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Shirley Barrett looks back on Love Serenade

The first thing that struck me on seeing Love Serenade (1996) again on the big screen after all these years was: what a lot of crane shots! On South Solitary (2010) we couldn’t afford a crane. The second thing was: gosh, this filmmaker is heavily reliant on the use of this smouldering seventies soundtrack to carry her over the odd flat spot. And the third thing was: this film is nuts! What was I thinking? It is completely barking mad.

Perhaps when one is younger and never had to endure the rancour of critics, one is bolder and gamer. Why was Ken Sherry a fish? I have no respectable answer for that, other than to say I was plodding through a fairly pedestrian second draft when I was suddenly beset by the vision of Ken Sherry gargling mouthwash, with bubbles issuing from his gills. Certainly, I was reading a lot of Cortázar and suchlike at the time, so perhaps it was a modest dabble in magical realism. Anyway, I’m glad I did it and I think we just about pulled it off, but it’s a gamble I probably wouldn’t have the stomach to attempt these days.

The other strong emotion I experienced on watching it again was an enormous appreciation of my cast, and their deadpan but absolute engagement in this nonsense. I really enjoy the way the four of them (Miranda Otto, Rebecca Frith, George Shevtsov and John Alansu) resolutely hold up their corner of the film, each in their unique and idiosyncratic way. I think with such fondness back to Rebecca coming along to her first audition with a packed lunch (her test scene was the one where Dimity tells Vicki-Ann she had sex with Ken Sherry), and proceeding to gag on her sandwich at the moment of revelation (that was all her idea). And of Miranda, eagerly working out her strip to Barry White, complete with difficulty removing pantyhose (her idea). Of John Alansu’s misty rendition of 'Wichita Lineman’. And George, of course.

Every novice director needs to work with an actor like George. I’d sidle up to him on set and furtively whisper a note (I am always fearful lest crew members overhear what amounts to my directing, and think less of me), whereupon George would listen intently with a look of fierce concentration on his face then suddenly exclaim loudly, 'Yes! Yes!! Wonderful idea! Brilliant!’. As mostly my directorial adjustments had been inclined to leave actors bewildered and resentful, this was extraordinarily pleasing, and seemed to have the happy additional benefit of making the other actors appear churlish if they did not respond similarly to my proffered pearls.

The other wonderful thing I must share about George is his complete lack of self-consciousness when watching rushes. A wildly ebullient man (not a bit like Ken Sherry), he would roar with laughter (and I mean really roar) as much at his own performance as everybody else’s. In fact when Love Serenade screened at Cannes, George came along too and one of the judges later remarked to me, 'You know, we all enjoyed your film very much but I think none of us enjoyed it quite so much as your lead actor’.

Sometimes we talk about going back to Robinvale and making a sequel of sorts to Love Serenade. I like the idea of going back to this world with the same creative team (I was very fortunate to have Mandy Walker as DOP and Steven Jones-Evans as my production designer, and the lusciously bleak look of the film is all due to their skill and craft). I’m just waiting for Miranda and Rebecca to get a little bit older, perhaps in their fifties. How will Ken Sherry return, especially since he was so efficiently dispatched the first time around? I don’t know yet. But I’ll figure something out.

Love Serenade (1996) was recently restored for the NFSA Deluxe-Kodak Collection.

Love Serenade feature film – 1996


  1. I love the fish references, and see them as more than just red herrings. Dimity is absorbed by fish and fishing—because what else would anyone do in that town? This is why she becomes engrossed with snaring Ken, it is just how her mind works.

    As I have written elsewhere*:
    “we can easily see the emotionally dead Ken as a ‘cold fish’, Dimity as the ‘fish out of water’ (in that she does not appear to be in her element), and we are [or I am] reminded of the joke about the Murray cod, the fish that ‘got away.’ Dimity says that
    Vicki-Ann shouldn’t marry Ken, telling her sister she has reason to believe Ken is a fish. Dimity also comments that some fish mate for life (underlining the different views Ken, Dimity and Vicki-Ann have in relation to what love is.) Ken inveigles Dimity into his living-room with the line, ‘Would you like to see my fish?’ [in lieu of etchings!], and later expresses his view that being committed to another person is like being a marlin in a fish tank”. So all in all, the fish are very productive for the story.

    *Lisa French, 'Love Serenade: Is It a Feminist Film?', Metro, Film, Television, Radio & Multimedia Journal, No. 112, 1997, p.78.

  2. #1 from LFrench – 12 years, 8 months ago.
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