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Puberty Blues

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 83 mins . M15+ . PAL


So THIS is what everybody was getting up to while I slaved over the school magazine!

Oh alright – I’ll admit I was hardly oblivious to those often dubious goings on associated with the arrival of that dreaded ‘P’-time, puberty. And while Puberty Blues, based on the quite infamous novel by “The Salami Sisters” (Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey), may quite naturally seem dated, anybody who was enduring that often rocky, but necessary, transition from child to adult around the late ‘70s or early ‘80s should find much jogging of memories upon viewing this – be they good or bad.

While on the surface the things depicted here may seem very much of their time and specific to “surfie culture”, give it just the weeniest of scratches and you’ll find a whole swag of universal themes which are just as relevant today as they ever were. No matter how we plummet through it, puberty is a time of social cliques, sometimes desperate efforts to fit in, peer pressure and really dumb choices – all with one very important purpose, to find our own identity, our place in the world. Ah, but some of us had a distinct advantage – such times for us were soundtracked by the relentless DOMP-DOMP-DOMP-DOMP pulse of Space Invaders - ah, those were the days!

Facing such social pressures are Debbie (Nell Schofield) and Sue (Jad Capelja), desperate to make it from the daggy areas of Cronulla Beach to the cool surfie gang hangout of Greenhills, but failing dismally despite all their desperate efforts at crawling and sucking up. That is until they’re sprung helping two dopey surfer “spunks” in an exam. Earning cool points for not dobbing, they find themselves suddenly admitted to cooler circles – invited for smokes in the girls’ lavs and subsequently to their holy grail – Greenhills. And what an aspiration! The purpose of a girl at the time was basically as a surfie slave, a life of servitude with continual Coke and Chiko Roll runs - but remember, a chick could never actually be seen eating, like going to the toilet it was deemed unladylike - so with bladders bursting and stomachs growling they laid on the beach offering undying support for the fragile egos of their wanker surfing beaus. But naturally their slave duties did not end there, as those P-plate plastered panel vans lining the rows at the drive-in were not complete without that most important of accoutrements – the rooting machine. An obligation Deb and Sue soon discover the many “joys” of...

But after pursuing what they thought they wanted for a while, our girls are savvy enough to realise that there just may be more to life than all this. After the odd personal scare, and witnessing first hand the utterly pathetic childishness and cruelty of the clique they so longed to be a part of – the boys with their selfishness, their drugs, their “who gives a f*ck about anybody but me?” attitudes, and the girls with their sickeningly weak resignation to how things are – they find a way to rebel, making themselves pariahs to those who never should have mattered in the first place.

"There’s more to life than just surfing, y’know?"

Sure your situations may have varied – but any adolescence without the odd bout of spewing from downing way too much crap alcohol, sneaked Winnie Blues in the loos or behind the shelter sheds, the odd love bite or two, pining after somebody who simply isn't worth the tears and infinite quantities of self doubt simply wasn’t the complete experience. A sometimes frighteningly realistic portrayal of how things were in Australia at this particular time, the talent of the basically unknown and inexperienced cast brings a trueness to proceedings that, as mentioned, will have all manner of memories flooding back for many viewers. Bruce Beresford’s capable direction anchors things superbly, in what is more a slice of life than a tale with any remarkably defined plot driving it. Which, when you think about it, is all much like real life...


If you were to just watch the opening credits of this transfer of Puberty Blues then you may be led to crack a mental, believing that you’re in for a shocking visual experience. Being no expert on these things I can only surmise that it’s something to do with the overlaying of the credits on the picture (whoo, my technical expertise runneth over!), however the good news is that once they depart things improve markedly. When reviewing films such as this, sadly it must be kept in mind that this country has a pretty appalling history of not exactly looking after its film heritage. Keeping this in mind, the 16:9-enhanced, 2.35:1 transfer afforded us here is actually pretty good, and much better than many films of more recent vintage that have made their way to our favourite format.

