Before period dramas like 1975’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and 1980’s Breaker Morant put Australia on the map – film-wise, the Aussie movie industry was only ever known for bawdy comedies like 1972’s The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. But there was one film that came out at this time that was totally leftfield. Produced, directed and starring Sandy Harbutt, the 1974 crime drama Stone was, and still is, the only Aussie film to take a passionate and honest look at the bikie culture Down Under.
When a Sydney politician is assassinated in broad daylight, the Grave Diggers bike gang unwittingly become targets themselves after one of the their members witnesses the crime. Enter cop Stone (Ken Shorter) who goes undercover in a bid to find the assassin. As he tries to win over the bikies, a dispossessed group of ex-Vietnam War veterans who have found themselves discarded by society, Stone soon becomes seduced by their biker lifestyle, which is founded on loyalty, mateship and ‘no cops’.
This is Harbutt’s one and only film. Like the characters in his film, the director found himself marginalised by the Australian film establishment soon after the movie’s release because of its unflinching nihilism and because the suits and money men in charge of Australia’s film output wanted ‘nice’ period films that could raise the country’s profile overseas.
But 35 years on, Harbutt has had the last laugh. A controversial success on its original release Down Under, the film now shows its age (the script is weighed down by dated hippy slang, and the once shocking violence, including an infamous decapitation scene, is now laughable by today’s standards), but it’s the spirit of the film that makes it timeless. Unlike many of the movies that were made during Australia’s New Wave, Harbutt’s ode to the biker outlaw is the ultimate cult movie (Mad Max being the exception, of course). And this is brilliantly explored in the documentary, Stone Forever, which traces the film’s legacy.
Will you Take the Trip?
Released 20 April 2009