds a kindred spirit in Melissa “Melly” Jones (Darcey Wilson), a fourteen-year-old who hates the place where she lives, and harbours dreams of moving away as soon as she is able to. Not for nothing does much of the film involve a 200-ton blue whale which gets washed up on the beach. Like everyone else in the town, it’s stuck there and it’s beginning to rot.
There’s more to Swinging Safari than a fast-paced, constant stream of bad-taste gags and nostalgic triggers and cringes, though it certainly is that, and on the surface it’s a lot of fun. But what the film leaves us with just under the surface is a strong sense of sadness. In many ways, it’s the women who come off worst. Kaye is clearly sexually unfulfilled, quite probably depressed and hitting the bottle. Melly at one point decides she’s going to stop eating, and we briefly see her reading a magazine with a feature on Karen Carpenter’s new diet – an intentionally chilling scene in the middle of all the hilarity. For all the many laughs, there’s a bitter aftertaste to Swinging Safari.
Swinging Safari was shown at this year’s Oz Film Festival. UK distribution has yet to be confirmed.