The Journalist

I was skipping through Amazon Prime’s movie list and, don’t ask me how, found a 1979 Australian movie I’d never hear of called, The Journalist. I was a little surprised by this as it stars Jack Thompson – a really well-known Australian actor of the 70s and 80s in particular. Given this is an era I lived through I couldn’t figure out how I’d never heard of the movie – especially as it features what must be half of the Sydney acting establishment of that era, not to mention a (very) very young Sam Neil!

Having now seen the movie I won’t bury the lede as our American cousins would say (look, I also made a newspaper joke!), and will say upfront the movie is pretty terrible. It wouldn’t make anyone’s top 1000 movies and is frankly pretty forgettable – which is probably why literally no one has ever mentioned it to me, nor have I read something about it over the past few decades. And I read a lot.

The basic premise is a Sydney-based newspaper journalist has an eye for the ladies and literally everywhere he goes, without even much small-talk, women want to bed him. The film’s meant to be a “sex comedy” but vitally there’s hardly any humour in it (I think the funniest scene was when a dog peed on a photo, if that gives you any idea), and there’s also no sex. There’s lots of suggestion that sex will happen, or has happened, and I guess in one scene a clothed women sat on what appeared to be a naked Thompson, but it’s pretty tame. So a sex comedy with no sex and no humour? Yep, this is it.

Pretty early on I realised I was watching a turkey of a film, but what kept my engrossed was all the footage shot around Sydney in the late 1970s. There are parts of the city that haven’t changed much. The car park opposite the News Corp building on Holt Street, for example, looks almost the same today as it was then. I swear they haven’t changed the chain-link fence at all. And, when Thompson zooms from Holt onto Kippax I was thinking, yep, I’ve driven there many times myself. So elements like that were a thrill. Real time capsule stuff. Even things like fashion, hairstyles, sunglasses, bar interiors, cars… things the film would have taken for granted at the time really fascinated me.

Story-wise, the film seems to be based around anecdotes from the media industry, or perhaps a line here and there that the writer has heard, and scenes seem almost stand-alone as they play out that particular moment or line, but don’t mesh very well to what comes next. Even a working trip to Hong Kong near the start of the film only creates a few scenes – and a chance to bed another woman – and seems utterly pointless as we’re back in Sydney again. In another example, the Sam Neil character announces he’s leaving the newspaper to work in London, but then stays in just about every other scene of the film as weeks (or possibly even months?), go by in movie time. Elsewhere, Thompson’s character is writing a novel. Does he finish it? Is it any good? We’ll never know. It’s another plot that goes nowhere, like basically everything else that’s set-up in the film. It’s very strange to sit through.

I was particularly confused by the woman he marries at the end of the film – and who’s been carrying his child throughout it. Sometimes it seems that she’s fully aware he’s having affairs (she seems very knowing and has an older lover of her own), and at other times he seems to be cleverly deceiving her (at one point he describes an actual encounter which she believes too far-fetched to have happened).

Even after turning a corner when they get married, the film ends with him chatting up another woman, only for her to be pushed out of the way by a woman he was working with, earlier in the film, who also wants to bed him. How this relates to the new man he became after the wedding, who knows? I get that some people are irredeemable, but it really leaves the movie to have no actual point. A philanderer has lots of affairs, divorces one women, marries another, then has more affairs. Fin.

After it ended I thought about the TV series, Rake, which is set in Sydney and features a barrister, rather than a journalist, who is a womaniser. But the vital thing about Rake is that there are actual plots involved. Characters change. You come to care about them. And of course I realise that in a multi-season TV series there is the opportunity to do that more than in the confines of a film, but it seemed similar enough for me to mention here. One does it very well. The other does it badly.

The acting is also pretty grim in this one. The leads – Thompson, Neil, Elizabeth Alexander – are fine. They deliver the clunky lines at least with a bit of personality, usually something physical like facial expressions, body movements, and so on. But other actors in the piece – even well-known Australian actors – seem to just be repeating lines they heard five minutes earlier with very flat performances.

Reaching this paragraph I didn’t realise I’d have so much to say about the film. While I was watching it I was imagining writing two or three pars here on the blog just to say this is a terrible film and don’t bother yourself with it, should you stumble across it like I did. Unless of course, you want to watch it for the time capsule elements I mentioned earlier. They really are worth sitting through it for. Once.

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