And then there's the countless films that find themselves wedged between those definitions, all of which make up one of the most remarkable film industries in the world. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
So much of the Australian experience has fallen into the abyss, waiting to be rediscovered. It seems that every year new treasures are unearthed and re-released. Famously Wake In Fright was saved from obscurity, and more recently classics like Frog Dreaming, Next of Kin and Spirits of the Air Gremlins of the Clouds were given classy restorations. And there are no doubt so many more waiting to be dug up.
This is the long way of bringing me to SIDECAR RACERS, an insanely fun dramatic action film from 1975, directed by the legendary American filmmaker Earl Bellamy, whose colossal catalogue of work includes Rawhide, Gunpoint, Munsters Go Home and Get Smart (to scratch the surface). It takes place in and around the side-car racing scene, which is very much a real and dangerous sport. It tells the story of a former American olympian, Jay (Ben Murphy) who is in Australia on a working visa, spending most of his time surfing Sydney's beaches. He meets a Lynn (Wendy Hughes) whose brother Dave (John Clayton) is a professional sidecar racer without a team partner. Lynn and Dave recognise Jay's surfing skills and invite him to be the counterweight on their sidecar. Of course an inevitable love triangle forms and their friendships are tested, while Bellamy orchestrates a stunning action-packed adventure with some truly awe-inspiring sequences.
SIDECAR RACERS is a delicious snap-shot in time, of an era preceding political correctness, which celebrated classic Aussie larrikinism. Of course by today's standards so much of the film's rhetoric and behaviour is outrageous, and yet for its time it was very much a way of life. Women get slapped around, men ogle at breasts, and general safety practices are non-existent. But that's not a reason to avoid the movie... because those things WERE acceptable then, and the film is of its time.
A young 20-something Wendy Hughes is absolutely delightful as the flirtatious woman caught between the two men. Of course she would later become one of Australia's most respected actresses, and with this being one of her earliest performances, it's fascinating to see her apply her craft to what is arguably a lesser film, comparatively speaking. She invests herself entirely and becomes one of the movie's core strengths. Ben Murphy and John Clayton are both great to watch on screen, with Clayton offering a massive dose of charisma and bravado. The legendary Peter Graves also appears in an extended cameo as the father to Lynn, and his presence follows that long tradition of bringing Hollywood talent to local films (Graves and Bellamy's working relationship dates way back to the television series Fury).
The most striking quality about SIDECAR RACERS is the racing sequences and how incredibly they've been captured on film. Being made in 1975 it precedes George Miller's seminal Mad Max (1979) and there are undeniable influences to be found. Ballemy's camera gets up close and personal with the racers as they tear up dirt tracks and leap over crests. His camera is constantly rubbing noses with the bikes as they fly through the bush at full throttle. The similarity to the way Miller shot Mad Max is blatantly obvious and while Miller is credited with pioneering this method of chase, he clearly didn't invent it. Ballemy was on the forefront of action and despite the passing of 44-years his style and craftsmanship feels audacious and fresh.
With a recent DVD release by Australia's Umbrella Entertainment, SIDECAR RACERS has been preserved on physical media (digitally too, I'm sure) and is finally easily accessible for all to see. Whether you love Aussie cinema, or are a sucker for race-themed films, this is a time-capsule that's well worth opening. Its contents are outrageously fun and it captures a bygone era that older viewers will reflect upon fondly, while younger people will look on in disbelief. Regardless of how you see it, it's impossible to ignore. Once you pop, you can't stop!