(Note: the synopsis, commentaries and images on this site contain spoilers. Ozmovies suggests that if you haven't seen this thriller, you obtain the director-approved region four Umbrella DVD of the film and watch it before proceeding).

Kings Cross, Sydney, in the 1970s.

A group of thugs wielding hammers and axes, led by a cigar-smoking heavy (Peter Hehir) attack a group of protesting residents, sheltering inside a Victorian terrace - including Kate Dean (Judy Davis), old but defiant Annie (Tui Bow), and Mary Ford (Carole Skinner), who runs a small local radical newspaper. 

Mary's target is the dream development of architect Stephen West (Richard Moir), a futurist building at the heart of a residential development called "Eden".

Stephen's friend  and jogging partner is lawyer Philip Lawson (John Gregg), a smooth operator. Stephen's wife Victoria (Anna Jemison) is an opera-loving designer, and his partner in the architect business, Robert Duncan (Bill Hunter), is practical and gruff.

The man behind the dream is developer Peter Houseman (Chris Haywood), an energetic businessman who came to Australia with nothing, and made millions, but did it by leveraging in a way that leaves his business precarious and short on cash. In turn this leaves Stephen and Robert's business on the edge. 

Kate's idea of fun is to turn up as a waiter at a party for Houseman, where he intends to announce a generous donation to help ballet in Australia, and then tip food all over the developer, to the consternation of his wife (Lynette Curran).

Not all the residents are like Annie and want to stay in the threatened terraces - Jim Taylor (Don Crosby) wants to sell up and cash in big time - but Mary gets the head of a building union Mick Davies (Dennis Miller) to whack a building ban on the site.

Then Kate discovers Mary has suddenly disappeared, her home office empty, her kettle boiled blackened dry. 

The smarmy, corrupt police (Graham Rouse and Paul Chubb) are useless, and a journalist for the newspaper The Chronicle, Freddie Dwyer (John Meillon), starts sniffing around, asking Stephen what he knows about the missing Mary.

Then a florist messenger (Gary Waddell) turns up at Mary's house with a floral wreath for Kate - carrying the message RIP.

Kate goes off to get advice from a smarmy night club owner, Dick Molnar (Frank Gallacher), who has sleazy sexist furniture and runs a sleazy sexist strip show featuring junkie Barbie Lee Taylor (Gillian Jones).

Pressure is building on everybody as a fire races through the group of terrace houses, and Jim doesn't make it out alive. It turns out Jim was Barbie Lee's father and she blames Kate for his death.

But now that the houses are gone, Stephen is told he has to change his plans, and increase the density because the investment situation has changed.

Philip Lawson has dug up some plans for typical rat-like apartment blocks and Robert tells Stephen his overdraft has paid for the last four weeks wages.

Then Stephen learns from Freddie that Houseman sold the terraces three weeks before the fire to a dummy company, Selco registered in the name of his friend, Philip Lawson - and Mary Ford had been checking the same lead. What does he think about that?

Kate suggests that  Stephen talk to Barbie Lee, but after Barbie's done her act, she thinks he wants sex, and when she discovers he's wanting to know about Mary Ford, she has him beaten up and tossed out of the club.

So Kate takes Stephen back home to tend to his wounds, they exchange life stories, and soon enough end up in bed. When she asks him if he's ever done anything unplanned in his life, he points out he's been beaten up by two thugs and then ended up having sex with an anarchist, which proves something …

"Proves inertia, that's all", she retorts … and then confesses she blew up the bulldozers on his site last May … and then the two smarmy cops arrive with a warrant …

Naturally they fit up Kate with explosives, and verbal her, but when Stephen fixes her bail, she tells him he shouldn't have bothered. It turns out that while she's from a rich family crusading for the poor, he's a working class boy who's tried to make good.

The union is forced to lift its bans on the Eden site, and Kate decides to do some spying in Houseman's office.

He catches her in the act and when she asks him where's Mary, Houseman belts her across the face. So she belts him back, and then he evicts her. As Stephen tries to deal with drainage problems on the site, Kate tries to organise a tenants' meeting to stop Houseman proceeding with demolition first thing in the New Year.

Thinking that instead of brooding about the site, he's been off with the anarchist again, his leaves him a 'Dear Stephen' letter, and leaves him.

Meanwhile, Houseman sells out, leaving Robert in a flap and no one turns up to Kate's New Year's Eve tenants' meeting except for Stephen, who is becoming more involved in Kate's world. They rush off together when the journalist tells them a body has been found in the harbour, but it isn't Mary's. Frustratingly, Barbie Lee still refuses to help Kate, despite being told the men who killed Mary also killed her father. 

Then things spin out of control. Stephen discovers Phillip has been murdered in his luxury apartment, and the cigar-smoking bully that assaulted Kate at the start of the movie turns up to assault her again.

So Kate reaches for the snub-nosed revolver she keeps in her drawer, races past Stephen into the streets of Kings Cross, past the revellers celebrating the New Year and into the club run by sleazy Dick Molnar, celebrating his new property development, a huge Selco property development to build a huge block of ugly apartments in place of Eden.

Will Mary confront Molnar and pull the trigger? What will happen to Barbie Lee? Will the southerly land in Sydney before the humidity drives someone to murder? Will the rains pour down and bring some relief to sweaty, humid, corrupt Sydney? And as the camera creeps across the ground to look, what is that blocking the drainage in the foundations of the new development?

Exec producers:
Production Designers:
Art Directors:
Composers:
Editors:

Production Details

Production company: Preston Crothers in association with M and L Pty. Ltd. present, copyrighted in the DVD in 1981 to Heatwave Films Pty. Ltd. Sydney Australia, and in 2007 to Rumbalara Films Australia. Pty. Ltd.

Budget: $1.5 million (Murray's Australian Film); $1 million, director Phillip Noyce at Urban Cinefile here. 

Locations: set in and with some scenes filmed in  Kings Cross/Darlinghurst area, inner eastern Sydney, but opening exteriors were shot in north Newtown, inner west Sydney, substituting for the Cross.

Filmed: March-April 1981

Australian distributor: Roadshow

Theatrical release: Heatwave opened commercially in its home town of Sydney on 4th March 1982 at Village Cinema City; it was previewed at the Australia Twin in Melbourne on 28th February 1982 as part of the Moomba Film Festival and then went on commercial release. It opened in New York on 10th June 1983 at Cinema Studio 2.

Video release: Roadshow; it was originally released in early March 1983

Rating: M (December 1981, 2509.92m.)

35mm    Eastmancolor  Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision ® 

Running time: 93 mins Cinema Papers; 91 mins Murray's Australian Film; 92 minutes New York Times; 93 mins Variety.

Umbrella DVD time: 1'25"46 (with revised end credit roller, to include new HD mastering credits and new copyright notice). This is shorter than original theatrical timings and shorter than the 24-25 fps 4% differential between 35mm and tape.

Box officeHeatwave did disappointing business, especially after the critical and box office success of Noyce's first major 35mm feature, Newsfront.

According to the Film Victoria report on Australian box office it made a humble $267,000 on release, which translates into $776,970 in A$2009.

Yet surprisingly, it received generally favourable reviews in the mainstream papers - though its failure at the AFI awards killed off any chance of a revival.

It did get a release in London, but opened to mixed reviews and didn't go wide. It also got a release in New York and picked up bookings at various specialist houses around the States and Canada.

