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Pushing The Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show - Documentary Review (Melbourne Documentary Film Festival 2022)

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
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Mavis Bramston was there first and best
In the 1960s, Australian television was dominated by shows from the USA and UK. Local TV was regional or based on being a copy of an overseas show. Into this void in 1964 stepped The Mavis Bramston Show. At the time it was subversive and seen as pushing the very limits of what was allowed on TV. I was not born when it came out, but my father was not a fan of the show, and his parents hated it; I don't think my mum saw it.

However, when I got into looking at pop culture and Australian pop culture, in particular, this always came up. I have never seen an episode, just the odd sketch every now and then, and always wanted to know what it was about.

And thus when I was given the opportunity to view this documentary, I leapt at the chance.

Pushing The Boundaries: The Mavis Bramston Show (2022)
Written & Directed by Stephan Wellink

The documentary covers so much stuff! I am not going to outline everything, like the Bishop threatening to dump his Ampol shares, the people who came and went, the furores it caused, because you need to see this documentary to see it all for yourself. And, yes you need to see this.

This is a wonderful documentary.

Anyway, some notes.

This documentary is about the show, yes. The way it started the televised satire boom in Australia, which was carried on into the 1990s through countless shows, cannot be downplayed. But the documentary is more than that it is also a mirror of the times in which it was produced. Unfortunately, watching this documentary, some of the things that were satirised by the show in the 1960s are still issues today, in the 2020s!

I never realised Carol Raye was the first female television executive in Australia, and she produced the show and starred in it and was one of the writers. Her history was told in a very decent way, celebrated without being over the top. I am glad they did that for a pioneer of women in entertainment. She was also a well-known British TV and film star before coming out to Australia.

They wanted to go against Graham Kennedy's show, and was based on the UK's That Was The Week That Was, which is a show I have also seen some sketches from, as many 1970s British comics started there. I didn't realise there was a US version as well. Carol Raye put together a sort of Australian version but without it being the same.

The history of the show was fascinating, seeing how it grew, the subjects they tackled. While the documentary focused on the start of the show (unfortunately many episodes are lost to time), this is where it is important because that was where the taboos were first broken and where the show made its mark.
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The three original stars Gordon Chater, Carol Raye & Barry Creyton

And learning that Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's incredibly conservative prime minister for a long time, and who was the subject of a lot of the satire, requested copies of the tapes of the shows where he was sent up! That surprised me; I didn't realise he had a sense of humour.

One of the good things about the documentary is that when the show's quality dipped following the death of the executive producer, they admit it. This is a genuine look at everything about the show, and that is something I do not see enough of in documentaries that look back.

They showed a lot of sketches, not just talking heads, and I was laughing a lot through throughout the documentary. Some have not aged well, but that is the nature of entertainment.
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Noelene Brown as the original Mavis Bramston

Look, I really enjoyed this. As a time capsule of what Australia was like not that long ago comparatively, it is a reminder of just how far we have come with social justice, equality, human rights and many other issues. I would like to think that it is shows like The Mavis Bramston Show that helped kick that along in this country, by holding that mirror up to society and not caring about the consequences.

This documentary is thoroughly recommended. See it if you can.
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Your Comment
This seems to be showing only in Melbourne! Are there any Adelaide showings planned?
by vilia (score: 1|18) 41 days ago
Mavis was such an iconic moment in Australia's TV history. It led the way for more great shows to come. Glad it is being recognised.
by Gillian Ching (score: 3|5083) 51 days ago
In my most honest opinion, Menzies sending our boys to Vietnam on a fool's errand effectively made him a war criminal.
by Andrew Situ (score: 2|146) 48 days ago
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