Production company: Producers and directors Guild of Australia
Budget: A$100,000, including $26,000 from the Australia Council for the Arts, and then a further $20,000 from distributor B.E.F. to blow up the 16mm to 35mm prints. (John B. Murray says that a further $36,000 was needed to produce the blow ups and prepare the film for theatrical screening). This means the final figure might be $100,000, $120,000 or $136,000, depending on accounting and whether blow up costs are included or excluded.
Locations: in and around Melbourne
Filmed: 1972 (scripting began in 1971, after a series of workshops conducted by the Victorian branch of the Producers and Directors Guild). Fine cut to double head stage by July 1972
Australian distributor: B.E.F.
Theatrical release: 6th April, Rapallo, Russell street Melbourne
16mm Eastmancolor negative to 35 mm for release
Running time: 118 mins (Oxford)
DVD copy: 1'56'05, with these episode timings:
The Husband 25'59"
The Child 23'27"
The Priest 26'59"
The Family Man 40'26"
Box office: modest. The film ran for three months at the Rapallo, but never broke wide. It was however picked up for the UK by Anglo-E.M.I. The Fred Schepisi episode The Priest was deleted for exhibition in Roman Catholic Spain, but as a result wasn't included in the UK release.
According to producer John B. Murray, receipts allowed all deferred fees to be repaid two years after the initial release, and to allow a nominal payment to the producers and directors involved in the show.
Tim Burstall's segment The Child won the Best Film prize at the 1973 Australian Film Institute awards, jointly sharing it with 27A (Haydn Keenan)
The Grand Prix wasn't awarded that year.
Instead the prize was a Gold Award in the fiction category, awarded to the producer, the Producers and Directors Guild of Australia and the director, Tim Burstall.
Judy Morris won Hoyts Prize for Best Performance by an Actress for her performance in The Child.
Cinematographer Robin Copping won a Bronze Medallion in the Kodak Award for colour photography for his work on The Child episode.
The film screened at the 1973 Teheran Film Festival. John B. Murray backgrounded the festival in his piece on the genesis of Libido:
Islam seemed to have no problem – at least, not the élite. Empress Farah of Iran invited Libido to participate in the 1973 Teheran Film Festival, of which she was patron. Christopher Muir, co-executive producer – whose work administering the theatre and script workshops underpinned our whole project – attended the Festival with me. We were accompanied by director David Baker and actors Debbie Nankervis and Bryon Williams. We found Iran tense, the people living in fear of Shah Pahlavi’s secret police, SAVAK, and unable to speak freely to us or to each other. (here)
The film was touted at the time of its Australian launch as being Australia's official feature entry in the coming Cannes Film Festival, but it was not an official selection in either 1973 or 1974.
The film has been released in region four on DVD by Umbrella, with audio commentaries and theatrical trailer. The original package also came with a shorter version of the essay by John B. Murray about the making of the film, in booklet form, which is now available online here.
The quality of the print used for the transfer is poor, with an abundance of film artefacts showing, but clearly a commercial decision was made that restoration would not be justified by sales.
In his piece on the work, Murray says that the CRI (colour reverse internegative) produced in London was used for the DVD master, and that it remains in very good condition, but adds "The discerning eye will, however, notice the type of damage I have previosly described at the head and tail of reels that now run continuously as Libido."
The damage Murray is referring to is the marking to which 16mm neg was susceptible. Along with other 16mm issues, such as hair and dirt in the gates (these days easily removed in an online suite), handling of the negative by labs and neg matchers could also produce damage:
Our laboratories had not, however, had experience in processing and printing 16mm negative. It required very careful handling and was very prone to picking up dust and sustaining cinch marks at the head and tail of reels during negative matching and laboratory processes. Once the emulsion sustained damage, it could not be satisfactorily restored.
However while nothing could be done about the grain - inherent in a 16mm shoot and a part of the character of the film - a session in an online suite could have taken care of a lot of the sparkle and dirt on the print, the least desirable results of shooting on 16 neg.
The strategy of doing a portmanteau feature film consisting of a number of episodes was familiar from European cinema, and reflected the way Melbourne film-makers had been extremely active in the seventies revival of feature film production. (The portmanteau idea had also been tried by Cecil Holmes with Three in One in 1957 and by Film Australia with Three To Go in 1971).
