Friday, 29 April 2011

The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972)

Of all the products of the ozploitation boom of the 70s the most notorious is surely The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. In its own way it’s an exercise in bad taste to rival John Waters’ films, and it’s an exponent of the sledgehammer school of satire.

Barry McKenzie started life as a comic-strip in Private Eye magazine. He was the creation of Australian humorist Barry Humphries (with apparently some help from Peter Cook who shared Humphries’ anaarchic approach to comedy). When the Australian film industry revived he made the transition to the big screen in 1972.

The crude, strangely innocent and utterly appalling Barry McKenzie arrives in London, prepared to hate everything about England and the English. And he does. There’s no real plot, just a series of rather surreal adventures as Bazza spreads general mayhem.

Like John Waters, Humphries liked to push the boundaries of bad taste but he did so with more wit and originality than Waters displayed in his 1970s movies.

Humphries lambasts both Australian and English culture and takes the opportunity to enjoy taking some pot shots at other targets of opportunities, such as hippies, the entertainment industry, psychiatry and anything else he could think of.

Humphries’ satire is venomous to an extraordinary degree. His contempt for the vulgarity of suburban life is expressed with considerable crudity but he is undeniably funny and underneath the bad taste there’s a perceptive social critic at work.

Humphries delights in exaggerating his characters to the point of absurdism although they do represent real aspects of Australian society at the time.

Barry Crocker makes a splendid Barry McKenzie while Humphries himself plays a variety of roles including the one that has brought him lasting fame, Mrs Edna Everage (later to metamorphose into Dame Edna).

It’s really not possible to review this film in any meaningful way since nothing is going to prepare you for it if you’re not familiar with with Humphries’ style. It’s hardly a typical example of 70s ozploitation but it was one of the Australian film industry’s biggest hits at the time. It’s somewhat dated but it’s aggressive lack of anything even approaching political correctness is unquestionably refreshing. No sacred cow is safe from this movie’s wrath.

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