THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY MCKENZIE

The Adventures of Barry McKenzie
d. Bruce Beresford / Australia / 1972 / 114 mins
Viewed on: BBC Four (UK)

Production still from The Adventures of Barry McKenzie

1972: England is rife with unrelenting bureaucracy, everything is massively overpriced and the streets of West London are overrun with uncouth Australians chock full of Fosters and casual bigotry.

2010: England is rife with unrelenting bureaucracy, everything is massively overpriced and the streets of West London are overrun with uncouth Australians chock full of Stella Artois and casual bigotry.*

Hitting screens the year after Stork (d. Tim Burstall, 1971), The Adventures of Barry McKenzie helped kick-start Australia’s wildly popular cycle of ocker comedies, with the tale of one particular uncouth Australian travelling to England and experiencing life in the ‘old country’ at the behest of his late Father, who wants him to ‘further the cultural and intellectual traditions of the McKenzie dynasty’.

Setting out its ocker stall from the get-go, with a severely un-PC faux censorship certificate of NPA (No Poofters Allowed), this is essentially a tale of enforced culture-clash, following Bazza’s pommie adventures with his chaperone, the much more sophisticated (but equally ignorant) Aunt Edna. (Yes, that Edna.)

What separates this film from much of the ocker dross that followed, however, was its ability to simultaneously poke fun at the idiotic element amongst Australians overseas, as well as the perverse peccadilloes and cultural cruelty of the Poms. All stereotype and no trousers, Beresford, Humphries, Crocker and Co. poke fun (and the occasional willy) at anything that moves – attacking both sides with equal vigour, a ploy that fell somewhat flatter a decade earlier in Michael Powell’s ‘new Australians’ comedy They’re a Weird Mob (although that film did at least meet with a fair degree of popular success in Australia).

Thirty-odd years later, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie is still full of great lines, one of my faves coming when Bazza calls a London cabbie a Jew and an Arab in more or less the same breath. And then there is the astounding dream sequence, in which Bazza struggles through the Aussie outback, dressed as a convict (complete with ball and chain) and pursued by a group of Aboriginals.

In an otherwise unserious film, this scene provides an interesting social/psychological comment on the constant paranoia/shame about Australia being a ‘stolen land’, as well as tapping in nicely to the film’s overall mediation point between the old world and the ‘new’, particularly when Bazza is woken from his dream by a pair of sub-continental doctors who no doubt share historical experiences with both Indigenous Australians (as oppressed ‘natives’) and Bazza himself (as migrants in a strange land).

More than just a sexist, homophobic, semi-racist ocker comedy (and it is, undoubtedly, all of the above), The Adventures of Barry McKenzie bridges the gaps – on screen and off – between the past and the future; most notably for the Australian populace emerging from the shadow of their former British rulers, and for an Australian film industry finally emerging after years in the wilderness.

* In the interests of full-disclosure, I should note that I am an Australian living in London. Although I do have dual citizenship and I do live in East London and I cannot stand Fosters (or Stella), and I like to think that my views are neither bigoted, nor particularly casual. Plus, I only know a very small handful of other Australians in London (and I knew them all before I moved here). Be that as it may, I was appalled by a recent experience in which my polite acceptance of a VB led to an ‘oh, this isn’t too bad’ response. See what happens when you go too long without a Coopers!
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