Director Phillip Noyce in an interview in the Adelaide Advertiser claimed it had sold to 15 territories, after being screened at Cannes Director's Fortnight in May 1982, but all this was a long way short from the acclaim which had seen Noyce tour the world for a couple of years soaking up the festival glamour associated with Newsfront.

Judy Davis's name did help keep the film in the media and public eye, but even her performance attracted mixed notices.

 

Opinion

Awards

Heatwave was taken to the cleaners by the voters in the 1982 AFI Awards.

It received just two nominations:

Nominated, Best Achievement in Editing (John Scott) (David Stiven, Tim Wellburn, Michael Balson, Christopher Plowright and George Miller won for Mad Max 2)

Nominated, Best Achievement in Sound (Lloyd Carrick, Greg Bell, Peter Fenton) (Roger Savage, Bruce Lamshed, Byron Kennedy, Lloyd Carrick, Marc van Buuren, Penn Robinson and Andrew Steuart won for Mad Max 2).

The film was however chose for screening for the sidebar program Directors' Fortnight at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival (Ken Cameron's Monkey Grip was chosen for Un Certain Regard).

Imdb credits John Scott with winning the AFI for editing, but the AFI's own site's list of awards credits Mad Max 2 as winning; Imdb also lists the film as having won a special mention and being nominated for best film at the 1983 Italian Mystfest, but this was a minor festival providing minor compensation for the lack of awards compared to Newsfront.

However the film's  presence in the festival did result in it being reviewed in L'Unità, Venerdì 1 Luglio 1983 - see the end of this site's reviews section and its photo gallery for a copy of that review, in Italian.

 

Availability

For a long time, Heatwave was only available on VHS via cult outlets. That changed with Umbrella releasing the film on a Phillip Noyce approved disc in 2007. There can be no complaints about image or sound, or if there is, they have to be taken up with Noyce. Perhaps the only complaint might come from those wanting to chivvy him about his ongoing desire to fiddle with the film.

There's also a very handy main extra, a 'making of' interview running 35'18" put together by Mark "Not Quite Hollywood" Hartley and copyrighted to Umbrella in 2007 - though it doesn't get off to the best start by conflating images of north Newtown, where the opening of the film was shot, with the notion that they are actually of Kings Cross.

The 'making of' is called Sweating It Out Phillip Noyce Discusses Heatwave, though in the DVD menu, it's called Re-visiting Heatwave, and the never backward Noyce delivers a good stream of insights into the film. There's also a trailer for the film, in okay condition, and the usual Umbrella propaganda.

In the interview, Noyce attempts to justify some changes he made to the image and the sound for the DVD release. These aren't as egregious or as offensive as Spielberg digitally erasing guns and replacing them with walkie-talkies in E.T., but but they sound a little strange:

The ending of the movie ties everything up because we finally find out what did happen to the Juanita Nielsen character, Mary Ford. Some people when they saw the movie complained that they didn't know whose face it was, whose head, decapitated head, was lying in the drainage ditch, so keeping in mind that two or three reviewers back in 1982 made the comment that they weren't sure who was in  the ditch I've made it easier for you guys. What I've done is, using the digital technologies, I've gone right in on that face, much further than we could physically at the time because we were using Steadicam and certain lens, so if you can't recognise that as Mary Ford, well check your glasses …

Why Noyce should have felt the need to placate a few clueless reviewers lost in time in 1982 must remain something of a mystery. Anyone who had half a brain knew what was happening in that final shot. 

And then there's some adjustments to the mix:

Back in 1982 when the film came out, I'm sitting there and watching the movie, and I'm playing my movie, which is the movie that I'm imagining and feeling, that I'd felt as I made the movie, and things seem to be going great, the audience seems to be loving it, but then I realise that actually I'm the only one who loves it, that's my movie that I'm experiencing it, and I start to look around me, and get out of the singular experience, and join forces with the people next to me, and the people next to them, as you try and do, um, when you're with an audience watching a movie, um, and I just realised that, um, they were watching, they were outside the movie they weren't really inside it, they weren't experiencing what was going on, on an emotional level with the characters … later, much later, in 2006, when I would come to re-master the sound and image of the film for this DVD release, I realised that a lot of the problem was with the background dialogue that I'd inserted during post-production, which had muddied the audience's response to the central story and to the characters …

Now when I came back to re-master Heatwave in 2006, um, I looked at the film again, and I wondered what the hell had possessed me because on many occasions in the original movie the background dialogue tended to swamp the foreground story, sometimes even so you couldn't quite hear the main dialogue and the main characters … so looking at it, and thinking about, er, the ways in which I'd changed the film during post-production, I decided to in many ways re-investigate the soundtrack and make it more like I'd originally intended when I shot the film ...           

… so when you watch Heatwave, um, you're gunna see Heatwave and a half because it's more like the original film that I wanted to make … I've cleared out a lot of the background dialogue, it's still there, you can still hear it, but it's at a much lower level, allowing the audience I hope to follow the characters and the story much better ...

The version that you'll see on DVD is, unlike the original version, it's now in Dolby Digital surround sound. We've taken the music, we've spread it, we've taken samples of all the sound effects and spread them out and placed them left and right like, well, more like a Dolby digital surround soundtrack would sound. Hopefully we haven't destroyed the original movie because it's still got that multi-layered textured quality … and you can enjoy the film even more than you would have if you'd seen it in the cinema back in  the early 1980s.

Nowadays I try and get my movies in front of an audience within a few weeks of shooting, so I can start to edit the film in conjunction with the audience, using the audience  as a sounding board, seeing what works and what doesn't, changing the background sounds, the music, changing the order of scenes and making that an organic process that's done in conjunction with the audience but back in 1982 I hadn't heard of that so there I was watching Heatwave for the first time and realising that I wasn't certain that it worked. Hopefully you'll disagree, hopefully this for you today, Heatwave will work …

Perhaps the polite thing for Noyce to do would have been to supply the original mix on one DVD track, so that it could be compared and contrasted to his new version, but magicians often don't like to divulge their tricks (well some good magicians don't mind - Penn and Teller will tell you how they did some tricks because they know they can fool their audience anyway).

But the desire to fiddle with the mix does suggest that Noyce has changed. When the film was released in 2007 on DVD, it was greeted by Urban Cinefile in this way:

On the 25th anniversary of its cinema release, Phillip Noyce’s second feature, Heatwave, may get a better reaction on DVD than it did at the time, with audiences appreciating that it belongs to a different, riskier era in the history of Australian cinema, as Noyce tells Andrew L. Urban.


“I’d have no doubt shot it differently … told the story differently, today,” says Phillip Noyce. Maybe that’s because I’m more conservative. I might have made the connections between the conspirators more certain, rather than implied. Heatwave belongs to a different era in Australian cinema, a time when we took a lot risks. I guess that comes with youth – the youth of the director [Noyce was 31 at the time] and the youth of that second new wave of filmmakers. It was a time when there was a love affair between audiences and Australian cinema, something which these days is rather on and off.” (For the rest, see Urban Cinefile here).

There's more than a hint of truth in that move from risk-taking to a conservative approach, and perhaps it helps explain why Noyce fiddled with the mix prior to its digital release.

Back in the day Noyce had been a member of the determinedly experimental Sydney Film-makers' Co-op. At the time, layered sound tracks were a favoured form of experimentation - perhaps most obviously exploited by another Co-op member, Albie Thoms, in his experimental feature Palm Beach (Noyce had also been briefly a part of the Palm Beach push).

