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FORSYTH , ABE: NED

NED BEHEADED
Another tall poppy beheaded . . . Is nothing sacred in comedy? Apparently not, not even the iconic Ned Kelly, at least not in the hands of Abe Forsyth and his gang, who put Ned on a pony, give him a magician’s wand and fabricate much else, ensuring nobody could take it seriously, as he tells Andrew L. Urban. 


It’s ironic, isn’t it; when 20 year old Abe Forsyth was in the process of raising finance for his film, Ned, he had to “do a song and dance” for potential investors “in an effort to prove I could direct it. Now, of course, with the film’s release, it’s a good selling point…” But now, of course, Abe Forsyth is older and wiser. He’s 21.

If you, too, think Forsyth is too young to write, direct and star in his own feature film, you may be one of those people he is targeting with his irreverent and often crude comedy, Ned, inspired by one of Australia’s iconic figures, Ned Kelly. “People can tend to take themselves a little bit too seriously in this country, their persona…that’s something that really pisses me off. That was one of the reasons we really wanted to do [Ned] - which is not to take yourself too seriously. And that’s the whole thing about Ned, his icon has been taken over by the Australian public and people hold him in really high regard, and really he was nothing more than a murdering cattle thief.”

"serial film idea syndrome" 

Ouch! But it’s not a swipe at that other Ned Kelly, the film directed by Gregor Jordan, even if that film does indeed take Ned quite seriously, as played by Heath Ledger. The fact that Jordan’s film was released on March 27, 2003, just over two months before Forsyth’s farcical version, is another example of the ‘serial film idea syndrome’, which sometimes occurs in Australia, not just in Hollywood, where just as one film based on a certain idea gets up, so does another. (There are at least two major movie projects on the go, for example, about Alexander the Great; likewise comedic witches, with movie versions of Bewitched and I Married A Witch both in development, as Nick Roddick reported last week in his Hollywood Notes.)

Anyway, Ned doesn’t take anything too seriously; in this retelling of the legendary figure, an aspiring illusionist and pony riding Ned Kelly (Abe Forsyth) applies for the job of the fourth gang member with Dan Hughes (Nick Flint), Steve Hart (Damon Herriman) and Joe Byrne (Josef Ber) and they proceed to rob the bank at Glenrowan. Over and over again. They also visit the Glenrowan Slut Palace. The whacky gang – in which Joe is hoping to steal enough money for his sex change operation - is specially targeted by the poncy English Governor Sinclair (Felix Williamson). And the reason is a secret that is even more bizarre than the gang itself. Dan Hughes hides his own secret, one that will shake Ned’s view of himself.

You can read into this story anything you like: the fact he wants to be a magician could be interpreted as a meaningful metaphor that conjures with the notion of Ned’s image being a sleight of hand. The pony he rides is a symbol of humility – and his innocence, a factor of his character in the film, might suggest some ambivalence on Forsyth’s part (as creator) about the deeper possibilities of Ned Kelly as leader of men, or rather their souls? And in the film’s structure, the tale is told in flashback by an ancient old man at contemporary Glenrowan, which has become a tacky Ned Kelly-driven tourist centre. Who is the old man? Is he telling a myth or is he the spirit of Ned? 

"The film is just a romp, a piece of piss taking"

But as Forsyth will tell you, that’s all bunk. The film is just a romp, a piece of piss taking, a typical Australian snip off the top of a tall poppy. 

Abe Forsyth has more credentials for this than meet the eye; he grew up as the son of Drew Forsyth, who has been a comedic actor all his life, slicing off the tips of tall poppies on a regular basis. Young Abe grew up surrounded by this ambiance, and seeing his dad rehearse some of those outlandish characters. “He is one of those actors who likes to transform,” says Abe.

But Ned is an all-Abe production; his father plays the very old narrator. Before Ned, Abe Forsyth has appeared in three feature films, has directed a Tropicana Award winning short, Guided by the Light of The Lord (1988) and the Matrix spoof, Computer Boy. He’s worked in TV comedy as well as drama, and this year has the lead role in the ABC’s new mini-series, Marking Time, written by the well known John Doyle and directed by Cherie Nowlan. Later this year he will be seen in the Frank Sinatra siege story, The Night We Called It A Day. 

But he will never star and direct again. “The shoot went really well, it was the most fun I ever had on anything, but I never want to act in something and direct at the same time…ever again. I had two days on the shoot when I didn’t have to act, and it was so much more fun to just rock up and not have to worry about being on camera. And to remain objective…But directing is so hard on its own, that it complicates it.”

"The word fun keeps cropping up"

The word fun keeps cropping up as he talks about directing Ned, but he recalls how fellow filmmaker Ted Robinson told him, “You’ll live and die a thousand time. And that’s pretty much how it is. You can go from one end to the other within moments, like having everything go really well, and you feel fantastic, and then you have a bit of news come in about something that’s going to affect another day’s shoot and it brings you right down.” 

It wasn’t until the editing started that Forsyth stopped having that much fun. “I did have an idea of what I was going in for when we started, but it was in post production that I really felt the pressure bear down. That’s when we – Christian Gazal, the editor, and I – really had to get it into shape. Our first cut came in at over 100 minutes and we locked it off at 82 minutes – and that took about six months of being really harsh on ourselves.”

Published May 22, 2003

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