Stan and George's New Life
Stan and George’s New Life is an affecting, funny and rather underrated Australian film.
In its quiet, whimsical portrayal of ordinary suburban eccentrics, it is bravely unfashionable – the kind of realist film many claim we should not be making. But few local directors are capable of achieving the depth, pathos and formal coherence of Brian McKenzie.
Stan (Paul Chubb in his best performance) is a rather sad bachelor who lives with his extremely unlovely parents (John Bluthal and Margaret Ford). Giving away his uneventful hairdressing job, he joins the weather section of the public service. He soon that discovers that, in the strange world of forecasting, times are changing: computers, satellites and sinister corporate types in suits are replacing diligent, old fashioned workers like George (Julie Forsyth).
Those familiar with McKenzie’s unusual documentaries including People Who Still Use Milk Bottles (1990) and On the Waves of the Adriatic (1991) will recognise his favourite themes in this absorbing, touching tale. The old ways are better than the new, because they left room for individual foibles and obsessions. This is a sentimental view, but the film is far from the soft-centred nostalgia of Spotswood (1992).
There is toughness and anguish at the heart of McKenzie’s vision. The closest comparison is the work of British director Mike Leigh (Life is Sweet, 1991). For both filmmakers, the fleeting triumphs of ordinary people are counterbalanced by a sense of how hopeless, repressed and mucky much ordinary life really is.
The film’s optimism is tentative, but very moving. Its central expression is the love story of Stan and George. Not a lot is spoken between them, and sex seems rather absent. Yet their relationship makes a tiny, telling difference to the way the world runs.
The delights of Stan and George’s New Life are many. Its picture of typical public service behaviour is indelible, and the scenes with Stan’s family are quite gruesomely hilarious.
McKenzie was, for a time,
© Adrian Martin August 1992