It's hard not to imagine that when Noyce ran his Hollywood trained ears over his earlier experiment in layered sounds that he wanted to make it less experimental, more conventional, and allow viewers more direct access to the drama. On the one hand, some viewers might appreciate the more conventional treatment; others might yearn for the original. Some might wonder if Noyce fiddled with the cut, as well as with making the end shot more explicit, which would help explain the shorter DVD running time compared to original theatrical timings.

That said, as David Stratton notes, Noyce is a better director than Donald Crombie, who covered something of the same Sydney corruption turf in his film The Killing of Angel Street, and Heatwave for all its flaws and misfires, remains a more interesting noirish effort - some viewers might almost suspect that Noyce loves to be drenched in sweat and corruption.

The Umbrella release serves the film well, even if it's in part a newly imagined version of the old film.

For those who don't like watching actual feature-length films, the ASO has three short clips from the film here. The best that can be said is that the clips might act as tasters, persuading viewers to get the DVD and watch the show. At time of writing, this release remained freely available in the new and second hand markets.

1. Source:

(a) The original script and its writers:

Heatwave began as a script by Mark Stiles and Tim Gooding.

Stiles began his working life as an architect. He is listed at AustLit (subscription service) here, and his blog provides this short CV: 

I have had three careers so far, a short one in architecture, a longer one in film-making, and a continuing one in teaching.

After studying architecture at Sydney University in the early 1970s, I spent a short time with the NSW Government Architect’s Branch, working on heritage buildings and school projects. Then a long-standing interest in film gradually drew me away and I became a freelance film-maker for the next twenty years, writing and directing documentaries; these included films for the Prisoners’ Action Group and a film about a Sydney landmark, the Anthony Hordern & Sons department store, made with Mark Jackson. I also worked as a writer on a number of unproduced drama projects, the exception being the script for Heatwave, directed by Philip Noyce and produced by Hilary Linstead.

I began teaching part-time in the early 1990s, first in film and later in architecture and design. I became a full-time lecturer in the UTS interior design program in 1998 and remained there until the end of 2010. Along the way I completed my doctorate, on John Ruskin’s reception in nineteenth-century Australia, under Peter Kohane and Catherine De Lorenzo at UNSW. I also learned to draw again.

Now I am continuing to teach part-time at various design schools in Sydney, and devoting more time to my writing and drawing. (See blog here).

Tim Gooding is listed at AustLit (subscription service) here, and the Australian Writer's Centre provides this short CV here:

Tim Gooding writes for stage, film and television. He is also a musician and songwriter. Tim’s feature film credits include Heatwave and On the Loose. He is the recipient of a Distinctly Australian Writers Fellowship from the Australian Film Commission. He devised and co-wrote the ABC TV series Sweet and Sour, the soundtrack of which achieved platinum sales and was a nationwide hit.

He has written television comedy – The Aunty Jack Show, The Norman Gunston Show,Wollongong The Brave, Ratbags – and drama – Rafferty’s Rules, Blue Heelers, Stingers, Water Rats, All Saints – plus numerous other series involving doctors, lawyers, and police officers, or a blend of the three, on land, sea and in the air. For younger viewers he has contributed scripts to Mortified, Time Trackers, Heartbreak High, CJ the DJ, Penelope K By The Way, and others. Tim’s episode 6 of Mortified, “The Talk”, won First Prize at the 2007 Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, and the Theme Prize at 2008 Prix Jeunesse in Munich.

His theatre productions include the musical plays King Of Country and Rock-Ola, Tentshow Pagliacci, The Astounding Optimissimos, and a new translation of Molière’s The Miser. The Sydney Theatre Company production of his comedy Drums Along The Diamantina featured Mel Gibson as Wayne from Queensland.

There is a more detailed bio for Gooding at his own site, still up at time of writing, here

(b) Marc Rosenberg:

The film was then developed with writer Marc Rosenberg, who would later work with Rolf de Heer before heading to the United States (and then returning to Australia with December Boys in 2007). He has a short wiki here. A USC site promoting a screening of Rosenberg's feature Elevator provided this short bio here:

Marc Rosenberg grew up in Houston, Texas and attended the University of Texas, Austin. While at university, he created and ran the literary and arts magazine, Advent.

At the age of 23, Rosenberg began a journey that would eventually land him in Australia. He worked in London as an estate agent and later spent a year on kibbutz in Israel.  After arriving in Australia, he applied for and won a place at the prestigious Australian Film and TV School in Sydney. He was the first non-Australian citizen to be accepted. He received several awards for short films and met Phillip Noyce (Salt, Clear and Present Danger, Dead Calm, etc.). Phil invited Rosenberg to co-write the feature film, Heatwave, starring Judy Davis. The film was selected for the ‘Director’s Fortnight’ at the Cannes Film Festival.

In the following years, Rosenberg wrote several TV series and the feature films: Encounter at Raven’s Gate (co-producer), Dingo (co-producer) starring Miles Davis, The Serpent’s Lair and December Boys, starring Daniel Radcliffe. For Dingo Rosenberg won the Australian Writer’s Guild Award for ‘Best Original Screenplay’ and the NSW Premier’s Award for 'Best Original Screenplay’. For December Boys, Rosenberg won the Australian Writer’s Guild’s Award for ‘Best Feature Adaptation’.

Rosenberg met Stig Svendsen at the Giffoni Film Festival in 2008. Soon after, they hatched the idea for Elevator. Marc told Stig that they needed to make a film that was like "a blow to the head". This is clearly what they've done.

Marc currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California.  

(c) History of Development:

In an interview in Cinema Papers in June 1982, director Phillip Noyce explained the history of the project's development as he saw it:

The film was originally conceived by two architecture graduates, Tim Gooding and Mark Stiles. When I got to the script it was called King's Cross, Tim Gooding was no longer working on it and Mark Stiles had done several drafts by himself. That was in December 1979 and, at that stage, it wasn't set in a heatwave or around Christmas.

Although the central character was an architect, a consideration of the the dilemma facing a contemporary architect was not as important to the screenplay as the political elements. For better or worse, I encouraged the screenplay to take the directions we see in the final film.

Mark Stiles worked with me on a number of drafts, and then Mark (sic, Marc) Rosenberg came into the project and worked with us. Eventually, Mark Stiles felt that the screenplay reflected more of our taste, that is of Mark (sic) Rosenberg and myself, so we decided, amicably, to take the principal responsibility for it.

Noyce expanded a little more on this in his DVD interview:

It had been written in collaboration with Tim Gooding although in the script that I read only one scene of Tim Goodings remained. It's the scene where Barbie the night club dancer is interviewed by Richard Moir's character, the young architect. Well that scene's exactly as Tim Gooding had written it in the original screenplay that first came to me. 

(d) Inspiration of real events:

The film was inspired by real events, most notably the disappearance of anti-developer campaigner Juanita Nielsen - an event which inspired another Australian feature The Killing of Angel Street, unfortunately made and released around the same time as Heatwave.

According to Noyce in his Cinema Papers' interview, Nielsen's death was what inspired Mark Stiles:

Originally, Mark stiles set out to make a comment on the disappearance of Nielsen and the destruction of one particular street, but I felt that the film had the potential to be about a whole city.

By coincidence, Noyce had moved into the Kings Cross area, for reasons he explained in his Cinema Papers' interview:

Most of my friends live there. I am a bit like Kate Dean (Judy Davis's character in the film); I covet a close neighborhood relationship with people, rather than the separateness of suburban living.

