Tuesday, 15 May 2012

405: Gay Bar 6: The Adventures of Barry McKenzie

The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972)

starts: 1.00
ends: 5.40

Directed by Bruce Beresford
Written by Barry Humphries and Bruce Beresford

Another film adaptation of a modern day Candide. In this case it’s the transfer to film of the Private Eye comic strip written by Barry Humphries and drawn by Nicholas Garland. The strip had two satirical targets: the drunken, boorish yet simultaneously priggish Australia left behind encapsulated in the character of Australian tourist Barry McKenzie and the venal, shabby, trendy, exploitative Britain he was visiting. Aside from actual satire, the strip was Humphries’s opportunity to introduce as many slang terms for sex, drinking, and vomiting. Because of this, and because it was perceived to denigrate Australians in the eyes of the world, the strip was banned by Australian censors and the notorious Australian customs board. As it had been running since the mid-1960s there’s an argument that the strip preempts many of the achievements of the American underground comix, but since it's unknown in America it falls beneath critics’ radar.

Most of the film is a fairly direct dramatisation of events, dialogue and characters in the strip. At one point Barry visits a former girlfriend only to discover that since moving to England she has become a butch lesbian with a similarly older butch girlfriend. Lesbians fall outside my remit, but in the film you’ll notice she’s a perfectly normal seeming young lady though the girlfriend is still an escapee from Radcliffe Hall. Barry and his ex then then go to visit a pub for further conversation. In the film version, more is made of it as being gay pub, and so it is that everyone in this pub is a drag queen.

Unlike the drag queens of four years earlier in “Candy” who were in modern dress and seemed relatively free and easy, these drag queens look more like doubles for Danny La Rue in some incredibly ostentatious evening gowns. Nothing else is made of them, although there is a brief appearance of a bitchy trollish bartender. They’re just a sight gag – a herd of men in frocks, to whose nature Barry is of course oblivious.

The second half of the scene in the toilet with the policeman is a direct dramatisation of the corresponding strip in “Private Eye” from November 1966, possibly one of the earliest instances of jokes about police entrapment of homosexuals in lavatories. However, his inevitable farcical transvestite turn makes more sense in the contexts of all these drag queens.

Two drag queens appeared singing the title sequence of “staircase” in 1969, a failure of a film with Richard Burton and Rex Harrison.

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