Stephan Elliott has directed more, but let’s consider six films. He wrote Frauds (1993), and it’s a most remarkable first feature. It already displays the main characteristic of most of Elliott’s films: it’s hard to classify. I have, somewhat reluctantly, to get out the rather broad term ‘surrealism’ – because I can’t think of another word that goes some way towards capturing the way Elliott’s imagination takes a detour, a diversion away from psychological realism. Which makes it difficult to empathise with characters or story.
Then, immediately, we come to his masterpiece (in both senses of the word). Priscilla (1994) is implausible and outrageous, but it’s also something with which anyone who has been the least bit marginalised can relate to. And it was a great success.
Elliott didn’t write Welcome to Woop Woop (1997) but one feels he might have. This is one is less surreal and more fantasy/scifi/speculative, but it is outrageous, both in terms of spectacle (another Elliott characteristic) and sexual explicitness. Anyone who’s seen it will first recall: Rod Taylor dancing on the pub bar with with his boots wired to a car battery; second, Barry Humphries in a blindman cameo; and third: Rogerson Hammerstein [sic]. But I suspect not enough people did see it, and it made a loss (tbc).
So Elliott had to pull his head in and make some conventional films, like Eye of the Beholder (1999) a ‘mystery thriller’ of which I don’t think anyone is proud.
Then it was back to Australian comedy with A Few Best Men (2012), not written by Elliott. I did see this, but don’t feel qualified to say much about it (I think it’s a bromance), as I can hardly remember it – and anyway the memory has been obscured by the sequel A Few Less Men – which is not an Elliott film. One thing I’m sure about is that Lamprell’s effort is much worse.
And finally – for now at least – Swinging Safari (2018) – and the reason for which I wanted to write this little piece starting with Frauds – because we’re back into the ambiguous territory of the unempathetic. In any else’s hands this would have been a farce and a satire. It’s about wife-swapping in a past recent enough for many people to remember with amusement rather than nostalgia. Bringing Guy Pearce (now a superb, mature actor) back together with Kylie Minogue could have caused a great wave of fun – and affection – to wash over cinemas. But it didn’t happen. The characters are all kept at a distance in Elliott’s museum of Believe it or Not.
It tries (too?) hard to be comical, and repeatedly misses the mark. Whereas in Welcome to Woop Woop, the hyperbole just becomes weird, in this we should be in the realm of satire, but Elliott doesn’t have enough the ability to maintain the charitable malice required for that.