I have lived all over Sydney, and in some beautiful places like Palm Beach. But I really like being a pedestrian and living an inner-city life where people can meet and talk, and get to know each other. Also, I find that King's Cross is a source of enormous energy It is the place where everyone in the country goes to get their rocks off in one way or another, whether they come from Broken Hill or Darwin. It is the focal point for a certain kind of energy - it is all focused on that strip in King's Cross. I live just over the hill from there, which means I don't have to encounter it - I live in a quiet street - and yet I can draw from it.

In his DVD interview, Noyce shed further light on his inner city fixation and explained how his move to live in Kings Cross had helped inspire his interest in the subject matter:

Receiving the script coincided with me moving into Kings Cross, a suburb that I was attracted to for a number of reasons, principally because in the street that I moved into, Surrey Street that was where my parents met, and a friend of mine had recently purchased the whole of Surrey Street from a great big development company, all these squatters have moved into the houses, the unoccupied houses, and wouldn't be evicted and it became a political issue, so my friend bought all the houses and then offered them to his friends free of charge for the first year, so you didn't have to pay anything, so suddenly fifty new owner occupiers moved in and one by one we had to fight the squatters, but that had introduced me to this whole battle between old and new Sydney, between working class and the emerging  middle class, particularly in the inner city area … and here was a script that dealt with the same pressures …

Since the nineteenth century a lot of these areas had been designated as government housing, housing estates for the poor. Suddenly some real estate developers in the 70s thought okay here's a grand opportunity to make a good profit. Let's buy these houses off the government and re-develop them as high rise apartments

A bitter struggle had developed in the Woolloomooloo area and just below Kings Cross, between some of the traditional dwellers, mostly working class Sydney-siders and the property developers.

One of the leaders of the anti-development campaign was a Sydney heiress Juanita Nielsen and from a very good family, she ran a newspaper that was vehemently opposed to the re-development of these areas and this was a script inspired by the disappearance of Juanita Nielsen. 

Of course I didn't know at that time that somebody else had also written a screenplay and was planning to make a film sort of dealing with some of the same issues. This would be a film that would be directed by Donald Crombie and called The Killing of Angel Street …

As soon as I read the screenplay and realised that this was a story that I wanted to become involved in I went out and started trying to find out how real their screenplay was, compared to what happened, and I was living amongst all the survivors of that conflict. 

There's a lot of real life characters that you could say this movie is based on and there was one particular guy in Kings Cross in Sydney who was sometimes referred to as Mr Sin who ran a lot of the nightclubs in Kings Cross. There were theories that this particular gentleman had invested money in the redevelopment of Woolloomooloo and Kings Cross area … and that therefore he was very anxious that the projects that he'd invested in should go ahead, and when the nexus of traditional residents, their middle class supporters and the Builders' Labourers' Federation put a stop order on certain developments, the theory was that the underworld figure  had stepped in, his henchmen were strong arming the squatters who were trying to prevent the buildings from being torn down … and that in fact he had ordered the hit on the leading anti-development campaigner, in real life Juanita Nielsen …

The theory going around was that she'd actually made an appointment to go to a particular night club, she'd been asked to come on the offer of some advertising for her little newspaper that she ran and she'd disappeared on her way to that meeting, supposedly been murdered and was now buried under the foundations of one of the buildings. All of that was speculation, I've never actually seen any absolutely concrete evidence, but as a resident of Kings Cross at the time I would have breakfast in a certain cafe owned by this particular notorious gentleman and he got to know that I was making the movie, um, and though we never spoke to each other um, we'd always nod to each other in the mornings, he's now dead and who knows if it was him or not, but that was the word on the street so that's how we changed the screenplay.    

In his Cinema Papers' interview, Noyce noted some other elements:

Many elements provided inspiration for the screenplay. The disappearance and alleged murder of Juanita Nielsen is perhaps the most controversial and well-known element. But just as important were such disparate events as the Hilton bombing, the crash of the Nugan-Hand bank, the death of Frank Nugan and discussions I had with dozens of people.

Noyce also noted some filmic inspirations:

It is interesting to list the films that the cast and crew studied for months before the film. They were: Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The Conformist, Parallax View, Big Sleep, Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, The Fountainhead and a documentary made by Pat Fiske in Sydney called Woolloomooloo. You draw inspiration from many sources.

(e) Original Intentions:

In his DVD interview, director Noyce almost sounds as if he regrets the way the script later developed:

At one stage during the screenplay writing process, or re-writing process, the movie had started as it does now, amongst some squatters inside an old city terrace house waiting for a break-in that would occur … force them out of that house … and amongst the squatters was the character of Stephen West (Richard Moir) and then the camera went in to his eyes and it went back through his journey to how he'd been hired as an architect to design a building which had become the centre piece of this conflict and how he'd met this character played by Judy Davis (Kate Dean) and how she had been murdered, and so the Judy Davis character was the Juanita Nielsen character, the Mary Ford character, and in a sense the architect had taken her place. He'd been radicalised by his love affair with her, completely radicalised, much more than in the finished film and when she died, he became her, and now at the end of the movie, he's waiting inside this Victorian terrace house as one of the defenders of the building that's to be demolished to make way for his own design. So it was a much stronger in many ways story from his point of view.

I don't know all this time why we abandoned that structure because when I recalled that structure from looking at one of the old screenplays, um, with the value of hindsight, which is easy, I thought 'wow, that's a better story'. Maybe it was because when Judy Davis became involved we abandoned that approach because it made the architect very much the central character and lessened her role, I don't know why we changed that, but that would be an interesting version of Heatwave …

(f) Religious elements:

In Newsfront Noyce had structured his story so that religion and in particular cameraman hero Bill Hunter's hero cameraman character's Irish Catholicism was a central part of the story.

Noyce claimed he'd done the same in Heatwave, though it is not nearly as explicit or as obvious (the most obvious references are visual icons in the background). Perhaps he was pitching the angle to appeal to Peter Malone, a Catholic priest whose interview with Noyce is at his invaluable site here:

Q: In Heatwave we again find ethical issues. You have used the word 'confrontation' several times. Heatwave seems to be an ethical-confrontational film.

A: Yes. Heatwave was the story of a working-class Protestant boy who made good. I don't know whether audiences realised that, but we had always assumed that he was a working-class Protestant and that Judy Davis's character was a middle-class Catholic girl. She, in the Catholic saintly tradition, had adopted a social cause - had set herself up as the spokesperson and protector of the working class. He, as a working-class boy, of course, was now forced to confront the moral implications of his own success and how that affected other people.

In a way, the religious and ethnic backgrounds of the two characters were just a continuation of the conflicts that we had seen in Newsfront, but Australia had by this stage moved from a principally working-class and upper-class society to a principally middle-class society.

That's captured in the atmosphere of inner Sydney, its buildings and the regulations of law and government.

Obviously it's a film which deals with ethics and morals and responsibilities and just like Clear and Present Danger, the issue of right and wrong. But it seems as though so much Australian history - and I'm talking about that conflict between Irish Catholicism and English Anglicanism - was captured in those conflicts over land development. By that time, of course, it had been embraced by groups who had come to Australia after World War Two. The English seemed to have joined with any nouveau riche who presented themselves, whether they were Czechoslovakian or Hungarian or whatever.

The most interesting thing about Australia is Irish Catholicism - I mean, it's the basis of the country.

Interestingly enough, I think that it is the basis of the value system and has had much more effect - or at least it has produced the unique Australian character - much more than the English, in my opinion, simply because of its strength.

