Great TV Moustaches – Part 2

November 29, 2008


Moustaches – they’re not just for sexual predators anymore. It’s Movember, so now they’re for charity.

To celebrate the cultural phenomenon that is Movember, we continue our look at TV’s greatest moustaches. You can find part one here.

(And remember, Movember benefits the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and Beyond Blue – you can find more about donating at the Movember website).

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House Of Games: Thunderbirds International Rescue Game

November 28, 2008

House Of Games is a series in which John explores what happens when you take popular culture and throw dice at it. This week’s board game is…


So here’s the thing – I never saw Thunderbirds when I was a kid. In fact, I think the first time I saw Thunderbirds I was in my mid-20s and that’s really not the time to be discovering Supermarionation.

I grew up in country WA and we only had one commercial television channel – GWN, or the Golden West Network. Their programming was a mish-mash of the major commercial networks but obviously there was only room for a third of the content of the big-smoke – so I grew up with no knowledge of Thunderbirds, or Bill Collins, but did get to see Crusader Rabbit and that mid-60s Beatles cartoon series. The other channel available was the ABC, which was the only choice in some rural areas – which is why country people know so much about opera simulcasts.

As it turned out, the Evil Doctor Chris was the only member of our House Of Games test group who knew Thunderbirds well. While helpful, this would lead to outbursts of his famed violent temper – “For god’s sake, only Thunderbird 3 can go into space!” he would bellow while upending the coffee table. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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And The Winner Is… Newsfront (1978)

November 23, 2008

The Outland Institute’s Resident Echo & The Bunnymen Expert, David Ashton, is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to.


On January 7, 1978, Emilio Palma was born in Antarctica – the furthest south anyone had ever been born. It was also the year that Ted Bundy was arrested and the Garfield comic strip was first published. Coincidence? In Australia it was the year of the Hilton Hotel bombing and the year that Dick Smith towed a fake iceberg into Sydney Harbour. Probably a cry for help.

For two prominent film directors 1978 was year of unusual migrations: Roman Polanski skipped bail and fled the US after pleading guilty to sexual intercourse with a minor, while the remains of Charlie Chaplin were stolen from Cosier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, only to re-appear 50 days later near Lake Geneva. Coincidence?

The Oscar for 1978 went to Michael Cimino’s grim Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter, beating Coming Home and Midnight Express. The BAFTA that year went to Annie Hall (which had won the Oscar the previous year). Meanwhile, audiences sang along to Grease and believed a man could fly in Superman: The Movie.

Australia was continuing to produce good films too. Fred Schepsi’s follow-up to The Devil’s Playground was the more visceral Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. The success of the previous year’s Storm Boy led to the making of Blue Fin – another Colin Thiele tale with the same young actor in the lead. The Getting of Wisdom and The Night, The Prowler were also released, but they were all soundly beaten at the AFIs by the winner of an unprecedented eight awards – including Best Film – Newsfront.

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Great TV Moustaches – Part 1

November 20, 2008

mustache1It’s that time of year again. The decorations are up, the shops are busy, children are on their best behaviour. Yes, it’s Movember.

Everyone’s counting off the sleeps until the Great Moustache appears. On the last night of Movember the Great Moustache creeps into every house and leaves facial hair for all the good girls and boys… while bad children get nothing but a lump of coal, an Xbox and a copy of Fallout 3.

Meanwhile, well-built office workers in tight-business shirts are all growing Swedish porn-stars (also known as “the droop” or “the Pancho Villa”). As a bonus, it raises money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and Beyond Blue. Really, there is no downside to this. You can read about donating at the Movember website.


So while attending one of those celebrity Coburg parties the other day, someone said “you know, The Outland Institute should write about moustaches on television“.

It seemed a good idea. So we followed the usual procedure when preparing a column for the Institute. We sent a telex to Dr Alberto Longenin, the foremost expert in this field; we sent Debbie from the gift shop down into the catacombs to retrieve the appropriate books on the subject; we contracted seventeen work-experience children to go through The Institute’s cabinets of index cards; and we mentioned it on our facebook status.

