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THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE

Australia, 1919 (MIFF 1995)

Director: Raymond Longford

The Sentimental Bloke was the high point of Australian cinema for more than half a century, and is still one of the most appealing films made anywhere in the world before 1920. Although it is the usual things to credit this achievement to Raymond Longford, the film's director and (part) screenwriter, the excellence of the 'the Bloke' is probably die more to a happy accident of colaboration than to the efforts of any one person.

The foundation for the film's appeal is C.J. Dennis' writing. In their screenplay, Longford and Lottie Lyell (uncredited) retain most of Dennis' strengths.The result is an unusual narrative film because it features verse, because the words of its intertitles are as important as its visual images, because its plot meanders from vignette to vignette instead of "telling a story", and because it is a silent film with a first-person narration.

Dennis' characters have been fleshed out with rare perfection. Doreen (Lyell again), Ginger Mick (Gilbert Emery), Mar (Margaret Reid), the Straw 'At Coot (Harry Young), and Uncle Ki, (William Coulter), might hjust have stepped from between the pages of the book, and as for Bill...there are few screen characterisations in the history of film more fully realised than Arthur Tauchert's performance in the title role.

The film's understated "natural" acting style matched its urban and suburban exteriors as well as its plotless narrative rhythm. The camera set-ips and editing are as simple and straightforward as the bloke himself.

Today, The Sentimental Bloke paints an intriguing and unexpected picture of Australian masculinity: Bill is a sensitive new-age guy overawed by women and eager for domination by Doreen. As well, the utopic ending of the film- Bill, Doreen, ad their child at one with the land - is as right and impossible today as it was in those faraway years after the war to end all wars had been fought and won, and the world was awaiting the advent of a peace that would last forever. - William D. Routt

While The Sentimental Bloke has generally been available since the 1950s, it has usually been seen locally in less than perfect 16mm prints, very possibly running at the wrong speed. The National Film and Sound Archive's restoration project produced this new, near perfect version in time for the Pordenone Festival's (Italy) major survey of Australian silent cinema in late 1993.

Unorthodox methods were employed to 'reinvent' the dyes of the period and, after much testing with more lethal substances, the Archive settled on Aeroplane food colouring! Using snippets of the original hand-coloured footage which luckily had been preserved by producer Anthony Buckley) as a guide to the colour sequences, the film was laboriously tinted and restored, and has subsequently screened to great acclaim in Italy, England and New Zealand.

In the full 'silent' screen size, 35mm, colour tinted and designed to be shown at the correct silent speed of 18 frames per second, and now with a new score commissioned by the Archive in association with the Melbourne International Film Festival, we have The Bloke all Australia deserves.

It is with a great joy that in this year that celebrates the International Centenary of Cinema the Melbourne International FIlm Festival acknowledges an essential part of our film heritage and welcomes The Sentimental Bloke back home.

See also...

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