Monday, 11 January 2010

Alvin Purple (1973)

I’ve almost completed my crash course in ozploitation cinema. Tonight’s offering was possibly the most notorious of all ozploitation movies. Yes, I’m talking about Alvin Purple.

This wasn’t quite the first Australian sex comedy. Both Stork and The Naked Bunyip could claim to be comedies about sex. But Alvin Purple was the first real Australian sex comedy as the terms as understood in overseas countries, 
with relatively copious quantities of nudity. Censorship had been relaxed slightly in Australia and the R rating had been introduced, which was more or less equivalent to the X rating in the US, and to its notorious successor, the dreaded NC-17 rating. The Australian R rating allowed filmmakers to go much much further than they’d gone before, and director Tim Burstall was determined to make the most of it.

It gained him a huge commercial success, but it also destroyed forever his credibility as a movie-maker in the eyes of Australian critics and the arty set who were increasingly seeking to dominate the film industry and mould it into something that would satisfy their cravings for both political correctness and artistic elitism. Like Mad Max a few years later, Alvin Purple's greatest sin was that it was enormously popular with the people who actually go to see movies.

When judging Alvin Purple as a movie you have to bear in mind that Burstall wasn't trying to make an Australian Citizen Kane. It’s a sex comedy, with no pretensions whatsoever to being anything else. And generally speaking it succeeds in what it sets out to do.

The plot is simple, but has a clever twist. Rather than having the hero as either a guy who is hopelessly socially inept with women, or a guy who is absolutely irresistible to women, he’s both. And combined with the casting of Graeme Blundell, who is not exactly most people’s idea of a stud, the result is a hero who is neither annoying not obnoxious. He’s a nice ordinary guy who really doesn’t mean any harm to anybody who just happens to have a strange effect on women. They’re not quite sure why, but they all want to go to bed with him.

There are enough amusing moments to make the film reasonably successful as a comedy. There’s enough nudity, both male and female, to make it reasonably successful as a sex film. And there are enough outrageous 1970s fashions to make it in all probability rather more entertaining today than it was in 1973. Some of Alvin’s outfits are absolutely jaw-droppingly 70s kitschy.

It’s also a rather good-natured movie. The only group that really gets targeted by this movie is the psychiatric profession, and they’re the subject of some very funny and quite clever satire. There’s no real evidence of any kind of misogynistic feel to the movie. It accepts sex and nudity in a very matter-of-fact way without resorting to crude schoolboy humour.

Of course it wouldn’t be an ozploitation movie without some vehicular mayhem. Yes, they’re even managed to get a car chase in. And some crazy stunts.

It’s not going to change your life or the way you think about cinema. But it’s a painless enough way to spend an hour-and-a-half. It’s all just silly harmless fun.

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