Australian Screen

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Puberty Blues (1981)

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clip 'Will you go out with me?' education content clip 2

Original classification rating: M. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Debbie (Nell Schofield) and Sue (Jad Capelja) have been accepted by the surfie chicks. They are invited to ‘the paddock’ after school, where Tracey (Sandy Paul) introduces Debbie to a boy she says likes her. Bruce (Jay Hackett), who has left school, offers the briefest of courtships – only one sentence. He removes his gum only temporarily to seal the arrangement with a kiss.

Curator’s notes

An hilarious depiction of the courtship rituals of the young surfie girls and boys. The film’s depictions of their interactions gets much more dark and unpleasant after this scene – but it’s foreshadowed here, by the sense that it’s a set-up. Tracey ‘delivers’ the new girl to an arranged rendezvous; her acceptability depends on how she reacts to the total lack of romance in Bruce’s approach. Debbie appears never to have faced such a test before – Nell Schofield’s performance, as she tries to work out what is happening and what to do, is a perfect depiction of the confusion of teenage emotions Debbie is experiencing.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Sue (Jad Capelja) and Debbie (Nell Schofield) as they run to meet the tough surfie chicks who will take them to meet a group of boys. Music accompanies the scene as the group of girls, one of them riding a white horse, walk to 'the paddock’ where a group of teenage boys are lounging around under the trees. Bruce and Debbie are introduced by Tracey (Sandy Paul) and, as the other boys offer ocker encouragement, Bruce removes his gum, kisses Debbie and asks her to go out with him. She agrees, and they walk off to the beach.

Educational value points

  • Puberty Blues (1981) explores the relationship between the sexes within a particular teen surf culture. The culture, as portrayed in the film, was based on boys being dominant and girls being totally subservient and acquiescing to all of the boys’ demands. The boys made the girls fold their beach towels, fetch their Chiko Rolls, get a 'tan tattoo’ depicting the boys’ names, act as sexual objects and watch the boys surf. Girls were not allowed to leave the beach to eat or go to the toilet while their boyfriends were surfing, and they could never surf themselves. Sue and Debbie eventually choose not to be dominated by the males; they buy their own surfboard and learn to surf.
  • Peer group pressure during adolescence is a major theme of Puberty Blues. Popularity within the film’s surf culture is determined by whether a person is a surfer or a nerd. Teenage girls, including Sue and Debbie, try to find social status, popularity and acceptance by ingratiating themselves with the elite Greenhills gang. The girls put up with humiliation, cruelty and stupidity in order to achieve acceptance by the gang.
  • The language used in the book and film was, for its time, startlingly frank, honest and sexist, featuring examples of Australian teen vernacular of the 1970s. Girls were referred to as top chicks, molls, bush pigs or swamp hogs, a good-looking girl was called a glam mag, short for glamorous maggot, and boys were surfie spunks. Other terms used in the film are nerd, deadset, rootable and 'have a crack’.
  • Puberty Blues was based on an autobiographical book by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey about their experiences of being 13-year-old girls on Sydney’s southern beaches. The age of the girls was changed to 16 in the film for censorship reasons. The film was coproduced by Joan Long, who also wrote the screenplay for the feature film Caddie (1976), which was based on an autobiography by a Sydney barmaid. Long also produced Emerald City (1989), based on David Williamson’s play of the same name.
  • Kathy Lette (1958–) went on to become a newspaper columnist and a writer of other humorous books including Hit and Ms (1984), Girls’ Night Out (1988), Mad Cows (1996), which in 1999 was made into a film starring Joanna Lumley, and How to Kill Your Husband (and Other Handy Household Hints) (2006). Gabrielle Carey (1959–) has written serious-toned books, including In My Father’s House (1992), The Borrowed Girl (1994) and So Many Selves (2006).
  • Puberty Blues was directed by Bruce Beresford (1940–), who was born in Sydney, New South Wales. Beresford worked in Nigeria as a film editor in the 1960s then worked in London. His first feature film was The Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1972), and Puberty Blues (1981) was the last film he directed in Australia before moving to the USA, where he launched his international career as a director with Tender Mercies (1983). He has since returned to Australia to direct films such as Paradise Road (1997), but also continues to work in Europe and North America.
  • The film’s cinematographer was Donald McAlpine, ACS (Australian Cinematographic Society), one of Australia’s most accomplished and respected directors of photography. McAlpine (1934–) started his cinematographic career at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 1962 and moved to Film Australia in 1968. The first feature film he shot was The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, the first of ten films he worked on with Bruce Beresford. McAlpine has received many awards, including two from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for films directed by Baz Luhrmann (1962–), Romeo and Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge (1999).
  • Nell Schofield (1963–) works in television, radio and print, particularly as an arts presenter and commentator. She is a graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and her first film appearance was in Puberty Blues. She has appeared as a presenter on ABC television and on the cable television network Showtime. Schofield has reported for the radio program Arts Today and presented the 53-part series The Story of Pop. Her print articles have appeared in The Bulletin, The Sydney Morning Herald and Vogue Australia. Schofield also directed the 1999 Mercedes Fashion Week Festival and has written a book, First Kiss, with photographs by Lisa Tomasetti, and a play, Cowgirls and Indians (1988).

Sue and Debbie run towards the two surfie chicks – one of whom is riding a white horse.
Debbie Hey.
Sue Hey.
Tracey Hi, hi. Bruce Ford will be here. He really likes you.
Debbie How do you know?
Tracey Believe me.
Debbie Who told ya?
Tracey Can’t say.
Sue Dead set.
Tracey Yeah. Yeah.
Debbie Who is he?
Tracey One of the boys. He’s seeing us down at the beach. Works for his old man, and he’s got a panel van.
Debbie Oh God, do I look alright?
Tracey Rootable!

The girls laugh. They turn off the road and head into a secluded park.
Debbie Which one is he?
Tracey Debbie, meet Bruce. Bruce, Debbie.
Bruce Hi.
Debbie Hi.
Boys in the background Go get her, Bruce boy. Go on mate, go for it.
Tracey Well, come on Deb, he won’t bite.
Bruce takes the gum out of his mouth to kiss Debbie. The boys cheer them on. He quickly puts the gum back in his mouth.
All Ooh.
Bruce Will you go out with me?
Debbie Yeah.
They kiss again and walk off.
Girl in the background Bye, Deb.
Boy in the background Have a good time, mate.

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