It’s Saturday morning in the British spring of 1998 and Steph Elliott is on the
phone from a converted a garage in stately Surrey. He is taking a break from editing his
next film, Eye of the Beholder, to talk about his latest, Welcome to Woop Woop, which is
finally to be released – more than a year after its work in progress screening at the
1997 Cannes film festival.
The garage on the 500 acre property now serves as an editing suite, and the 500 acre
property belongs to Tony Smith who was Phil Collins’ manager – at the time
Collins starred in Elliott’s debute feature film, Frauds. Now Smith and Elliott are
business partners and the crush of a Soho editing house was forsaken for the country airs
of a beautiful Surrey mansion and its grounds.
It’s taken longer than planned to release the film, partly because after the
Cannes screening, Elliott went back to the editing room to finish cutting it, and then it
was decided to have some new music composed. By the time all that had been done, one of
the film’s most profound and important champions, Alan Finney, had accepted the top
job at the new Buena Vista distribution operation being set up in Australia, and left
Roadshow, where he was to have a hand in its launch, in May. "It’s horrible to
have lost Finney," laments Elliott, "he had a complete handle on the film."
"Woop Woop is the arse end of the world, and
this young American is just passing through it."
Elliott is well aware that Welcome to Woop Woop is a tough film to market, but
that’s why he feels Finney’s loss to the campaign is a setback.
"This is an in-you-face, very offensive movie. The marketing pitch I am pushing is
along the lines: Woop Woop is the arse end of the world, and this young American is just
passing through it."
It’s a good line, and it kinda captures the tone of the film – if not
totally, at least on the surface; see synopsis at left.
Sure enough, Woop Woop is Elliott’s ode to certain Australian sensibilities that
have now disappeared, peppered with graphic language, albeit in a social context that
softens their aggressive aspects. (So that ‘fuck me dead’ becomes the argo that
Woop Woopians use as a matter of course when surprised.) "It is a tour of language
for Americans," he says, "and even Aussies will find it difficult."
Some will no doubt find it not just difficult but downright
offensive, embarrassing. Elliott understands that.
Some will no doubt find it not just difficult but downright offensive, embarrassing.
Elliott understands that, although he is keen to persuade people not to close their eyes
to what he has put on screen. "If you blind yourself to that great history of
Australia, you’ll be as demoralised as I was when making Eye of the Beholder around
the US; that old America is no longer there."
And in this shorter cut of the film to be released, the original dark heart that beat
in Doug Kennedy’s novel (The Dead Heart) is again discernible. That darkness gives a
certain ballast to Elliott’s uprorious sense of humour, making it stridently ironic
and surprisingly haunting. This is especially the case with the crusty, rustic,
rumbuctious character of Daddy-O (Rod Taylor in full Aussie blast), whose big speech on
the backstory of Woop Woop will strike a chord with ghosts who live in what used to be
many mining towns.
Of the sizeable cuts that have been made to the film, Elliott claims the big cuts are
all his – not forced on him by nervous suits at Goldwyn (who financed the film and
stand to take the commercial bonus or onus, depending on how it fares at the box office).
"About 10 minutes before lock off," he recalls, "the shit hit the fan.
There was a big sequence near the end, about three and a half minutes, which I felt should
go. Then there was the middle of the film; it was always a bit boring…when we get out
to Woop Woop it just falls away." Chop.
Then there was the Crystal-Teddy relationship, which was developed with about seven
minutes of footage "not needed…we just do it with a couple of close ups, holding
on eye contact that signals to the audience what’s going on." Chop.
"Most Americans won’t know what to do with
it…." - Elliott
Another major change to the original work in progress print is in the music. "The
big decision was to throw out the Rogers and Hammerstein from the opening, for more
contemporary material. Now you don’t hear Rogers and Hammerstein until we get to Woop
Woop." Then there was the change in composer, from Stuart Copeland to Guy Gross.
"Stuart wrote a very clever score, but the Americans felt it didn’t help the
film. Guy, with whom I worked very well together on Priscilla, has written some new
materail that has really given the film heart, and has done arrangements that are really
amazing – like the disco version of Clim Every Mountain. I saw a disco-full of people
in New York, at the Twighlight, when they played the track and the place just went
throiugh the roof. I think that’s at least one hit from the soundtrack…"
Elliott is anxiously waiting on audience reaction in Australia. He had to plead –
"beg on my knees" – that it be released first in Australia. "The
Americans wanted to go first, but I begged them to wait, to give us a chance at home
first. So they pulled it…it was supposed to open in June."
Even so, he realises that "most Americans won’t know what to do with
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