Warned off by by the failure of 2000 Weeks, and seeking box office success, Murray and fellow producer Phillip Adams had at one time thought about doing a film on Australian Rules football, though this would in reality have only appealed to Victorians and a few other southern states.
Wisely Murray settled on sex, though he tried to dress it up with a grand title and talk about it being about "sex drive".
The package arose from ideas developed at a series of workshops in 1971 run by the Victorian branch of of the Producers and Directors Guild (director John B. Murray was then Guild president). According to Murray, some 90 aspiring writers submitted ideas based around the "elastic theme" of love.
The writers selected and involved - Craig McGregor, Hal Porter, Thomas Keneally and David Williamson - were well credentialed in various fields, while the directors were also making a mark.
McGregor was a fashionable journalist and writer, whose works are now out of fashion. He has a short wiki here, and the NLA lists the works and resources about him available in the library system here.
Hal Porter was a novelist and short-story writer of note, best known for his 1963 memoir The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony. He has a wiki here.
Thomas Keneally, a seminarian who left the church to write, had already produced a quartet of successful novels in the late sixties, starting with the Miles Franklin award winners, Bring Larks and Heroes and Three Cheers for the Paraclete, followed by The Survivor and A Duitful Daughter. He would later appear in Fred Schepisi's The Devil's Playground and write the novel The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, that Schepisi would do as his second feature. His wiki is here.
David Williamson had already established himself as a playwright and screen writer with Stork. He was writing Petersen for Tim Burstall, and plays such as Don's Party and The Removalists, followed by a lengthy career doing plays, television and feature films. His wiki is here.
Directors Murray and Burstall already had feature film credits, but it is clear from the episodes that Murray makes heavy weather of directing drama, not helped by the superficial trendiness of McGregor's script.
Burstall's film takes up where his award-winning short The Child finished, and shows what might have happened had 2000 Weeks succeeded at the box office, and he'd been allowed to pursue the period dramas that became popular during the 1970s revival, instead of following in the footsteps of Ken G. Hall and becoming a determined maker of commercial comedies and dramas.
Fred Schepisi had developed his skills in many television commercials production for his company, the Film House. He would shortly go on to make two of the most seminal films of the seventies - The Devil's Playground (for which The Priest was a warm-up) and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.
David Baker oscillated between the UK and Australian television production, and would go on to make the feature film The Great McCarthy - set in Australian Rules territory - but the casting of the female characters in his segment seems to have been based on their willingness to strip for the camera rather than their ability to act.
John B. Murray has written a lengthy article on Libido, The Genesis of Libido, for Senses of Cinema, available online here.
According to Murray, the budget for the workshop development phase, provided by the Australian Council for the Arts, was $15,820. Murray also proposes that the film wasn't about sex but rather was about "sex-drive":
In 1969, sex – or, in the case of Libido, sex-drive – was not a subject openly discussed in our quite-relaxed-yet-somewhat-repressed society. Our heads had become divorced from our genitals. This gulf needed to be bridged and, as there appeared to be a growing desire in the community to do so, the Guild in Victoria resolved to pursue the topic in our workshop productions. It was a meaty subject that interested writers too, one they had not tackled in a specifically Australian context.
While it is easily understood that a self-contained workshop could have freely taken up any subject, these were stories and treatments that I suggest would not have been revealed at that time by the light of a projector lamp if we had had to depend initially on commercial sources for funding and support. It was also not assured that the Commonwealth Censor would allow a visually frank and open work on our chosen topic to be exhibited.
Nonetheless, it was handy that the film arrived in the cinemas at the time the new "R' certificate allowed a degree of visual frankness, and also handy that several of the segments fully exploited that frankness.
2. The Production:
Sorting out the budget for Australian films in the early 1970s is a generally fruitless task.
One figure bandied around was for a budget of A$100,000, including $26,000 from the Australia Council for the Arts, and then a further $20,000 from distributor B.E.F. to blow up the 16mm to 35mm prints.
But producer John B. Murray says that a further $36,000 was needed to produce the blow ups and prepare the film for theatrical screening. This means the final figure might be $100,000, $120,000 or $136,000, depending on accounting and whether blow up costs are included or excluded.
