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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 



We are proud to publish this fascinating personal account by RICHARD KUIPERS of how he got ‘Stoned’ and why he undertook to bring The Undertaker (Sandy Harbutt) back to the screen for the making of a unique documentary, Stone Forever, about the equally unique film - a rare example of an Australian film that was an ‘embarrassment’ but a box office success.

When I was a teenager growing up in the middle class Sydney suburb of Gymea during the late 1970's the most famous Australian film was without any doubt Stone. Five years after its 1974 release and in the same year Mad Max hit suburban cinemas and drive-ins, Stone always seemed to be playing somewhere. I have vivid memories of ads in The Daily Mirror and The Sun (remember afternoon newspapers?) as this durable film was sent out on the 'ozoners' circuit on wild double and triple bills with exploitation gems such as 'Girl On A Motorcycle', 'The Losers' and, best of all, the notorious Italian cannibal gore-shocker 'Man From Deep River'.

"the Stone Feeling"

I was too young to sneak into Caringbah drive-in and saw it for the first time on Channel 7 when it aired the AO Modified TV Version in 1980. Even without the final scene which made sense of the whole film and minus the famous decapitation, Stone left an indelible mark on my consciousness as the first Australian film I could relate to. I wasn't into bike culture and didn't aspire to be but we had The Rat Pack MC in Gymea and here at last were representations of these scary Australian dudes up there on the big screen. It had something to say about the real Australia which historical dramas popular at the time simply didn't. Everyone watched the same broadcast and it was the main topic of schoolground discussion for weeks afterwards. Those with older brothers who'd seen it on the big screen held court with painstaikingly detailed descriptions of what 7's censors hadn't let us see.

I had to wait until 1994 and Stone's 20th anniversary re-release to see it in a cinema and sure, some of the dialogue's dated and Ken Shorter's white suit looks totally daggy but the shortcomings were completely forgiveable because it still had the same compelling force. 1994 was also my first contact with Stone's executive producer David Hannay and director/ producer/ co-writer and The Undertaker himself, Sandy Harbutt. I asked Sandy and Hannay to round up the Gravediggers for a story on the film for SBS Television's The Movie Show (which I still produce). Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toad), Vincent Gil (Dr Death), Roger Ward (Hooks) and Peter King (Ferret) turned up and we jumped the fence guarding the old Gravedigger's hideout location at Middle Head. A park ranger asked questions and started talking about trespassing before I mentioned it had something to do with Stone. "Well, that's OK then" came the reply as I encountered for the first time what can only be described as the "Stone Feeling".

"I deliberated for about three seconds"

I didn't know it at the time but that was also the start of Stone Forever which formally went into production 4 1/2 years later, on December 12 1998, when 34,000 motorcyclists gathered on the Newcastle Freeway to mark the 25th anniversary of the day 400 motorcyclists turned up to take part in the famous funeral procession scene in the film.

When David Hannay and Sandy Harbutt contacted me in June 1998 with details of the 25th anniversary run and the potential for a documentary to be framed around it I deliberated for about three seconds and agreed to take it on after being guaranteed complete editorial control. The idea didn't win favour initially at SBS but the incredible support of Margaret Pomeranz (also my Executive Producer on The Movie Show) made the difference and a modest sum (which I dare not reveal here) was allocated to what became known around the building as 'that bikie doco'. Spectrum Films in Sydney threw its support behind the project with post-production facilities and we were ready.

"the film they couldn't hang"

What I wanted to explore was the staggering following generated by a film written off by most critics of the day, why it remains the only film directed by Sandy Harbutt and how it fits into the 1970-75 period in Australian cinema. These were the days before Picnic At Hanging Rock launched the "official" local film revival; a by-product of which was a growing sense that films like Stone and The Adventures Of Barry McKenzie (1972), both box-office blockbusters, were somehow culturally embarrassing now that a "quality" success had emerged and these were not the sort of films we should be making if we wanted to present a neat and tidy image to the rest of the world. Abandoned by film officialdom but never abandoned by the audience, Stone represents to me "the film they couldn't hang" and is the closest our cinema has come to capturing the Australian anti-establishment, outlaw spirit. Riding with the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club for a day before the anniversary run and standing in the middle of 10,000 fans who turned up for the 24-hour party after the ride confirmed the idea - one rider summed it up as being "like Ned Kelly had come alive for the day".

The "Stone Feeling" made this documentary possible; what was lacking in budget was made up for by the goodwill generated by a film with support which has always extended way beyond the motorcycle community. Companies supplied everything from stock footage to music rights and camping gear at amazingly low rates because the subject was Stone. Everyone connected with the film agreed to interviews, including the fabulously candid Rebecca Gilling who was 19 and had only done one shampoo commercial before landing the role of good girl turned bikie moll Vanessa. Almost 20 different camera operators contributed to the finished product and unlike David Hannay back in 1974, I didn't even have beer or anything stronger to offer as payment to anyone.

"I hope Stone Forever sheds some light on this amazing trip"

Stone screened with Stone Forever in front of a full and appreciative (phew) house at the Sydney Film Festival in June 1999, marking the first time Sandy Harbutt's film had ever been shown at an official Australian film event. The advertising line for Stone was "Take The Trip" and 25 years on I hope Stone Forever sheds some light on this amazing trip and the times in which it was made.

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Richard Kuipers is a regular writer and critic for Urban Cinefile. He is also the producer of The Movie Show on SBS Television and film critic for the weekly Brisbane News. He has produced and directed several short films and documentaries.


Stone Forever and the film Stone are screening at the Brisbane International Film Festival in a special double bill, at 1pm, Sunday August 8 at The State Library theatre. The documentary will also be shown on SBS later this year.



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