While grain isn’t exactly a stranger to proceedings, more notably in outdoor scenes, in general things are pretty pleasing when keeping in mind the caveat above. Colour is for the most part quite natural, although there’s a bit of lobster effect in some of the beach scenes. Detail isn’t as sharp as you’d get from the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but naturally you’d be a bozo to expect as much. Things are still pretty clear throughout, with some aliasing plus speckles and blobs added to the mix, but not an alarming amount. Shadow detail isn’t the greatest you’ll ever see, however those few dark scenes which do pop up are hardly morass-like seas of blur either, while black levels tend to vary depending upon scenes – sometimes they’re spot on, other times they tend towards being a little grey. The layer change, however, must be singled out for its appalling placement – it occurs just after a scene change and is more jarring than being rammed up the backside by a sin bin whilst stationary at a set of traffic lights.

All things considered this is a reasonable transfer – it’s not one to show off the wonders of DVD with, but it could have been so, so, so much worse...


A mono mix pumped through the left and right speakers is the order of the day here, which is hardly surprising considering the flick’s vintage. The main issue tends to be a little bit of hiss in many scenes, although you’ll probably find yourself tuning out to it quite quickly. The important things a sound mix needs to do are well catered for though; with perfectly discernable dialogue and no synching issues.

The soundtrack is essentially a few Tim Finn compositions, appallingly strangled in a reedy wail by New Zealander Shazza O’Neill. The titular theme song was obviously created for the film, and is hardly one of the elder Finn’s finer works; whilst Split Enz True Colours-era tracks I Hope I Never and the perfect teen rebellion song in Nobody Takes Me Seriously also make appearances.


A commendable effort has been made in assembling a few extra bits and pieces for fans of the film to wade into. The menus are delightfully fitting, and on selecting any option brief trivia screens quickly pop up.

The first sausage off the barbie bonus-wise is a section entitled Promotion. In here there’s a gallery of 18 images – 16 stills plus the promotional poster and a collection of lobby cards, which each scroll up and down so as we get to see them in bigger-then-postage-stamp size. Reviews follow, simply four pages of write-ups from the film’s release back in 1981. Rounding things out here are the trailer, neatly brought to us in enhanced 2.35:1, and only suffering from one major problem – it systematically gives away everything about the film in its comparatively brief 2:11 running time. If Puberty Blues wasn’t a part of your adolescence then you may wish to skip this until you’ve watched the film.

A couple of interviews are next on the menu, both filmed quite recently. First up is actor Nell Schofield; running for 7:25 she is an engaging watch’n’listen, covering everything from memories on casting, the story, working with Bruce Beresford, thoughts on the importance of Puberty Blues, general remembrances and her career since her starring role. The next is with the director himself, running for 5:25 Bruce let’s us know why he chose to make the film, how it actually came about, the difficulties finding a suitable cast prepared to give up the bulk of their summer to the production and his thoughts on the evils of panning and scanning. This section also has a one page filmography of Beresford’s works, featuring a surprising number of Australian cinematic classics.

The novel profile is a bit of a stretch, being a single screen with the book’s cover, ISDN number and the exciting news that the latest version includes forewords by two people you’d never expect to be mentioned in the one sentence, Kylie Minogue and Germaine Greer. Of slightly more interest are the very brief biographies of the book authors Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey.

Finally we have the requisite Umbrella Propaganda, although for a change amongst the five trailers included here are a couple of exciting surprises. As well as titles we know of - Dating the Enemy (sadly afforded a crap transfer), the quirky but charming Malcolm and Nick Cave’s Ghosts of the Civil Dead, it would appear that the Aussie classic The Big Steal is on its way to DVD, along with another Beresford classic, the star-studded behind the scenes tale of the Aussie rules world that is his screen version of the David Williamson play The Club. Hopefully they’ll show up in their correct ratios...


Umbrella and The AV Channel are to be applauded for being one of the few distributors making an obvious effort to bring classic Australian films to the DVD format. Whilst it may not exactly be perf technically, quite some effort has obviously gone into delivering Puberty Blues to us in as good a state as possible, something we should all be thankful for.

Take it from this particular 30-something fish-faced moll - too gawky, too bookish, not blonde enough, and the list goes on – whether you were considered cool in school or if it was an absolute social hell, Puberty Blues delivers the perfect opportunity to reminisce about times so thankfully in our past. Just don’t let it inspire you to take an axe along to the next high school reunion...

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2489
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      And I quote...
    "So THIS is what everybody was getting up to while I slaved over the school magazine! "
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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