(g) Forget it Jake, it's Sydney town:

Another theme, according to Noyce in his Cinema Papers' interview, was paranoid Sydney:

In Sydney, we are constantly scandalized by stories of alleged corruption, big business wheeler-dealing and deals that are allegedly being done between politicians, unionists, sportsmen, entertainers ad infinitum. It is always going on; it is a very paranoid city. People are always looking over their shoulder and wondering who is up to what. And body, throughout all this maze of almost paranoid rumors, has been able to put it together. I didn't want to put it all together either, because I thought, if no one else has been able to, why should I presume that I could?

What I find interesting about all this is the atmosphere that seems to be so prevalent in Sydney, the paranoia of contemporary Sydney, where everyone has a little piece of information, but nobody has all the pieces that make up the jigsaw.

The film attempts, therefore, in its structure of almost clipped montage and in its visual style, to move cinematically from social realism - that is, a realistic interpretation of characters and events - through to a much more disjointed type of surrealism.

(h) An area not explored:

In his Cinema Papers' interview, Noyce noted a few areas which were only hinted at in the film but were not explored for reasons of time:

I couldn't have brought in any more elements. We tried to deal with so many as it is, although we do refer briefly to the Housing Commission. Mary Ford says at the residents' meeting that if they can stall this a little longer Hausman (sic, Houseman) will go broke, and the Government will take over, which is a reference to public housing, the only real solution to the problem of Edens being built. Edens are going to continue too be built, and that means lower-income earners, people who are disadvantaged for whatever reason, will continue to suffer without some form of intervention.

Violence is one form of intervention, which has been mainly practised, at least in the Sydney experience, by people who have wanted to build the buildings rather than those who have opposed them. But I think public housing is a more practical solution. We canvassed this only briefly.

2. Casting:

(a) Judy Davis:

Phillip Noyce had a particular idea of the character played by Judy Davis, as he explained in his June 1982 Cinema Papers' interview:

… she is playing a character who is caught in a class vacuum. She has rejected her middle-class background and is trying to identify with the working class, which she would like to adopt. She is trying to change her spots, and a leopard can't do that….

Judy said to me, "I take it that what you are aiming for is to show my journey in this film as a journey towards total alienation." She summed it up better than I could have.

In his DVD interview interview, Noyce explained the inspiration of the character and why he wanted Davis for the role:

Judy Davis had burst on to the Australian and the international film scene straight out of NIDA. She'd been chosen to play the lead in Gillian Armstrong's film My Brilliant Career, a big hit in Australia, sold all over the world and of course did very very well in the UK and America and Judy just seemed to have that kind of unresolved, pent-up energy … that reminded me of many of the women like that character that I'd gone to university with. In some ways Kate was inspired by Meredith Burgmann who now is a member of the NSW Parliament but then had … and was the daughter of  patrician parents, um but when I was at Sydney University never a week went past that Meredith Burgmann didn't make an appearance on the front lawn during a time when demagogues  were worshipped by us all …

Meredith was a leader of any radical issue, a leader on any radical issue… but the irony was that she was from very well-to-do parents but was an advocate for the under-dog … the Kate Dean character was based on Meredith and other women like her and Judy, as I said, just seemed to have that unresolved anger in her … maybe for real she had that unresolved anger so she was a natural fit (anyone interested in Burgmann can find more details at her wiki here. She is listed at the NSW Parliament here, and the Ernies have their own website here).

Ozmovies can confirm Davis had a certain amount of pent-up energy, having witnessed Davis in a fit of road rage in a Mercedes station wagon trying to turn from Victoria Road into Balmain's Darling road, and Davis getting agitated about a car ahead of her not moving fast enough for her liking, and going off in an epic fit of verbal abuse and anger, but this being Sydney, almost every driver is prone to road rage. Still it was an unforgettable moment - she was at the time living in Birchgrove - though perhaps not up to some of the anecdotes about Davis letting her feelings be known on set with other cast and crew.

Davis herself agreed with the assessment. She was quoted in the Age on 24th March 1981 saying:

Her role in 'Heatwave" is close to her own character. 'Kate is a bit passionate and count of control emotionally, which I can be like," she said.

Noyce and Davis were neighbours, ironically part of the nouveau push displacing older Kings Cross dwellers, as Noyce noted in his DVD interview:

She'd also recently moved into the same street that I was living in, Surrey street in Kings Cross. She'd later moved two streets down to  Barcom Avenue but she was also sort of living the experience of the movie 'cause she moved into that same street of terrace houses where just six months before that had been occupied by squatters …

Perhaps this inspired Cinema Papers to ask Noyce about the amount of autonomy Davis had when it came to her role:

Judy Davis is a star. She will always be different, but she will always be Judy Davis. I think that when we look at her, we suspend our disbelief. For me, Bryan Brown is similar.

But the real question you are asking is: how much autonomy does an actor have? Under my direction, an actor has as much autonomy as I can give them. No one director, as far as I am concerned, is ever going to be able to come up with more ideas than any two actors. An actor studies his or her character, tries to work out a logic for the behaviour as detailed in the script, and tries to communicate, perhaps, a lot that is not written in the dialogue. Actors try to make sense out of the progression or journey they are asked to undertake from the first to the last frame.

The director sets up the facility for actors to study the background of their characters - talking about where they would have come from, where they will be in 10 years, what school they come from, their religion, what they have studied, the jobs they have done - all those sorts of things. If it is a professional interest, such as in Richard Moir's case, in acting the role of an architect, I would encourage him to undertake a fairly detailed study of architecture, and meet a lot of architects.

Still, you would like all your actors to take flight - that is, to inhabit the role, to take it over - and I guess Judy is more possessive than most actors. It is not that she is more dedicated, but that she almost becomes the character. She goes through a metamorphosis as she approaches a role. You can feel that the tensions running through her body are quite different as she approaches every film.

(b) Richard Moir:

In the June 1982 Cinema Papers' interview, director Philip Noyce compared Stephen West's character to that of the Judy Davis character:

… he is on a very different journey. He is, in a sense, an opposite, an upward mobile. They collide at Christmas, then everyone goes back to their real homes, whether they are living in a luxurious Harbour-side apartment or a tenement house in the inner city.

I often meet people who come from quite opposed backgrounds, and I am attracted to them for all kinds of reasons; they tend to have a certain magnetism…

… Richard is playing a character that is the antithesis of the macho lead man we have come to expect in cinema. Most of his action takes place in his mind. He is not a strongly physical person. The experience of working with Richard was a very pleasant one.