Tim Burstall gave a different set of figures in an interview for Cinema Papers in September-October 1979:
The PDGA received a grant of about $25,000 from the Arts Council. John Murray's budget was about $7,000, as was David Baker's and Fred Schepisi's. I went in for special pleading on the grounds that my episode was a period piece. I was finally given $13,000, though the episode's true cost, given deferments, etc., would have been closer to $23,000.
All the actors and technicians received some payment, except for the Swinburne film students who helped us out, while the directors and producers deferred their entire fees ...
I think the outgoing was $75,000, which was closer to $120,000 if you took the deferments into account. The return so far is between $60,000 and $75,000. Now, if we sell it to television for another $50,000, we would be in the clear. It hasn't been sold yet, but the PDGA has it in hand.
Whatever the figure - the Oxford cites $120,000 - it's probably simpler just to say it was cheap, and that meant a 16mm shoot.
Murray also confirmed that minimums and deferrals were the order of the day:
We found a willing response from actors for our drama and film workshop initiative. All, including esteemed performers for whom agents usually claimed high fees, participated for minimum Actors Equity rates, with a moderate, additional fee to be paid if the project earned revenue. Film students of the Swinburne Institute of Technology (now incorporated in the Victorian College of the Arts) were inducted into our crews as part of their training. Directors and producers were drawn from Guild membership and contributed their services without charge. All of us appreciated the chance to develop our craft, and we enjoyed the wonderful sense of co-operation generated by this ‘off-Broadway’ theatre and film venture.
With 35mm too expensive, Murray made the decision to shoot on 16mm negative rather than Ektachrome reversal stock, then commonly used for television news. He had already used 16mm Eastmancolor neg for his sex dramadoc The Naked Bunyip:
For our narrative drama, Libido, 35mm film would customarily have been used to provide greater image and sound quality, but Libido was a workshop production with minimal funds available. Our total initial budget for the whole workshop, donated by the Australian Council for the Arts (now the Australia Council), was $15,820 at that stage. My fellow directors and their directors of photography being in agreement, I again imported – this time through Kodak’s Melbourne headquarters – a single batch of 16mm Eastmancolor negative on which all episodes of Libido would be shot.
The shoot itself was also a barebones affair:
The revival of features in the 1960s and ’70s in Australia followed the European pattern of filmmaking. It was driven by writer-directors, not producers, production studios, distributors or investors. We filmed on locations with lip-sync recorded sound. It suited the Australian innovative spirit and we revelled in it. And, with Libido, we were allowed no luxuries. Each episode had to be shot within 6 to 8 working days. We went with the weather as it unfolded. There were no caravans for actors, no wardrobe vehicles or catering crews. We either took our own lunch in a brown paper bag or sent out for the ubiquitous white bread sandwiches from the nearest source.
For post production, Murray went to a London lab - Atlab had not yet installed 16mm wet-gate, the best way to achieve a sharper blow up to 35mm.
Murray devised the titles for the film, and for each of the segments, with composer Bruce Smeaton (who scored the segments "The Priest" and "The Family Man") providing the score.
Burstall had this to say about his autobiographical motivations while directing his award-winning episode:
I was brought up in England in an enormous house in the north called Windford. In those days one had nannies, and rarely, in fact, saw one's parents. You never ate with them, though there was something called High Tea, when they would sometimes come in and give you a kiss. But the person you ran to, if you fell over and hurt your leg, was your nanny, not your mama. Mama was the source of values, and harsh repressive expectations. So, there was a split focus thing: that is, between one to whom you owed allegiance, and the one who was freely chosen. This element - the mother/governess split in Porter's story - was what I was interested in developing.
I suspect, by the way, the split between the two women in 2000 Weeks was influenced by this upbringing.
3. The Release:
According to Murray, the films were subsequently adapted to the stage, with George Fairfax, a theatre director and executive member of the Producers and Directors Guild supervising their production. These were presented to Swinburne and La Trobe University students at St. Martin's Theatre.
Tim Burstall would set the pace between film-makers and producers in the 1970s revival by adapting the 1930s Ken G. Hall model to work with Village Roadshow. But he also helped John B. Murray established a relationship with B.E.F. (later to become G.U.O.), which became an investor in the film.
