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2000 Weeks (1969)


Will Gardener (Mark McManus) is a Melbourne journalist at a crossroads. He wants to be a novelist, but he has a wife (Eileen Chapman) and two kids to support. His father (Michael Duffield) is dying in hospital and his mistress (Jeanie Drynan) is about to leave for London. The return of his old university friend Noel Oakshot (David Turnbull), now a brilliant success in the London media, provokes a crisis. Will must decide what he really wants.

Curator’s notes

2000 Weeks was one of the first features of the modern era in Australian cinema, after decades in which almost the only productions were British and American films in search of exotic locales. Tim Burstall wrote it with his partner in Eltham Films, Patrick Ryan, after two years on a scholarship studying film techniques in the US. Burstall had enrolled in courses at the Actor’s Studio in New York, studied scriptwriting with Budd Schulberg and Paddy Chayefsky, and worked as an assistant to director Martin Ritt on Hombre (1967), a major Hollywood film.

I suppose you could say that two years in the States was my real apprenticeship – the equivalent or better than a stint in any modern film school…and I came back to Australia raring to make my first feature – which turned out to be 2000 Weeks. In those days there was no government funding, of course, so the budget was cobbled together from three main sources: Senior Films – they were the biggest production house in Melbourne at the time; the leading Melbourne film lab (VFL) and my partner and backer at Eltham Films, Pat Ryan.

Burstall had returned to a country in artistic and cultural ferment – there was growing opposition to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war and a strong sense that the era of Menzies conservatism was over (even if it wasn’t quite – see Don’s Party). There was an intense desire amongst a few people to restart an Australian film industry, and Burstall was one of the leaders. Indeed, he made nationalist artistic longings the main theme of the film, although it didn’t help the film’s reception. It was booed when it screened at the 1970 Sydney Film Festival and damned by some influential critics. The box office was poor and Burstall became determined to make films for a wide commercial audience, rather than an art-house few. Many of these later films, starting with Stork (1971) and Alvin Purple (1973), were great popular successes.

Nevertheless, 2000 Weeks is hardly a disaster – although that was how Burstall would later describe it (see below). It is dense with dialogue and heavily influenced by European art cinema, but it gives a vivid picture of the kind of artistic community that Burstall was a part of in Melbourne at the time. It is heavily autobiographical and intensely personal, but still highly watchable.

Burstall’s sense of humour is evident in the way he portrays the boorish expatriate Noel Oakshot, for whom Australia is a wasteland. Mark McManus gives an effecting performance as Will, in a difficult role. His passivity is partly the fashion – European cinema was full of young artistic men in existential crises, in films like Blow Up (1966). Most of Burstall’s 1970s films, including Alvin Purple, Stork and Petersen (1974), continue to explore this theme in some way: a young man tries to find his place in the society. In his own way, Burstall was one of the more introspective filmmakers of the ‘new wave’, although he concealed it more in the films he made later. Mark McManus went to England soon after and is better known now as the TV detective Taggart. He died in 1996.

Tim Burstall’s view of the film was even harsher than some of his critics. '2000 Weeks was a disaster. Commercially. Aesthetically. In every way. In the States I’d been advised by a United Artists executive that the best bet for an Australian film was the international art-house market – the film festival audience. With the wisdom of hindsight, it’s easy to see the advice was dead wrong and I should never have taken it. C’est la vie. My second feature Stork went in exactly the opposite direction.’