In his DVD interview, regarding the casting of Richard Moir to play the role, Noyce said:

Then for the part of Stephen West you know I was looking for someone who could convincingly play an architect … and I'd known Richard Moir since I was 18 … we'd got to know each other in our final year at school when we realised we both had an obsession for cinema. Richard in his first year out of high school joined the ABC as a film editor. I went down to the ABC inspired by him and said I want a job as a film editor'. They said, 'well, we want to know that you want to be, really want to be a film editor, and I said 'well, actually if you're gunna put it like that I really want to be a film director' and they said 'ah well you can't  work as a film editor then if you want to be a director' so I didn't get the job. Richard did. His life went through many stages and next thing I know he's the star of Esben Storm's film In Search of Anna and he just had this wonderful strength and sensitivity 

 I thought 'you know, this guy could be a movie star' … although to tell you the truth, although they're playing lovers in the movie, Richard, who had almost no formal training as an actor and Judy who had been a graduate of NIDA, they never really hit it off, I think Judy was a bit uncertain about Richard because he'd, he wasn't the part of the Sydney acting fraternity, he'd just become an overnight movie star …

Any character that eventually appears up on the big screen is a combination of three factors er, (1) the screenplay, (2) the director and (3) the actor themselves um and you know Richard is playing an architect … he's not a he-man, Richard's not a he-man himself, we're trying to capture that particular artistic temperament, I guess it was inspired by many architects that I knew, particularly the Sydney architect Richard Le Pastrier. Architects are generally the absolute essence of the artistic temperament, they have to be practical but they won't survive unless they're dreamers … they tend to be soft in nature …

Richard was cast and he tried to etch a character that was like the architects that I exposed him to, and the architects that I'd met in my life, architect's a bit like a film director in many ways,  there's this struggle between individual expression and the needs of the viewer and the financier or the user and the financier in the case of an architect …someone's got to live in the building or use a building and someone's putting up the money and yet at the same time you're being paid to design something that's original so how do you marry those three sometimes incompatible wants …

There are compromises that you've got to make every single day of directing a movie and building a building … things cost more than you'd imagined …

In the film, it's not really the property developer who's messing with the architect , the property developer is being messed with by everyone as well and behind it all are the people with the money who are maybe financing the property developer …

Everything would be fine as long as they could have built the building in the first place …there's no blue sky … no one can see an end to this … there's no certainty that the building will be completed, there's no certainty that the interest payments will, the need to keep paying the interest will stop, um, and somebody has to break this, this, deadlock … the only one who can break it is the architect by changing the building, changing it so it pleases everyone a little bit … Is he naive? Mmmm, no, because I think that originally Chris Haywood's character of the property developer, um, I think he really signed on for this revolutionary design that's based around the concept of people living inside a tree I think he's signed on for it thinking that he could sell it to Sydney-siders um and make himself both rich and famous 'cause clearly he's seeking more than just monetary gain … he wants to be accepted in Sydney society, he's happy that he's won awards in the past for the buildings that have been designed by Stephen West, Richard Moir's character  … so everyone's signed on I think with the best intentions, this is a movie about what happens when you know something goes wrong …

(c) Chris Haywood:

When asked about the youthful, larrikin aspect that Chris Haywood brought to his property developer character, Phillip Noyce said in his June 1982 Cinema Papers' interview:

That is deliberate. It was written for Chris Haywood. In Mark Stiles' first screenplay the developer had been conceived as 55, balding and Jewish - the stereotype of a real-estate developer. But it is certainly not true of the Sydney scene. Most of the real-estate developers, some of whom I know quite well, are under 40. They are extraordinarily likeable people, and very dynamic.

What we didn't want was for the film to become a predictable goodies versus baddies television episode - the bad real-estate developer and the good lower-income workers who are his tenants. Life is a lot more complex than that - although finally, perhaps, it boils down to black and white. But there is hell of a lot of grey in between.

We deliberately set out  to make the character most of the audience would identify as the bad guy as the most attractive character in the film. The audience then would be uncertain in their reactions to the character. So, although they might like to hate him, they cannot help but like him.

As Noyce further explained in his DVD interview:

It was written for Chris Haywood. Chris had played Bill Hunter's off-sider in Newsfront, a wonderfully infectious actor, great energy … with that inevitable Cockney accent, he remains the essence of the nouveau riche, new Australian business man, you know …

I'd known a lot of property developers and some of them had been born outside Australia from humble origins … coming penniless to this country meant you know that they were hungrier to make things work … and Chris just seemed to capture the giddy heights, well what were heights at that time, they've been far exceeded by what's happened in Sydney property development over the last twenty years but the giddy heights of the mid 1970s  real estate developer scene in Sydney ...

(d) Mr Sin and the Junkie:

At the time of his June 1982 Cinema Papers' interview, director Phillip Noyce was disingenuous about the real Mr. Sin, who was Abe Saffron, and who was -if not directly responsible for the murder of Juanita Nielsen - likely to have been the key figure who approved and facilitated the crime, and whom Noyce knew on a nodding basis.

Curiously even in the later DVD interview Noyce doesn't mention Saffron by name.

In the film, the 'Mr Sin' character, Dick Molnar, was played with skill by Frank Gallacher (ensuring he would go on to do a number of other sleazy character studies). Noyce said in his Cinema Papers' interview:

I suppose these characters could have been more developed, but they deliberately weren't. Molnar, the strip-club owner, is a mythical figure in Sydney. Stories of Mr Bigs and Mr Sins are always around in that scene. We are always hearing stories that such and such a guy runs the brothel scene, and such a guy runs the drug scene, or that this guy is the king of crime and vice. And all the kings of vice are shadowy figures about whom the public knows very little. We sometimes see their pictures in the paper, and there are allegations made about their associations with people.

We tried to make the character of Molnar a stereotype, inasmuch as he reproduced the average Sydneysider's relationship with Mr Sin - a man who comes and goes, but about whom not too much is known.

Noyce's reticence is understandable. At the time that Noyce was doing his Cinema Papers' interview, Saffron was alive and kicking and as powerful and as corrupt as ever.

Noyce at one time told this writer that he woke up one morning to discover his name had been attached to a funeral notice in a Sydney newspaper, a fairly clear and precise threat.

Noyce might have been channeling Kate Dean's character - in the film she receives a floral funeral wreath with an RIP ribbon - but there's little doubt Noyce and the production received advice that too much reality when it came to the Mr Sin/Abe Saffron character would not be welcomed. 

The junkie, Barbie Lee Taylor, played in the film by Gillian Skinner, was another part of the Kings Cross atmosphere in the film:

Barbie Lee is the one character we inherited from the original draft Tim Gooding worked on. Is she a stereotype? Well, I live in King's Cross, and I think I have met a lot of Barbie Lees. They are stereotypes because heroin does strange things to people, in that heroin addicts tend to act in similar ways. I am not suggesting that heroin leads people to commit murders; but there is a uniformity about their characters, their obsessions and their speech patterns. So, I would say that she is a justified stereotype.

(e) Other Cast:

The other cast in the film were strong - Bill Hunter returned to renew his partnership with Chris Haywood in Newsfront, Tui Bow was an old stager who ironically had turned up in Don Crombie's The Irishman, Dennis Miller was familiar from shows such as the prison drama Stir, and so on.

But as Noyce himself admits, perhaps the drama was skewed by the casting of Carole Skinner as Mary Ford, who is the stand-in for the real-life Juanita Nielsen character. Skinner was a well-known character actor, who gives the role a working class edge, as opposed to Nielsen's heiress background. This veering from the real story seems designed to ensure that Judy Davis's character - assigned the 'rich girl' persona - stays alive at the end of the drama.

3. Production:

(a) The opening:

According to the Australian Women's Weekly 25th March 1981, Davis did her own stunts in the opening scene:

Judy Davis is standing on the rooftop of an orange three-storey terrace in Newtown, Sydney, grimly clutching a cornice. A wire extends from the back of her pedal-pushers. Is she Peter Pan about to take flight? No, she is Kate Dean, judge's daughter, fighter of causes and saver from the developers - of houses.

In a moment when both the clouds and the cameras have rolled, she will let go of the cornice, stand erect and shout to the mob below: "Why are all these people being forced out of their homes?" The wire is part of a safety harness. Judy Davis is terrified of heights. "I've got bandy legs - they tend to put my balance out a bit," she says.