So without further ado, here is part one of our surprisingly long celebration of TV’s greatest moustaches.

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Great Literature Of The 20th Century: The Frankie Goes To Hollywood Annual 1985

November 18, 2008


Frankie Say Merchandise! Hide Yourself!

Before we start today’s entry, I need to get something off my chest – I quite like Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I quite liked them then, and I quite like them now. Oh, it feels good to finally say it…

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And The Winner Is… Storm Boy (1977)

November 16, 2008

The Outland Institute’s Northcote Correspondent, David Ashton, is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to.


1977, the year the world changed its underpants… Jimmy Carter became president of the USA, his first act pardoning Vietnam War draft-dodgers. Fleetwood Mac released Rumors and Fleetway Publishing released 2000AD Prog 1. Elizabeth II celebrated her silver jubilee while being mocked by the Sex Pistols, and the Empire staggered under the weight of so much commemorative crockery. In Australia we adopted Advance Australia Fair as our national anthem by plebiscite and re-elected Malcom Fraser as PM (what were we thinking?)

In tinseltown, the Oscar for best movie went to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. The highest-grossing movies of the year included Close Encounters of the Third Kind (dir: Steven Spielberg), Saturday Night Fever (dir: John Badham) and a family movie featuring a seabird in a prominent role… The Rescuers (dirs: Reitherman/Lounsbery/Stevens). The Cannes Palme D’Or that year went to the Taviani Brothers’ Padre Pardone.


And yes – there was Star Wars (dir: George Lucas). Its impact was huge – in the short term we had a slew of second- and third-rate cash-ins (everything from Italy’s Star Crash to Disney’s The Black Hole). In the long term, Hollywood blockbusters – struggling to re-capture the audience exhilaration of Star Wars – began to resemble theme park rides more than movies. The enormous success of this movie (and others including Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark) meant that films previously considered juvenile B-pictures now got the big budgets and the marketing attention, while movies made for adults struggled on the margins.

None of that mattered in Australia, of course, which had neither “big budgets” nor “marketing hype”. The Australian film industry was still renaissance-ing away with such diverse films as the animated Dot and the Kangaroo (dir: Yoram Gross, an unsung hero of Aussie film), Peter Weir’s spooky thriller The Last Wave, the nostalgic Picture Show Man (dir: John Power) and Lasse Hallstrom came here from Sweeeden to shoot ABBA: The Movie, starring That Guy That Played The Dad from Hey Dad (although since Hey Dad wouldn’t start until 1987, back then he was simply known as “That Guy“).

Meanwhile Richard Franklin clearly believed he was on to a good thing as he delivered Phantasm Rides Again. On a sadder note, popular television soap operas Bellbird, Number 96, and The Box were all cancelled this year – it’s worth remembering that the successful film adaptations of No 96 and The Box played a not insignificant role in kick-starting the whole film renaissance thing in Australia.

But the film warming most Australian hearts, selling Australian tickets and (most importantly for our purposes) winning Australian Film Institute Awards was…

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House Of Games: The James Bond Secret Agent Game

November 12, 2008

In the first of our new series, John will be exploring what happens when you take popular culture and throw dice at it.


I grew up in a house full of board games. I also grew up with both my older brothers roughly 200 kilometres away at a Boarding School, so I didn’t get a chance to play those games very often. School holidays, mostly. Since I was quite a bit younger, I always lost. An eight-year-old will usually not beat a 16-year-old when playing Poleconomy.

So to this day I see board games as the ultimate representation of loneliness and defeat. Only kidding! I love ’em. The sight of a large rectangular box can still bring on nostalgic flashbacks, as can the smell of certain chipboards and solvents. We had a cupboard full of games, mostly strategic, grown-up games – things like Battleship, Mastermind, Risk… Intelligent, adult, worthy games.

As a child, however, I sometimes yearned for those other games – the ones based on trashy, mindless American entertainment, with lurid artwork and novelty playing pieces – I wanted to play Six Million Dollar Man – Bionic Crisis, or The Love Boat World Cruise Game. I dreamt that one day the Murder She Wrote Game would be mine.