In his piece on the genesis of Libido, Murray discusses the way the relationship worked:
For me, it was the beginning of a longish relationship with G.U. and B.E.F., during which time the film was completed, the marketing concept and style for Libido designed, and the feature promoted throughout Australia. Advertising and publicising a new film in the cinemas is commonplace today, but at that time Australian distributors and exhibitors had not had experience in assessing an unknown narrative drama, in drawing the strands of a film together to create an image and a strategy that would reach out and enthuse the cinema-going public. For more than 40 years, exhibitors had programmed the product of overseas parent majors, mirroring advertising and promotion patterns on titles for which the accompanying marketing components had been tried and tested overseas, then shipped here with the review print. And distributors in Australia had not been required to consider the wishes of the creators of films in the forming of their promotional plans.
For our part, having always enjoyed our independence as filmmakers, we had to recognise a distributor’s right to a final say on certain aspects. The association was rewarding and our separate organizations enjoyed their coming together on this new venture. There were some hiccups on contractual details as we ploughed new ground; we were, for instance, not enamoured of the film trailer produced by the distributor. It did not accurately reflect our motivation in dealing with the sex-drive of Australian characters and was designed to appeal to more prurient interests.
For reasons of length and subject matter. Schepisi's The Priest was left out of the UK release of the film, but is included in the DVD.
Murray also discusses this decision:
Libido was distributed in Europe by the London-based Anglo EMI Film Distributors Limited with moderate success. For one territory, we were faced with a decision a producer dreads: Anglo EMI advised that Spain had prohibited the film and would not reconsider a release unless “The Priest” was deleted in its entirety. Libido is a portmanteau film that I regarded as one work, having its own integrity. Nevertheless, in the interests of the film and our relationship with the distributor, I called Fred Schepisi to discuss the matter. He understood the dilemma and we reluctantly agreed that “The Priest” should be deleted for Roman Catholic Spain.
It would seem that the consequence, no doubt for reason of economy, was that "The Priest" was also omitted from the UK release, with UK posters making no mention of the segment, and deliberately omitting it from the pitch. This is a pity because it's an interesting, if flawed warm-up for the Australian Catholic classic that Schepisi would soon produce, The Devil's Playground.
Murray makes no mention of this in an anecdote about the film's reception in London:
The film had been a slight problem for one Protestant country, too. I read in the Melbourne The Herald (20 February 1981) that the Australian Film Society (AFS) in London had screened Libido for its members. Jim Saunders, the AFS secretary, advised in a subsequent newsletter that one member had protested about the film quartet. Saunders explained that his earlier circular had not described the film’s content and that the member’s wife had not heard of the word “libido”. The screening surprised the couple as they had rather expected to see the well-known Australian actor Chips Rafferty riding off into the sunset instead of “four filth films”.
There was talk of doing another portmanteau film, but it never got off the ground, for reasons explained by Tim Burstall in his September-October 1979 interview with Cinema Papers:
After we finished Libido, I was very keen on the idea of doing one such (portmanteau) film a year. It seemed the best way of blooding young directors in the feature business. After all, it was Schepisi's first film, and Baker's and Murray's. In each case, except for John who was most ruthlessly savaged by the critics and has since retired hurt, Libido was a great help to their careers.
Cinema Papers: What was intended as the next film?
Burstall: Something called The Bed. This time we thought we had to connect the stories, and each revolved around a brass bed. A bed is a good pivot because it is something on which one can be born, live, make love and die.
One story was written by Alan Marshall, which Mal Bryning was set to do; another by Morris Lurie called Jingle Jangle, which Ross Dimsey was to direct; there was a John Powers story written for Simon Wincer; and a fourth by Max Richards, which Rod Kinnear was to direct ...
Although failure can be very divisive, success can be even more so. The Libido exercise, curiously enough, generated a lot of obstructiveness and jealousy, and it took a long time to get another project moving. But once we did, we still couldn't raise sufficient money. The VFC (Victorian Film Corporation, the state government funding body) were prepared to invest, but the Australian Film Commission wouldn't come to the party. They said portmanteau films were finished, and that while Libido was fine in its day, the idea was no longer viable. I think they were quite wrong, and it was a great pity.
Instead in due course the short feature became the mainstay of government film funding bodies wanting to blood directors in directing drama.