Recently I became aware of an Australian film which I’d never previously heard of. Which is not that unusual, many of them fall through the cracks or are so awful they deserve to be forgotten, and I’m by no means the film aficionado I once was.
The film was 2000 Weeks. I was interested in it because of the unusual title and because when I looked it up, it appeared to be the first of a wave of Australian films after literally decades in which none had been produced. The title refers to how much time the lead character has left in his life in which to achieve his goals.
Actually getting to see it proved difficult. It had never been issued on video let alone DVD, and appears to have not been shown since it’s first run nearly fifty years ago. It had made a loss when first shown, and had been savaged by critics and audiences, hence the lack of later releases. I searched the usual locations, and could only find a few clips on something called Australian Screen. But the clips fascinated me, if only because of the what they showed of Melbourne and it’s people back in the very late sixties. Here were some people of my parents generation in the city they lived in. In fact I bet if I did some digging I could find some connection between my parents and at least an extra from the film.
Eventually I made contact with the National Film and Sound Archive, who had at least six copies in various formats. I thought it woulkd be a struggle to see a print, since the NFSA is based in Canberra. But to my delight they have a small office in Melbourne, crammed into the back of something called ACMI X. If you ask nicely, they’ll let you view any item in their collection at their shoebox office.
The print I saw was a washed-out VHS copy complete with timecode. And… I can see why it was not a huge success. It’s a very interesting film mostly for the time it documents, the way people dress and talk, and the views of Melbourne. But it’s almost like it’s three or films or plots mashed into one. There’s a story there about the lead character’s father being on deaths door. He was, by the way, the one who utters the phrase “two thousand weeks”. The lead character also having an affair, which seems to at most trouble his wife. Meanwhile an old friend returns from the UK and there is some quite interesting arguments with him about what we’d call the “cultural cringe”. Oh, and the lead character is also busy writing for a major newspaper, which appears to the The Age.
The film is full of details that interested me. There are a number of locations that were probably accurate for the time, but seemed odd to my eyes. For example the protagonists house, which he shares with his wife and two young children, is large, spacious and well furnished, which seemed at odds with his apparent struggle with his job and ambitions. There’s a long party scene in the middle which takes place in a house that looks like what would have been a modern home on the fringe of Melbourne at the time, and is decorated with paintings by Boyd, Tucker and other Australian artists. Works that these days would fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.
The film is all over the place. The plot, such as it is, revolves around Will Gardiner, a frustrated journalist who wishes to be something more – a play write or screen writer, telling uniquely Australian stories. But he’s also having an affair with another young woman, openly it seems. And is father is in hospital, dying. And finally, and probably most interestingly, old friend has returned from the UK, where he appears to have evolved into an arrogant elitist prat who looks down on the art and culture of his home country.
The print I saw was so washed out – it’s black and white – that in a few scenes I wasn’t too sure if it was his wife and or his girlfriend whom he was interacting with. And the film jumps about with no real structure. In one scene Will is talking to his boss in his office. In the next scene he’s suddenly on a beach with a woman who turns out to be his wife. The next he’s on a ship saying goodbye to his girlfriend who is, of course, heading to London like everyone from Australia does. And his children seem to feature in only one or two scenes, and then are not mentioned nor is their welfare of any concern to any of the characters. This was confusing to me as a parent, and added to an air of unreality for me. And in there Will is visiting a hospital room where his father is dying, but somehow manages to terribly over-act. Or Will is driving or drinking or often drinking then driving with his old friend, arguing about Australian culture or lack thereof.
There’s one particularly stupid flashback, where Will catches his wife cheating on him. His response is to strip off her dress and burn it in a fireplace. This was accompanied by an overwrought voice-over by Will talking about Love and it’s meaning. The voice-over is present in most of the film, when Will is not actually talking at one of the female characters. Both of whom would have been well advised to give him the arse.
This should have been two or three films really. At most it’s a very interesting document of the times, the attitudes and even just the cars, clothes, buildings and the endless cigarettes. These were young people at the time, but look today like that group of baby-boomers whom are now the establishment. I envied their enormous houses filled with great art, and their relatively untroubled lives, and their lack of concern for anything like money or having spare time. This film made today would have been set in some much smaller spaces, and paying the rent would have been a plot element. The one theme that particularly interested me, the lack of an Austrlian cultural voice, is well and truly not an issue. At least in part because of films like this, it must be said.
A footnote: In response to the commercial and critical failure of 2000 Weeks, the director Tim Burstall, whose previous work included Sebastian the Fox, helping found La Mama Theatre, and documentaries about Australian artists, went on to make the cringeworthy “sex romp” Alvin Purple. Which, by contrast, was a huge financial success… can’t beat boobs…