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  Set, The Gender Fluidity, 70s Style
Year: 1970
Director: Frank Brittan
Stars: Sean Myers, Rod Mullinar, Hazel Phillips, Denis Doonan, Amber Rodgers, Brenda Senders, Ann Aczel, Michael Charnley, Bronwyn Barber, Elza Stenning, Tracy Lee, Les Berryman, Muriel Hopkins, Hugh Sawkins, Ken Johnson, Roger Ward
Genre: Drama, SexBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Around the Sydney area lives Paul Lawrence (Sean Myers), who is at a crossroads in life: what he would like to do is attend art school and learn a trade in the creative arts, but his boorish father will have none of that and insists he should become an engineer like him, a secure job unlike the kind of thing Paul wants to opt for. More trouble arises when he is with his girlfriend Cara (Amber Rodgers) on the beach and she admits that he was not her first sexual encounter; when she reveals that was with another girl, his masculinity is threatened and he breaks it off with her. But the Sydney art set beckons, and he has made up his mind no matter what his father wants, he will be creative!

The Set was something of a sensation in 1970 in Australia, the must-see movie of the year, or the must-see movie out of Oz at any rate, because it promised all sorts of decadence the ordinary Aussie was not used to seeing on the big screen. It was a precursor to the Ozploitation films of the seventies and eighties, and helped to kick off a loosening of censorship and an "anything goes" mood in the native film industry, yet somehow despite making a big splash, it quickly fell into obscurity among anyone but the most dedicated student of this country's pictures, assuming you were not among those who had seen it on its initial release; it did not get seen much abroad.

For decades, anyone who was aware of it tended to believe it was a lost film and would never be viewed again, but in its fiftieth anniversary year, a new print was found and distributed through streaming and a special edition disc in the hope that its former notoriety might cause lightning to strike twice. Was it worth reviving? Or was it, as some may have thought, a little embarrassing in its enthusiasm at embracing a swinging lifestyle and applying it to the Australian movers and shakers in its art scene? Well, it was true to say it was a product of its time, and in many places might make you cringe, while in others make you laugh at an unintentional moment of comedy, but then again...

In The Set's endeavours to appeal to a broad range of sexuality, it was at least well-meaning and for its day it was surprisingly non-judgemental, which made a refreshing change from much of the pop culture's treatment of gay issues in 1970 - yes, Paul has dalliances with males as well as his girlfriend when he moves to the big smoke. This left it with the air of an instructional guide to some exotic tribe of drag queens, sugar mummies, bisexual "try anything once" types and more of the sort you might have expected to see in a John Waters or Andy Warhol film, only this was targeting a sophistication that American movies on the same subjects might not bother with, preferring to aim straight for camp. Not that there wasn't camp in this, but there was also an aspirational, self-actualisation tone.

It was all about being true to yourself, and part of that involved sexual exploration, according to this anyway. Paul first gets a patron in Marie (Brenda Senders) who shows him the ropes of design and good taste, but he ditches her when she demands he sleep with her. Next up is the main partner Tony (Rod Mullinar), a brusque, Foster's-downing set designer who is more into dominating people with his libido, including Paul's Aunt Peg (local celeb Hazel Phillips, who was one of the main draws), much to the horror of his cousin Kim (Bronwyn Barber) whose boyfriend Tony was supposed to be. And so on, it was all very soap opera, not coincidentally akin to groundbreaking TV soap Number 96 that was on the way, but the most curious element (among many) was its basis in a novel by Roger Ward, best known as the towering, bald, moustachioed menace of many an Aussie movie like Mad Max or Turkey Shoot. He cowrote the script as well, demonstrating a theme of The Set that you shouldn't take people for granted when they can surprise you. So maybe quaint in one way, but in another nothing any mainstream would try today. Music by Sven Libaek.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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