Fast Talking

(Ken Cameron, Australia, 1984)


On its initial Australian release, a Cinema Papers cover story grouped Fast Talking with two other contemporaneous films about “rebels, rumbles and motor-cycle boys”: James Foley’s Reckless (1984) and Coppola’s Rumble Fish (1983). While the latter two works circulated easily in the film and video markets as vivid, all-American teen movies, Ken Cameron’s film refuses a complicity with the more commercial end of this genre.

Fast Talking is more a social realist teen drama, a culturally respectable issue-based piece like Loach’s Kes (1969) or Kramer’s Bless the Beasts and the Children (1972) – and, also like those, it seems a film made more for secondary school classroom discussion than for mass audience divertissement.

This distance from the more vulgar American teen movie model is not total. There are some lively, exhilarating moments of teen hi-jinx and rebellion; a number of classic caricatures of authoritarian, narrow-minded adults; and a character (Chris Truswell as Moose) who does a running impression of Michael Crawford from the popular British TV series Some Mothers Do ‘Av ‘Em.

But the film’s tone is generally downbeat, especially in the bland, dreamy, jazzy musical score used in place of the rock tracks so typical of the genre (even a cameo appearance in a school dance scene by the band Eurogliders is underplayed).

The film’s themes are the classic ones of the social-realist teen drama. A livewire hero (Rod Zuanic as Steve), deprived of proper social opportunity because of his violent, broken home environment, becomes a troublemaker as he instinctively defies the authoritarian structures of school and society.

The only role-model Steve can respect is the bike mechanic Redback (Steve Bisley), a sagely ex-con who tries, gently and unsuccessfully, to guide the boy away from a life of crime.

In the typically pessimistic manner of social realism, Cameron matter-of-factly paints a fatalistic, no-future backdrop that the hero will likely never alter, even if he could develop a greater consciousness of his social position. Yet the film is dialectical, at least to the extent that its grants some weight and reality to gestures and moments of impulsive resistance.

The title indicates all the fast moves – talking, stealing, running away, playing tricks – which, however doomed or ineffectual in the final instance, nonetheless express a spirit of revolt, and spontaneously renew the broken history of anarchist resistance.

Although Fast Talking is ultimately a fairly middle-of-the-road social issue film, and one that has been little cited critically since its release, it does have a number of distinctive, original elements that anticipate subsequent realist teen films, especially Jean-Claude Brisseau’s De bruit et de fureur (The Sound and the Fury, 1988).

Like Brisseau, Cameron draws on his own experience as a secondary-school teacher for some sharp, realistic depictions of classroom life. Most remarkably, the film has a shadowy subplot involving the sexual liaison between a progressive, middle-class teacher (Tracy Mann) and a student – an interesting antidote to the soft, asexual humanism of so many films about classroom interaction in the manner of Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society (1989).

MORE Cameron: The Umbrella Woman

© Adrian Martin November 1991

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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