But when I became a man, I put away childish things. No longer did I dream of moving a small cardboard picture of Lee Majors around a piece of reinforced cardboard. And by that time, the board game was on the way out, man – everyone knew grunge-based CGI virtual-reality porn was the entertainment of the future. There was no room for poorly-designed games based on Are You Being Served?

Pop-culture-based board games were something I never thought of again.

Until now.

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And The Winner Is… The Devil’s Playground (1976)

November 9, 2008

The Outland institute’s “Best News Theme” correspondent David Ashton is watching all the Australian Film Institute’s “Best Film” winners from 1976 onwards. Last week he set the scene, now the journey begins…


1976, what a big year that was! Well, it was a leap year so it was a bit bigger than usual. Harold Wilson resigned as the UK’s PM, Patty Hearst was found guilty of the armed robbery of a San Francisco bank, while here in Melbourne $1.4 million in bookmakers’ settlements was stolen in The Great Bookie Robbery. Queen Elizabeth II sent the first royal e-mail in this year, presumably to Steve Jobs who was forming Apple at the time. The Viking 2 spacecraft landed on Mars, and according to Wikipedia, “The UK and Iceland end the Cod War” (no, I don’t know what that was either, but I suspect that Goodies episode had a whole level of meaning that I totally missed).

Meanwhile the US film industry was being transformed by a bunch of film-school upstarts with a bold, gritty approach to movies. In 1976 Martin Scorsese won both the Palm D’Or at Cannes for Taxi Driver and also the Best Film BAFTA for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (which also later spawned a spin-off TV series). Meanwhile the Oscars were dominated by Rocky (dir: John G Alvidson) and Network (dir: Sydney Lumet).

In Australia the “film renaissance” (use of this phrase is mandatory) was in full swing. Caddie (dir: Donald Crombie) was a big hit with critics and audiences alike, Don’s Party (dir: Bruce Beresford) dished up Australian politics to a country still reeling from the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, and Richard Franklin brought some much-needed tits and bums to Australian Culture with Fantasm (aka World of Sexual Fantasy).

Speaking of Australian culture, this was the year the Australian Film Institute decided that it was worth having a category for best feature film. Previously the award had been for ‘Best Film’ with the award often going to a documentary or short film. So who was the winner of the first Best Feature Film award?

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And The Winner Is… The AFI “Best Film” Project

November 1, 2008

Over the coming months, David Ashton – The Outland Institute’s Northcote correspondent – will be undertaking a grueling and potentially dangerous task: he’ll be watching all the Australian Film Institute‘s “Best Film” winners from 1976 onwards (prior to 1976 documentaries and non-features were eligible for the main prize, but David‘s going for the hard stuff). Here he sets the scene for what is to come…

Lately the word on everyone’s lips is Ozploitation. Thanks to a spiffy new documentary  – and endorsement from Quentin Tarantino – everyone and their blog is talking about Australian movies. The violence, the nudity, the tax breaks and the film-makers who dared to exploit them. But there’s another type of Australian film-making that’s been going on behind the scenes, running parallel and underground to the films we know. Bold, innovative film-makers who dare to make films where the sex and violence is done tastefully. Film-makers who recklessly ignore public opinion in favour of critical plaudits. For these people, “hauntingly beautiful” isn’t just a lazy critic’s cliche – it’s a way of life. Some of these directors are so determined to see their films made they even write their own scripts.

I call this style of movie artsploitation. This freshly-minted genre includes such overlooked classics as Picnic at Hanging Rock, My Brilliant Career, The Year My Voice Broke and Shine. Films acclaimed in their day, but now only dimly remembered by an industry which prefers to canonise films like Patrick, Turkey Shoot, and that one where Sigrid Thornton gets stalked by a Mr Whippy van.

Artsploitation might not have Quentin Tarantino to champion it, but it does have the Australian Film Institute. Each year the AFI celebrates the films it considers the finest made in Australia – no matter how poorly they’ve done at the box office. In order to shed new light on the whole artsploitation genre I’m going to watch and review all the winners of the AFI “Best Film” award since it was first designated to be specifically for Australian features in 1976 (can you guess the film?)

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