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Blue Underground
1982 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 105 95 min. / Street Date July 26, 2005 / 29.95
Starring Jo Kennedy, Ross O'Donovan, Margo Lee, Max Cullen, Pat Evison, John O'May
Cinematography Russell Boyd
Production Designer Brian Thomson
Art Direction Kim Hilder
Choreographer David Atkins
Costumes Luciana Arrighi, Terry Ryan
Film Editor Nicholas Beauman
Original Music Frank Eyton, Tim Finn, Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, Jo Kennedy, Robert Sour, The Swingers
Written by Stephen MacLean
Produced by Richard Brennan, David Elfick
Directed by Gillian Armstrong

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Starstruck is an Australian take on the 'let's put on a show' vein of teen musical that is actually more original and fresh than the models it's based on. An extremely talented creative group at the apex of Australia's 80s movie boom conjured this sparkling, spirited musical comedy practically out of thin air. The pop music track may not quite fit into the 'serious' punk style of the day, but for infectious fun it competes well with post-disco pop sounds of Cyndie Lauper, Boy George, and Deborah Harry.

Director Gillian Armstrong, her producers and cameraman participate fully in Blue Underground's thorough extras. Uninformed American fans will be surprised by the story behind a film that was practically a stylistic template for the first years of music videos on MTV -- which it predated by at least six months.


The Harbor View Hotel and bar on the Sydney waterfront is home to frustrated teenaged cousins with ambitions of glittering showbiz success. Flighty redhead Jackie Mullins (Jo Kennedy) is intent on becoming a singing sensation, while the precocious 14 year-old Angus (Ross O'Donovan) is a writer of silly lyrics and a promoter extraordinaire. He shoves Jackie into the teenybopper TV show of Terry Lambert (John O'May) with a dangerous tightrope publicity stunt, and then tries to find a way to insinuate her into a gala New Year's show that promises a $25,000 main prize.

Starstruck may not be everyone's idea of hip but it expresses adolescent showbiz exuberance better than anything since the days of Richard Lester and The Beatles. It bears remembering that Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney held up their often flimsy musical vehicles by sheer will and force of talent. That same spirit permeates Gillian Armstrong's film, much of which has the glow of unrepeatable magic. Young Ross O'Donovan is a powerhouse of nerve and creative ambition, and Australian punk singer Jo Kennedy completely embodies the energetically obsessed drives of a pop fanatic. If nothing else, the movie will make one's blood circulate faster just by virtue of its non-stop action: Kennedy's Jackie Mullins spends most of the film two inches off the floor, in the middle of an endless succession of teeny-bopper dance steps.

Armstrong directs her camera with visual invention to match the film's elevated design sense, showing much more versatility than her previous costume stories might suggest. The art direction, costumes and overall design are superb, from the homey-nuthouse feel of Pearl Mullins' (Margo Lee) harbor bar to the improvised glam-punk nonsense costumes worn by Jackie and her friends. Her new boyfriend Robbie (Ned Lander) has a retro Elvis look (but not the attitude) while Angus tries out a royal blue hairstyle. Costume whiz Luciana Arrighi contrives to have Jackie Mullins begin one number like Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, emerging from within a floppy-eared red kangaroo costume.

Kennedy is consistently rigged out in costumes that only someone with a really strong personality would dare wear - clownish bustiers, a bizarro stiff non-skirt that looks like a giant vinyl record. The film delights in showing adults reacting to the nutty Jackie and Angus with amused tolerance.

The film's design sense is most active in the heavily stylized musical numbers, which are fully choreographed for the camera in the style of Busby Berkeley. American musicals had deteriorated to the camp level of Grease and the disco swill of Allan Carr, which hadn't a clue as to what made a musical work beyond billboarding big stars. Starstruck conceives of each musical number as its own little universe and choreographer David Atkins makes his non-professional dancers shine with simple motions and repeated steps that encourage body language. The camera does the rest.

Although she sings like a champ, Jo Kennedy need do little but bounce around the screen to convince us she's the most energetic thing alive. Amid all the color and enthusiasm, it's difficult not to identify with her young teen fans and bop right along with her.

Stephen MacLean's sharp dialogue finds plenty of edge in Angus' unstoppable optimism and Jackie's moody outbursts. Parents might be fooled by the PG rating, as the film has a couple of seconds of topless nudity and a few crude statements, as when Jackie observes that if guitars are phallic symbols, professional guitarists masturbate for a living. A mild gay subtext slips in when Jackie discovers that her first celebrity crush likes to party with a pool-ful of singing, dancing boyfriends.

Starstruck never generated a wide audience but has retained a steady cult appeal. I know animators and art-school types that still cherish their soundtrack albums, and Kennedy remains an exotic heartthrob. In the US the film was best known on cable television and more or less disappeared from sight in the late 1980s, along with a many other Aussie pictures that were more successful. Have you seen High Tide or The Quiet Earth lately?

Blue Underground follows up on its special edition of Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career with a fine DVD rendition of Starstruck, beautifully transferred in an enhanced 1:85 screen ratio. The image brings out much more detail than older flat transfers and the audio is available in DTS and Dolby 5.1 as well as 2.0. Disc One has a domestic trailer and one for the US campaign. There's also a helpful extra feature allowing access to individual musical scenes.

On his full-length audio commentary, producer Richard Brennan explains the film's genesis and talks at length on the state of the Australian film industry at the time. He also details a longer original cut of the picture, mentioning an earlier appearance of the Starstruck title song in a dream sequence, a couple of glimpses of which can be seen in one of the trailers.

Disc Two has input by a second producer, David Elfick, cameraman Russell Boyd and Ms. Armstrong herself. They have a jolly good time explaining how all of the elements of the film came together. Jo Kennedy and Ross O'Donovan just appeared out of the blue through auditions, a miracle in itself. The filmmakers underestimated the difficulty in finding good new music and were fortunate when a local band called The Swingers, after appearing uninterested during inquiries, came up with most of the score. Armstrong amusingly describes Kennedy as (at the time) a self-acknowledged 'fashion fascist' who thought her romantic lead Ned Lander dull and un-cool. She didn't realize what Starstruck accomplished until well after the fact.

Writer Stephen MacLean is interviewed on a Thai beach having his legs massaged as if he were a legendary talent; his attitude is hopefully an inside joke or a put-on. Along with the deadpan Australian sense of humor, some of the accented dialogue in Starstruck will be unintelligible to American ears. The only real criticism of the disc is the absence of English subtitles to follow what's being said (although there are closed captions).

The deleted and alternate scenes menu offers some contrasty work print clips, a few bits here and there that don't add up to much additional time. This 95 minute version appears to be the only official cut of Starstruck still standing.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Starstruck rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary, featurettes, extended and deleted scenes, trailers, posters and stills
Packaging: Keep case in card sleeve
Reviewed: July 25, 2005

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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