“The viewer has to make a decision about commitment”

Keeping up with TV is hard even when you are legendary actor & reviewer Graeme Blundell.

Graeme Blundell may have been reviewing Television for some 20 years, but even he admits keeping up with new releases is now an arduous task.

Writing for The Australian, and presenting Screen with Margaret Pomeranz on Foxtel Arts, he has no shortage of new titles to pass on to his audience. But since the expansion of Streaming titles, he struggles to finish the series he starts.

“The viewer has to make a decision these days about commitment. Is this worth going on with?” he tells TV Tonight.

“I got very bored with Tin Star which started terrifically but Tim Roth has become the most appallingly awful character.

“He might redeem himself, but I don’t know if we’ll be watching!

“Sometimes you are sucked into something and you want to watch all of it. I just watched the first episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and I will certainly watch every episode of that. It was absolutely superb.

“But (reviewers) are one episode-wonders, in a way.

“It is the era of the viewer, because there is so much to watch and so many opportunities for high-end drama and comedy, interview programmes, factual and documentary -it’s all there.

“I can only cover one show a week in my column, and Margaret and I cover a number of things, but you’re (TV Tonight) able to cover more because you have more space. So people look for some sort of curatorial advice.

“And with Netflix it’s very hard to know what’s on.

“They are dropping things all the time. Making a Murderer just came from nowhere 2 years ago. And one about the Rajneesh, Wild Wild Country has just dropped.

“Newspapers have largely dropped off coverage as well, so it’s very hard for the average viewer to keep up.”

“We cross swords quite a lot, disagreeing about things quite vehemently.”

Screen is now in its third incarnation on Foxtel Arts. It originally launched in 2015 with Pomeranz & Blundell and a guest reviewer, morphing into 2016’s Stage & Screen before a third outing in March with the duo discussing Film & Television.

“We cross swords quite a lot, disagreeing about things quite vehemently. It’s a bit like a comedy routine a lot of the time, we have quite different views on a lot of films,” he explains.

“Margaret’s the ultimate film buff. She’s been looking at films for so many years and talking about them publicly, she just loves it. And she’s very expert at it, she knows a lot more than I do about the history of film.”

Blundell, who is a big fan of SBS On Demand and Walter Presents on Foxtel, says Screen reviews are independent of Pay TV influence and have the freedom to be critical of Foxtel content. Nor is he coerced at The Australian to criticise ABC.

“No, it’s never been a problem! I didn’t like Harrow very much, but there you go…!” he laughs.

“I’m about to look at the new Todd Sampson series. I’ve always been a fan of his extreme shows, so I can’t wait to see what he does with this new series.”

And despite his Drama roots, he acknowledges Reality & Factual are often under-represented when we come to praising Storytelling.

Deadliest Catch -talk about a maritime story. Hemmingway couldn’t write better,” he suggests.

“And the mining shows are terrifically well-filmed.”

“They hated these films, because they were presenting the wrong image of Australia”

Blundell became nationally famous through break-out films in a screen renaissance, notably as the titular Alvin Purple, a 1973 sex comedy, directed by Tim Burstall, in which his character was irresistible to women across Australia.

“Burstall was determined to crack the Australian psyche and he thought broad comedy was the way, so that’s where Stork and Alvin came from. They were huge hits. Bruce Beresford did Bazza McKenzie. So there was this burgeoning film industry, before funding and governments were involved. And they hated these films, because they were presenting the wrong image of Australia, so we became very sober and serious with Picnic at Hanging Rock.

“Alvin, like Stork, was shot for a couple of hundred thousand with one camera on stilts.

“But it was very effective.”

Written by Alan Hopgood, it was such a hit it spawned 2 sequels and a 1976 ABC comedy series under Maurice Murphy & Ted Robinson.

“It was where all the new plays were being performed”

Prior to his first TV appearance, uncredited on the very first episode of Homicide, Blundell had no acting bug until his days at Melbourne University.

“I had just been accepted into the Union Theatre Repertory Company, which was the precursor to the Melbourne Theatre Company,” he recalls.

“It was the era when people took student theatre seriously, because it was where all the new plays were being performed. A lot of very important actors for the next 20 years came from University theatre: D-Generation, Fast Forward, Barry Kosky….

“Geoffrey Blainey once told me that where I came from, in the outer suburbs, a tertiary education was as rare as a refrigerator. I think we had a fridge, but we didn’t have a television.

“I came third in HSC Art, and had been exhibited as a painter after doing a night school course at Preston Tech.

“When I got to University I did the Humanities courses, but I was inveigled during Orientation Week into the Marlow Society, which was one of the student theatre groups. Within a week I was rehearsing Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, which many see as the start of Theatre of the Absurd.

“I was kind of taught by myself and working with other actors at various ages, and very quickly found a place at the Melbourne Theatre Company.”

Carlton was kind to Blundell, directing the premiere of Dimboola as La Mama’s first ever production (Note: sadly La Mama burnt to the ground on the weekend) and as part of Hoopla theatre.

As a student he used to usher at Russell Street Theatre, where he would later perform and direct.

Blundell’s IMDb listing is chockful of memorable screen titles: Don’s Party, Mad Dog Morgan, The Year My Voice Broke, RyanDivision 4, Matlock Police, The Box, Power Without Glory, Cop Shop, Water Under the Bridge, Young Ramsay, Kingswood Country, A Country Practice, Vietnam, GP, Joh’s Jury, Medivac, All Saints, The Secret Life of Us, Through My Eyes, Marking Time, East West 101, The Hollowmen, City Homicide, Underbelly, Chandon Pictures, Laid…. and that doesn’t include his stage roles.

These days acting is largely confined to guest roles, usually in comedies.

“I go behind the ideas, really, to see where the idea has come from.”

“There’s not very much around for actors of my generation or age, and I really don’t have the time. I’ve been writing for The Australian for about 15 years now,” he explains.

“You occasionally see Chris Haywood or Jack Thompson, but they haven’t played a lead in Television for some time.

“But I’ve got no clear picture of the future, or even the present. My columns are written for readers who are interested in TV and its history. I go behind the ideas, really, to see where the idea has come from.

“So I tend to pick and choose from a vast array of things that are around, what to write about.

“But I’m just as confused as the average viewer is by what’s going on.”

Screen airs Wednesdays at 7.30pm on Foxtel Arts
Graeme presents Saturday Night At The Movies from 8.30pm Saturdays on FOX Classics.

4 Responses

  1. I stopped reading Blundells reviews in ‘The Weekend Australian’ a long time ago. Too much gush, particularly when it came to some of our local productions which were of a poor standard and the ratings proved it.

    1. Same here. He really needs to revise the notion that he can only write about one TV show per week. So many of his columns waffle drearily on about programs unworthy of the scrutiny. He could more usefully cover three or four new programs a week and not be half as dull.

Leave a Reply