While some filming was done in Kings Cross, the opening scenes were filmed in north Newtown. The row of terraces are in Georgina street/Park Lane, the park is Hollis park, and Kate Dean's house is one of a row of terraces in Warren Ball Avenue, most of which have now become fully gentrified. 

(b) The title and the heatwave:

In his DVD interview, Phillip Noyce explained the title of the film, which in turn becomes a distinctive feature in the production, including the logistics for a climactic scene using rain-makers:

Well the heatwave of the title is just such a part of a Sydney summer. Traditionally between about mid-December and mid-February the cycle of weather in Sydney is that we have a series of ever increasingly hot and humid days where the humidity gets up somewhere in the eighties and the temperature rises up through the nineties, sometimes into the early hundreds. We start to set our watches, starting about three days before the heatwave breaks, because we hear that there's a cold front starting down near Melbourne or in the Tasman sea that's gunna be moving up … these heatwaves can sometimes last up to seven days but on the last day you know you're following the southerly as we call them, you're following it as it passes through the towns to the south, and cities to the south of Sydney, now you set your hourly watch by it you know it's coming at 3.30 it just passed through Moruya, it's passed through Wollongong, it's getting closer, it's moved through the national park, and then finally it hits … the mood of Sydney changes in about three minutes …    the temperature goes from a hundred and two  to seventy four and the person you'd wanted to kill a moment before suddenly seems like your best friend again, everything seems okay whereas yesterday it seemed like you were in a hell and that was the inspiration for the title and you know the idea of setting this story around Christmas during a heatwave with the southerly finally coming on New Year's eve … when the story is dramatically resolved as so many little stories have been in Sydney's history, little personal stories have been resolved by the southerly arriving.

(c) The futurist design of Eden:

In his Cinema Papers' interview, Noyce explained how the building heavily featured in the building, in model form, came about:

We invited a couple of architects to submit designs and, quite by accident, the one to which we responded best was designed by a man whose experience paralleled that of the film architect, Steve West. The designer, Paul Pholeros (sic, Phaleros), became the alter ego for Steve West. He walked into our office, as Steve West may well have done, with a series of crazy drawings and a futuristic design for a building, and within a short time he had convinced us that this was the one for us. So we gave him his blank cheque to build his 3-metre by 6-metre model, and he set to work with a team of model builders. It took them many months to build. Of course, the building could be built: it is practical.

Pholeros remained on the set to give advice on architectural matters. The character of West was also helped along by advice from other architects, and by Richard Moir's interpretation.

Paul Phaleros continued to work as an architect into the new millenium, and he and his work can be easily googled.

(d) "The Creeping Camera" and Vince Monton:

Noyce had previously worked with DOP Monton on Newsfront, and he wanted to keep this collaboration going.

In his June 1982 Cinema Papers' interview, director Noyce discussed the film's visual style:

You may have noticed that one of the visual motifs is a converging camera, but it is not a fast converging camera: it creeps forward slowly, which of course culminates in the final shot of the film. ….

One of our original ideas, conceived in conjunction with our director of photography, Vince Monton, was that with every minute of the film the size of each of the characters in the frame should change. The film should start out quite loose - and, of course, a loose frame doesn't communicate tension - and then slowly creep in. This way the tension builds up, until the last section of the film, which was to have been shot on long telephoto lenses that isolated the characters from their background.

I eventually shied away from that because we had gone to a lot of trouble to short-circuit characterization by using decor and visual elements within the frame to tell our story. I felt that if we started to isolate the faces from the background, we would lose another thing we had been aiming for: to convey the idea that people's actions are influenced by the decor and architecture of the rooms in which they live and think. So, in fact, we didn't follow those original ideas through as far as we could have.

(e)  Locale and Costume:

In The Killing of Angel Street, director Donald Crombie and his team built several terrace houses by the harbour so that one of them could be demolished.

While displaying an awareness of inner city Sydney architecture, director Noyce took a different path - jumping from sledgehammers being wielded in a terrace house (the opening was actually filmed in the suburb of Newtown) to a large construction site in its early stages of development.

At the same time, Noyce focussed on the environment and costuming of his characters to define their place in Sydney, though some of this might be missed by people with little knowledge of the town, as Noyce noted when discussing the clothing for Judy Davis's character:

… her clothes, which may not be so recognizable to an audience outside Sydney. The T-shirt she often wears, with the Waratah emblem, comes from a very exclusive boutique. Although she has set herself up as a savior of the lower classes, there are visual hints in the first half of the film that she is in fact from a middle-class background. Viewers who are conscious of a costume would realize that she was not wearing a $1 T-shirt, and could not have, therefore, been genuinely a part of that working-class milieu.

The T-shirt features an abstract image of the waratah, in something of a Margaret Preston style - the flower is the flora emblem for NSW.

(f) Music:

In his Cinema Papers' interview, June 1982, Phillip Noyce discussed the role music and the soundtrack played:

… the music plays a very important part in the evocation of atmosphere; so do the camera movements. A number of pieces were recorded as guide tracks before the film was shot, and played to the crew and myself while we were shooting so we could sort of get into the same rhythm as the music we had planned.

Eighty-five per cent of the film is underscored by music of one sort or another, and the composer, Cameron Allan, the sound designer, Greg Bell, and myself had a very close relationship (at the time Allan also lived in Kings Cross). We considered all the elements together in planning the whole soundtrack - that is music and sound effects - rather than one team working independently of the other.

I suppose one of the chief means by which a mood is created, and again it is tied up with an attempt to create this feeling of paranoia, is the creeping camera, which is almost like someone tip-toeing through a place he is not meant to be in ...

4. Release:

(a) Failure:

Heatwave did disappointing business, especially after the critical and box office success of Noyce's first major 35mm feature, Newsfront.

In a way Noyce suffered from second film blues (though he had also made the smaller feature Backroads), which is a bit like second novel blues.

Expectations were high - Noyce and Davis as a team were as high-powered as it could get in the revival - and attention was paid in mainsteam media to the shoot. But then Noyce fiddled in post-production, and even though it was finished before the end of 1981 and given trade reviews, the film didn't make it into the cinemas until March 1982. When it did land, it did so without much buzz, though with generally favourable reviews.

According to the Film Victoria report on Australian box office it made a humble $267,000 on release, which translates into $776,970 in A$2009.

This was despite generally favourable reviews in the mainstream papers - though its later failure at the AFI awards killed off any chance of a revival.

It did get a release in London, but opened to mixed reviews and didn't go wide. It also got a release in New York and picked up bookings at various specialist houses around the States and Canada.

There's little doubt that the release of a second film on the same theme, The Killing of Angel Street, acted as a spoiler, and neither did well at the box office.

Director Phillip Noyce in an interview in the Adelaide Advertiser claimed his film had sold to 15 territories, after being screened at Cannes Director's Fortnight in May 1982, but all this was a long way short from the acclaim which had come to Noyce via Newsfront,which as Noyce notes in his DVD interview, ran for some 43 weeks in Sydney, recouped its $505,000 budget, achieved sales and positive reviews around the world, and for the next few years allowed him to go from country to country and film festival to film festival "soaking up the glory of the movie", until he realised he had to stop and get back to making movies.

Judy Davis's name did help keep Heatwave in the media and public eye, but even her performance attracted mixed notices.

(b) In the context of Noyce's career:

If nothing else Heatwave was bold and ambitious, and this perhaps helped contribute to its undoing.

