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The Collingwood football team is stuck at the bottom of the ladder and things are even worse in the boardroom. When the club pays a record $120,000 to sign promising but unproven youngster Geoff (John Howard), friction immediately develops between coach Laurie (Jack Thompson), ageing captain Danny (Harold Hopkins) and club president Ted (Graham Kennedy). As the team's fortunes continue to decline, scheming committee member Jock (Frank Wilson) and business manager Gerry (Alan Cassell) conspire to strip Ted of his position.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
The Australian types played by Jack Thompson, Alan Cassell, Frank Wilson, Harold Hopkins and Graham Kennedy are just as true and relevant now and The Club hardly seems to have aged in the 23 years since it was made. We can recognise what's good and bad about our sports stars, business leaders and politicians from both past and present in these Aussie blokes battling it out on the field and in the boardroom.

Even with the script changes made by David Williamson for the film treatment of his play, it's still a very wordy exercise and for all it's verbal qualities this struggles visually at times. Bruce Beresford (who'd just finished Breaker Morant in South Australia when he shot it) is in full command of his all-star cast but fails in some of his attempts to take the action outside. In too many of the game sequences it's obvious that the crowd in the background consists of cardboard cut-outs (recycled from the 1970 film The Games, in fact) and Don McAlpine's camera is too frequently restless without motivation in the interiors - as if Beresford is attempting to break the shackles of a dialogue-heavy script with flashy moves in tight spaces.

Even with its technical shortcomings The Club is still a cracking yarn that speaks volumes about the Australian way (then and now) and it's arrived on DVD in championship style. The Club joins a small but growing list of Australian releases that measure up to the best of American and European product. You can tell when a DVD has been packaged with care and a dedication to include absolutely everything that's available for inclusion in the bonus materials.

Those responsible for The Club have done this Aussie favourite proud with a wonderful package of extras. The "Meet the Team" documentary is an insightful and humorous collection of anecdotes from Beresford, producer Matt Carroll, ex-Collingwood stars Rene Kink and Tony Shaw (who appear in the film as themselves) and legendary coach Tom Hafey, who acted as technical advisor to Jack Thompson. Thompson is also interviewed, summing up the film accurately with the line "every scene is an argument". The highlight of this featurette are the comments of Alan Cassell - one of Australia's great, unsung character actors who's at his best as the club's snakey business manager Gerry. Cassell's honest comments about the play being funnier than the film mark one of the rare occasions on which you'll hear critique in this kind of promotional documentary.

The 1986 Film Australia documentary Compulsive Playwright (directed by Ian Walker) is a real find. Footage of Williamson hammering away at his electric (!) typewriter and talking at the 1985 writers' conference give us valuable insight into the character and working methods of Australia's most commercially successful and frequently-filmed playwright - Stork (1971), Don's Party (1976) and Emerald City (1987), to name another three. If you have 90 minutes to spare there's the ABC-produced radio adaptation of The Club and for novelty value, how about an audio track of Jack Thompson singing the Collingwood Club song? "Singing" is perhaps an overstatement.

Talking with a languid rhythm is a more accurate way of describing Thompson's delivery as he allows the words "good old Collingwood forever, they know how to play the game" to escape from the protective custody of his lungs. A big roar from the grandstand, too, for the Up There Cazaly music video. The pictures accompanying Mike Brady's stirring footy anthem can be watched a hundred times over. The best marks of all time - Royce Hart and Alex Jesaulinko's miracle catches included - are all here and many are presented in glorious monochrome. Watching this clip, it's also good to be reminded of the time when brawling, backhanding and king-hitting were considered ideal images to accompany a song dedicated to the spirit of Australia's home-grown football code. A witty, entertaining film and top-shelf extras make this a highly recommended item.

Published September 18, 2003

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(Aus) - 1980

CAST: Jack Thompson, Graham Kennedy, Frank Wilson, John Howard, Alan Cassell, Harold Hopkins, Rene Kink

DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford

RUNNING TIME: 95minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: "Meet The Team" Interview Featurette with Jack Thompson, Bruce Beresford, Alan Cassell, Producer Matt Carroll, Rene Kink, Ray Shaw and Tom Hafey (35min). David Williamson Documentary "Compulsive Playwright" (26min). "The Club - Then and Now" - a tour of Collingwood Football Club (3 min). ABC Radio Adaptation (90 min), "Up There Cazaly" Music Video, Audio Track - Jack Thompson sings the Collingwood Football Club Song, Trailer. Language: English. Subtitles: None

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Entertainment/The AV Channel

DVD RELEASE: August 20, 2003

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