Australia, 1985, 100 minutes, Colour.
Gary Day, Geraldine Turner.
Directed by Michael Carson.
Natural Causes is one of a series of telemovies sponsored by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation during 1985. it was directed by Michael Carson, noted ABC writer for the award-winning series Scales of Justice.
The film resembles the American feature The Big Chill, which in turn resembled The Return of the Secaucus Seven. A group of middle-aged people assemble and reminisce about the late '60s and early '70s. The audience perceives the changes. This film takes the form of a black comedy. The group assembles to recover the skeleton of a dead friend whose body they had concealed from the authorities - but a building is now to go on the site. The screenplay offers a lot of opportunity for satire and some severe comment on the '60s and '70s - as well as the upwardly mobile complacent 180s. There is some incidental satire on New South Wales and financial and political corruption. There is a mix-up with the skeleton - and they discover the body of Jemelia Nelson - a slight cover for the murdered heiress Juanita Neilson (the subject of the film Heatwave and The Killing of Angel Street).
The film has a very good cast led by Gary Day and Geraldine Turner. Offbeat and caustic.
1. An entertaining black comedy? For television audience, ABC audience? Younger audiences, middle-aged? For the contemporaries of the protagonists?
2. The use of Sydney locations, the feel of the city, an ironic story made more credible by the use of the locations?
3. The music, the selection of songs, their insertion for various characters, the range of the groups of the '60s, their lyrics, their spirit - a memoir through songs?
4. The quality of this black comedy. Australian style? The convention of the reunion. the interaction of those in the reunion, the get-the-guest kind of game, truth games and cruelty. psychological and verbal games: hurt, heal, revelation? The basic satiric style - the offbeat dialogue - and the jokes about three bullets being needed to reunite the Beatles, going to bed with Four Corners etc.? The finding of a body and the disposing of the body (The Trouble With Harry etc.?)? The ironic comparisons with the Juanita Neilson case? Police corruption and government corruption in New South Wales? The purpose: satiric. ironic? A memoir - truth. authenticity, falsity, trendiness. change? The '60s to the '70s. the '70s to the '80s?
5. The screenplay and the use of the reunion conventions: the four characters, highlighting them, gathering them together, setting the purpose, disinterring the bones, the interaction both serious and comic, the gangsters, the visits. the disposing of the body, the police and jail, the ironic ending? Insight, emotion, the purging of tensions and past memories?
6. The film depending on audience attitudes towards the '60s and '70s: values, rebellion. reassessment? Vietnam, the involvement in the war, moratoriums, the Draft? The role of the media and the arts at that time? The drug culture? Communes? Sexual freedom and its consequences (herpes)? Politics? All seen in the retrospect of the '80s?
7. The attitude towards the '80s: complacent, television. The Wheel of Fortune, the nuclear family, solo parents, work, upward mobility? Politics, idealism. realism? Moves from Left Wing to Right Wing? Affluence, position, status, drugs? frankness, sexuality, homosexuality? The comparisons with the '60s? Indications of the future?
8. Sonnie: the dead character, the characters re-creating his past, in himself, as a product of the times, in relationship to each of the characters, loved, hated, used, using others? The device (like Rashomon) of the subjective interpretation of an absent character? The significance of his death, its actual occurrence, his being buried, the need for him to be dug up because of building developments? Memories? Happiness, sadness, anger? The accusations? The bones and their being disposed of - the black irony of throwing them off the Gap, his not wanting to be buried in water? The irony of the exchange of bones - and the body that of Jemelia Nelson? The confessions of each of the characters - true or false? Sonnie ad the dead '60s and his bones disinterred in the '80s, to be disposed of? '80s characters haunted by the '60s? His final resting place with someone whom he loved and who was now honest about himself and his relationship?
9. Warren as the businessman. the firm. a Ferrari and his tender care of it. upward mobility? Age. relationships, change, his philosophy of life, his giving up alcohol and cigarettes in the '70s, his attitude towards his friends, arguing. accusing, accusing Cassie of murder? The memories of the commune. the group? The task and the willingness to get rid of Sonnie? The visit to the Mc Donalds, the encounter with the police? His attitude towards Danni, love for her? Towards Cagsie - suspicion? Condescending towards Jerry but helping him? The Cap, the police. the encounter with the gangsters, his decision, arrest and jail. reaction, confession, his reaching out towards Danni, her resistance - the future? How had this episode changed him?
10. Danni and the Wheel of Fortune, her status as a television star, her reasons for doing her work, the repercussions? The ironic comments about quiz shows ~ one off the Mazda? Fame, autographs, her ability to bribe the police? The car and her original clash with Cassie? Her memories of Sonnie, the relationship, the past. her acting, in the commune, sexuality, the baby, the abortion - done by a fellow student? Cassie's bringing this up, the tense argument in the women's toilet area? The gangsters? Her digging? Phoning the police? The confession? Her fear of relationships, herpes, her resistance to Warren, finally going with him, her future? How had this episode changed her?
11. Cassie and her family, the divorce, her children, the meaning of her life, some excitement? Her memories of Sonnie, love for him, her relationship with the others, her suspicions about Sonnie's death? Participation in the digging up of the body? Her blurting out the truth about the abortion? The tense clash with Danni, the reconciliation? Friendship with Jerry, supporting him, his homosexuality? The effect of the experience, her confession, her going off with Jerry, how had this episode changed her?
12. Jerry and his swinging past, the dentist, his knowledge of teeth, drugs, living alone. idealising Sonnie, his relationship with him, suspicions, the death? The truth about his homosexuality? The ordeal of telling them. their response to him? The bones and his reaction? Sharing with Warren, contrast with him? The experience. his telling the truth, his taking the bones -how much changed by the experience?
13. The picture of the New South Wales police - the parking ticket, the recognition of Danni, the bribe for the Wheel of Fortune Mazda? The arrest, the treatment in prison, the confessions, the cells, the ASIO background, the police and political cover-up - the Jemelia Nelson issue? Pulling the gun and ordering them to go free?
14. The gangsters and the bones, the background of New South Wales corruption in the '70s, the disappearance of Juanita Neilson, the scandal. the developers, the irony of the exchange of bones, the role of the police. the comment on Australian politics?
15. The transition of the decades, their styles. values. commitments, frankness and complacency?