Unlike Newsfront, which was defiantly patriotic and nostalgic, and thumbed an easy nose at brash Americans, Heatwave took a look at the canker at the core of Sydney, and was influenced by American genres and films. It also mixed genres in the Australian way, and was a bridge too far for audiences, if not for reviewers.

Noyce reflected on the film's connections in his DVD interview:

I wanted to make a film that was a hybrid … that was a thriller … that had a documentary element … that was inspired by real events … that worked as an artifice but also worked as reportage … in other words that you could believe in and suspend disbelief at the same time … that would thrill but educate … it was sort of a genre, an amalgam of genres that I've sort of experimented with ever since in a way, um sometimes with more success than others. The first supposedly full length feature film that I made Backroads was just such an attempt, it was inspired by the American road movies such as Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop that I'd seen, as well as agit-prop documentary movies that I'd seen and I tried to combine the two, it was a continuation of that investigation 

I've made a lot of different kinds of movies but in a strange way they are linked, even the films I made in Hollywood  such as Clear and Present Danger or Patriot Games. They had themes in common with say Newsfront, Backroads or Heatwave so I think that although people have said that when I went to Hollywood I stopped making the kind of movies that I'd made in Australia and then when I came back to Australia to make Rabbit Proof Fence and then The Quiet American and  later Catch a Fire that I returned to the movies that I'd been making, such as Heatwave and Newsfront, I think that they're all the same movie to tell you the truth …

If you look at Newsfront you see a portrait of a man, his values are tested, if you look at Heatwave, you see a portrait of exactly the same man, if you look at Catch a Fire, which is the last film that audiences will have seen in Australia, you'll see the same man, a little naive but with principles that he finds he has to defend and maybe in defending them he refines his attitude to life. Same thing happens in Clear and Present Danger to Harrison Ford's character of Jack Ryan who has to decide whether he'll go along with malpractice in the organisation that he works for and support illegal activities in the White House.

They're all the same character actually … in all these movies … um … maybe that character is me ...  

(c)  The feature that got away:

In Andrew Urban's Cinefile, here, the relative failure of Heatwave is blamed for Noyce turning to directing high end television mini series:

... its lack of commercial success sent Noyce into directors’ purgatory: TV drama. If film funding was hard to get in the wake of Heatwave (strange as it seems after looking at the film even with today’s over-fed eyes), TV work wasn’t.

For the next three years or so, Noyce worked on some of the most groundbreaking mini series, produced by the Kennedy Miller house for the then Murdoch-owned Ten Network, directing shows such as The Dismissal and The Cowra Breakout, and writing Vietnam. It wasn’t until after Dead Calm (1989) that Noyce was again bankable.

In retrospect, though, he is immensely proud of his TV work; a case of fate delivering hidden surprises.

 Perhaps, muses Noyce, Australian audiences were averse to the political nature of the subject matter in Heatwave ... “although you could argue that Newsfront (1978) had also been political, albeit of a bygone era.”

While not a hot box office item in Australia, Heatwave did, however, appeal to distributors around the around the world, many of whom saw its strengths. The film was best received in Britain, less so in the US, but it played in many other countries. The interest was partly driven by the presence of Judy Davis in the cast, who had just made a splash with My Brilliant Career and Who Dares Wins. “It was just the beginning of a star system here,” says Noyce.

“But we were young enough that we were making films to express ourselves … seeing ourselves in the movies was a new phenomenon.”



But in fact this is to goss over what actually happened at this point in Noyce's career.

He went on to work on the development of The Umbrella Woman, which featured a script by Peter Kenna, and turned up in Adelaide to work with the South Australian Film Corporation. He told the Adelaide Advertiser about it:

"It's a film in the style of the great Hollywood melodramas of the '30s and '40's," he said, pausing a moment  between casting sessions and the rush to decide on SA locations.

And later, hedging away from any memories of Bette Davis, he mentions Flaubert's Madame Bovary as an inspiration. (Adelaide Advertiser, 17th July 1982 - see this site's photo gallery for a copy of the story).

Judy Davis was cast in the lead role, with Colin Friels cast as her husband, and Margaret Kelly (Puberty Blues) was attached as producer, and with the SAFC involved, the budget hovered around the $3m mark.

The  project collapsed, and would eventually return in 1986-7 with Ken Cameron as director, and Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown in the lead roles (it also had a name change for international release to Peter Kenna's The Good Wife, and ironically with Noyce's one time wife Jan Sharp attached as producer).

This was the more immediate reason why Noyce turned to television - though his return to features in the late 1980s, with Shadows of the Peacock and Dead Calm would also provide him with some interesting and difficult times during their production.

(d) Phillip Noyce:

There's already much available online about Noyce and his career.

He has a wiki here, and Ingo Petzke wrote a biography about him, published by Pan Macmillan in Sydney 2004, as  Backroads To Hollywood - Phillip Noyce. The short form version by Petzke can be found at senses of cinema here.

And for details of his having an argument with producer John McCallum and getting the sack, go to Ozmovies' Attack Force Z.

5. Date:

The film is commonly dated by databases to 1982. But it was shot and completed and copyrighted in 1981 and was reviewed by the trade press, such as Variety, in late 1981. Even though the DVD issued by Umbrella contains a new copyright notice for 2007 for Rumbalara Films Australia Pty. Ltd., the end credits also contain the original copyright notice of 1981 for Heatwave Films Pty. Ltd. This site prefers year of production and copyright, rather than date of first exhibition, as a better way of indicating activity in the Australian production industry.

6. The real story:

For those interested in the real story of Mr. Sin, Kings Cross, corrupt property development, and Sydney in the 1970s, there are a plethora of resources on the internet and elsewhere.

Abe Saffron has had a TV hour documentary made about him, Mr Sin: The Abe Saffron Story, which can be found on DVD, and naturally he has a wiki here, which mentions the Juanita Nielsen matter.

The notorious developer involved in that unfortunate affair - routinely referred to as a disappearance even though everyone knew it was murder - was Frank William Theeman and there is a very handy and informative short bio of him at the ADB, here.  

In turn that will lead readers to the ADB's portrait of Nielsen herself here.

Her story is also covered here, with a transcript of an ABC program which pretty much fingers the people involved in her murder. 

In the parade of Sydney corruption, attention should also be paid to the NSW premier in the 1970s, Robert Askin, himself notoriously corrupt, and who fostered a climate of corruption in the city. Askin can be found at ADB here,  though anyone interested in the corruption angle should also get a copy of Hickie's The Prince and the Premier.

Finally while Heatwave doesn't focus on union activity in the same way as The Killing of Angel Street did - the unionist played by Dennis Miller is a more minor character whose union folds in a most un-union way - the 1970s were a time of union green bans, and Jack Mundey of the BLF was one of their main exponents - details of Mundey at his wiki here and at Australian Biography here

Most of these sites provide links to further reading material. 

All that said, if anyone thinks that corruption in Sydney has changed for the better, or that property development and other forms of development have stopped being spectacular vehicles for corruption that mingle businessmen, hit men, crooks, thieves and politicians, or that it is only the Liberal party that's inclined to corruption, they merely have to google the name of former Labor party minister Eddie Obeid to start reading about recent examples of corruption in the city - though at time of writing Liberal politicians and property developers had again started generating their own headlines.

Forget it Jake, it is indeed Sydney town, always has been and always will be, and that's why Heatwave remains, at least for Sydney-siders, an interesting and enduring contribution to the myths and the legends of the emerald city.