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Maybe This Time

(Chris McGill, Australia, 1980)


 


… Maybe Which Time?

 

At one point in … Maybe This Time, a middle-class intellectual utters some profundity like: “The possibility for revolution has passed; we have entered an age of personal life”. I cannot help but feel that the film itself gravitates toward this ideology, this complacent sleight-of-hand for dismissing social problems while glorifying and de-historicising “personal life”.

 

A certain genre of bourgeois melodrama has found a very comfortable niche in contemporary cinema: An Unmarried Woman (1978), A Small Circle of Friends (1980) and Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata (1978) are among the key films in this trend. All of them, plus now … Maybe This Time, are supported by a facile kind of realist gloss – in the background, political milestones come and go (the Vietnam War, Women’s Liberation, Australia’s constitutional crisis of 1975), and conversations over cocktails are sprinkled with pompous, pseudo-intellectual debates concerning the state of the world.

 

In bed, Fran (Judy Morris) can even protest to her lover: “Aren’t there issues involved?” But the film does an artful job of never really specifying or considering those issues. People are more important than issues … you know the song; such is the assertion of bourgeois humanism in all its myriad forms, from Top 40 pop hit to “quality” films at the Longford arthouse cinema in Melbourne.

 

Maybe This Time works out a theme that is becoming rather too familiar to be automatically interesting or involving (with the notable exception of Robert Redford’s Ordinary People [1980]). It’s the perennial middle-class dilemma of finding your “self” and thus getting rid of the dominating influence of others (family, lovers, acquaintances). I gotta be me, and not what you want me to be … and it’s only a short step from this pop-psychologising to political evasion. The Self or Ego is the sacred island of personal, individual experience; collectivities, causes, anything transpersonal is somehow suspect, transitory, even ultimately trivial.

 

We must credit the film with absolute consistency in this one regard (despite the loud complaints of screenwriting team Anne Brooksbank & Bob Ellis, aired at the time of its release, of endless compromise and watering-down in the project’s making). Not only does Fran dispose of her unnamed mother (Jill Perryman) and her assortment of inadequate male lovers in the course of the story, but also, finally, even her unseen confidante Jenny (a trendy gesture toward feminist sisterhood) is killed off to allow our heroine to get on with her magnificent self-therapy.

 

It is being touted by publicists and reviewers (not to mention its own writers) as a comedy of manners – probably a rather brave promotional bid to salvage some deeper coherence from what is, ultimately, a very disjointed and uncertain work. On the dramatic level, first of all, a comedy of manners implies a certain degree of stylisation, some filmic self-consciousness allowing a play with cultural stereotypes of class position and “programmed” social behaviour (an inventory of manners always comes with an inventory of types). However, treated in the dullest slice-of-life fashion by debuting feature director Chris McGill (10 years after his well-known short No Roses for Michael), the script’s attempts at pungent social observation come across as misjudged and smartarse – exactly what we have come to expect from “new journalist” (and feeble dramatist) Bob Ellis.

 

The thematic structure of … Maybe This Time would, in fact, be far better suited to a comical fantasy-projection mode (à la Blake Edwards’ fabulous and underrated 10 [1979]) than to a spurious and supposedly objective naturalism. The sexual politics here amount to little more than a lightly revised Battle of the Sexes scenario – a guilt release for masochistic, middle-class males, mixed with some one-uppance identification for would-be feminists in the audience. All the guys in the film are – naturally – shits: egocentric, weak, neurotic little boys hung up on one macho trip or another (virility, ambition, greed …. And, in an echo of the “rough, working-class intellectual” myth glorified in Tim Burstall’s Petersen [1974], the writers wanted that film’s star, Jack Thompson, but instead got the knock-off version in Mike Preston as History Prof. Paddy). At least Fran, although bearing the equally typical humanist malaise of “expecting too much from life” (Utopian gal!), is, by contrast with the chaps, open-minded, generous, inquisitive and even sympathetic. Much of this credit must surely go to Morris’ fine performance.

 

… Maybe This Time can grasp at the general, overall malaise in contemporary sexual relations only within a constricted, all-too-human problematic: so, basically, men are to blame. The wider issue of patriarchy – a social structure that produces itself beyond (and yet through) individual women and men – cannot be thought out, or even thought of at all, inside a film like this one. The result, finally, is that it cannot look forward to any other social order, a different space within which better, fuller, richer relationships could occur. The film can only express a pathetic nostalgia: nostalgia for the “real men” of World War I (yes!) who have long ago died off, and for Fran’s father who has absented before the story even begins …

 

That, in short, is the film’s object of desire: the imaginary solution (to personal problems) than can never be reached, safely and sadly locked away in the past. Maybe this time, probably not next time … and maybe never.

 

Note: Chris McGill, who was subsequently for many years a respected teacher of screenwriting at the Victorian College of the Arts (formerly Swinburne) film school, died in 2017. The IMDb credits for another Chris McGill, EastEnders TV episode director (Britain) in 2020, are incorrectly attributed to the Australian filmmaker. Jon Cattapan’s touching homage to the Australian Chris can be found here.

© Adrian Martin March 1981


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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