Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel .
R4 . COLOR . 95 mins .
M15+ . PAL
As the old Sherrin gets booted into the cupboard for a few months once again and Collingwood have suffered the wobbles for the umpteenth time, what better occasion to delve into David Williamson’s play turned film about the on and off-field goings on of a once great league club?
Gra Gra as Teddy, the club at the time's Eddie...
Yet another reason you either barrack for Collingwood or hate them with a fervent passion was their casting as “the” club for, erm, The Club - like they weren’t arrogant enough already. However, if prepared to look past individual team loyalties at the film in hand, football fans of any persuasion – and indeed any lover of engaging drama – will find much to like here, in what is more than just a bunch of meatheads kicking a funny shaped ball around a paddock, in fact it’s quite the showcase of a political microcosm which could easily be transposed to many another situation.
Our story revolves around a number of characters; Jeff Hayward (the John Howard it’s OK to like), the new and very expensive Tasmanian recruit; Laurie Holden (Jack Thompson), the Mick Malthouse of his day as coach; Ted Parker (Graham Kennedy) the Eddie McGuire of the club – although his empire makes pies not plugs; Danny Rowe, the Nathan Buckley as an ageing captain; and committee members Jock Riley (Frank Wilson), former player and coach, and Gerry Cooper (Alan Cassell), who’s never pulled on a pair of boots but fancies himself a bloody great administrator.
I'll have a pie 'n' sauce, a bag of donuts - oh, and a couple of sausage rolls would hit the spot...
With pressure to perform and a less than stellar start to the season, Hayward starts to question the point to this whole football thing – he see it all as macho competitive bullshit – so he ensconces himself in a shroud of dope smoke and laissez faire attitude. Needless to say this doesn’t exactly endear him to many around the club. As the season starts rapidly heading down the S-bend, it’s up to the coach to try to fire him, and indeed all his charges, up, all the while struggling with continual behind the scenes bickering and posturing from those running the club, all of whom have their own particular agendas. Amidst strike threats, endless conflict, manipulation, stubbornness and obvious signs that football is transcending being just a sport as it becomes a multi-million dollar business, it’s up to the players to put the points on the board – for the sake of club pride and, in some cases, retaining their places in the team.
Now get out there and stick it right up 'em!
Set predominantly in the magpie den of Victoria Park, despite The Club’s origins as a play, pleasingly there is little in the way of staginess to proceedings. The cast of simply phenomenal Australian talent doesn’t disappoint, with Graham Kennedy and Frank Wilson highlights in a cast full of them. More than a depiction of political power plays, there is a refreshing line of edgy humour running throughout – and that amounts to more than simply seeing Rene Kink’s bum. Yes, many of Collingwood’s finest from the era – Wearmouth, Barham, Ray Shaw, Daicos and more – show up here and there, which is certain to please some of the older faithfuls, along with commentating greats the likes of Lou Richards and Bobby Skilton. It also serves as a decent memento of Victoria Park now that it’s about to be swallowed up by that big beastie progress. Still, if you have enough shekels you’ll be able to buy an apartment there. Is nothing sacred?
Jock partakes of a rollie...
There’s some debate about as to the original aspect ratio of The Club. Presented here in a ratio of 1.85:1 (enhanced), there is talk that it was originally in 2.35:1. Admittedly indistinct memories of its theatrical run tend to recall that it is actually here in its correct aspect, and director Bruce Beresford claimed in a recent interview with DVDnet not to have made anything in the wider ratio until Puberty Blues rocked along a little later – however considering the fact that Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, made many years earlier, is in 2.35:1 his memory may be best not relied upon. At any rate, the vision doesn’t suffer or in any way seem cramped, so let’s move on, shall we?
What we’re left with is a picture which bears many signs of its 23 year vintage. Grain is a regular invader, there’s the odd wobble here and there and detail suffers throughout – some sorties into the shadows leaving an indistinct morass of ickiness the only thing to view. Where things suffer the most, however, is in the colour. It’s all just a bit off, with severe over-saturation at times which makes most of the actors look redder than Footy Franks. At least there is little in the way of specks and dust, although the odd reel change marker does appear from time to time (another reason to doubt claims of an original wider ratio). The layer change appears mid-scene, but skates by fairly unclunkily.
Originally recorded in mono, naturally enough The Club comes to us in pretty much the same fashion, just sent through two channels rather than one. There’s little to say, really – occasional clunks and crackles will disturb some viewers, as will the odd slight lapses in synch. Generally dialogue is acceptably clear, however, as are the innumerable incarnations of Mike Brady’s Up There F*cking Cazaly which appear with alarming regularity throughout.
Here’s where The Club on DVD grabs the ball, runs, bounces, dodges, weaves, bounces again, baulks, does a blind turn, bounces a third time, goes the sprint toward the goals and dobs a sensational six-pointer, with a superb array of extras assembled.
First up is a 35:06 documentary recorded this year entitled Meet the Team. Featuring reminisces from Beresford, producer Matt Carroll, actors Alan Cassell and Jack Thompson (who sounds like he’s been on something much harder than the Claytons), Magpies coach at the time Tommy Hafey plus players Rene Kink and Ray Shaw, much of the film and its characters are examined, along with mention of dealing with that “funny lot” at Collingwood and liberal grabs from the flick. This is followed by a brief (2:15) featurette in The Club Then and Now. This shows footage of Victoria Park from 1980 juxtaposed with 2003 – and nothing much has changed.
Fans of Williamson will be delighted with the 1986 documentaryVoices on the Page (26:26). An intriguing study of the “compulsive playwright” mostly comprised of words from the man himself from interviews and workshops (including a frightening jumper his Nanna simply must have knitted for him), much of his work - Stork, Don’s Party, Gallipoli, The Removalists and, of course, The Club - is looked at. We even get to see him kicking a footy around. If that isn’t enough, an entire ABC radio production of The Club is presented, naturally enough as an audio-only option. 90 minutes long, it features John Howard reprising his role as Geoff Hayward, and is intriguingly divided up into “sides” A, B and C.
The music video for the vinyl equivalent of the cockroach (every old singles collection seems to feature the 7”, no matter how many times you try to destroy it), Up There Cazaly, is next. If nothing else it’s worth sitting through to see an aerial shot of the MCG before they erected the giant flyswatters. The crowning achievement in musical accompaniment comes next, however, with pure comedy genius in Hear Jack Thompson Sing - or, as I like to call it, 30 Odd Foot of Razorblade. Turning the Collingwood theme song into a dirge that even Leonard Cohen would be proud of, Jack’s vocal prowess manages to rival that of even William Shatner. There’s four minutes to titter away at – priceless stuff indeed.
Finally, there’s the trailer in blobby full frame (2:55) and the usual array of Umby Propaganda, this time featuring trailers for four Aussie flicks including the much-awaited The Big Steal.
Holding up surprisingly well after many years, The Club offers 90 minutes of captivating entertainment (and the most liberal usage of the word “turd” you’re ever likely to hear), enough to please the footy fans and politics aficionados alike. The video’s a bit muddy, however the extras package is almost as exciting as an after the siren winning goal.
As an interesting aside considering this season’s culmination, the 1980 Grand Final depicted here sees Collingwood take on Fitzroy, who, of course, were ingested by those up north to become the Brisbane Lions... Mind you, 1980 really saw the Tigers demolish the Magpies by what was at the time a record margin. Hey, us Richmond faithfuls have had slim pickings to gloat about since then, so we have to take what we can get...
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "