Tag Archives: 1981

“You Chick’s Are Bent!” – A Definitive Sequence in ‘Puberty Blues’

18 May

Sequence Analysis:

 Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981):  1:16:48 – 1:20:56 (Final Chapter of the Film)

Sequence being analysed can be seen in the above video ~ 4:06 – 8:16

Puberty Blues (Beresford, 1981), based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette, tells a coming-of-age story of two teenage girls, Debbie (Nell Schofield) and Sue (Jad Capelja), as they attempt to improve their social status by integrating themselves with the Greenhills Surfie Gang and navigate their way through adolescence in 1970s Cronulla, Sydney. In Bruce Beresford’s words, “It was a sort of insight into the way of life of those kids” (Beresford, 2001). The film depicts life in the Australian surf culture of the early 1970s as being frequently less than fulfilling for girls (Speed, 2004a, p. 57). There is an emphasis on stereotypical gender roles and surf culture rituals with female characters continuously being subjected to sexist stereotyping, limiting their roles to ‘top chick’, ‘moll’ and ‘dickhead’. The kitsch appeal of the film’s mise-en-scene has become a significant attraction, given the currency of 1980s revivalism in popular culture (Speed, 2004b, p.168).

At the end of the film Debbie and Sue discover themselves through their experiences and will no longer do what is expected of them. They break from practices of conformity and defy traditional customs of surfing subculture by purchasing a surfboard and surfing in front of the Greenhills surfie gang. The final sequence which depicts the girls triumph at surfing, and the changing attitudes of the Greenhills gang, is the one I have chosen to analyse. Some commentators have labeled this sequence as “the defining moment in the film” (Capp, 2011). The following response will provide a shot-by-shot analysis of filmic techniques, describing how meaning is produced in this pivotal sequence.  

The sequence fades in to an establishing long shot of a bright sunny day on a beach-front street in Cronulla, Sydney. The camera follows the two protagonists Debbie and Sue, at eye-level as they exit a surf shop carrying their newly purchased surfboard and cross the road to Cronulla Beach. This shot sets up the girls’ ultimate act of rebellion, yet still, at this point in the sequence, reinforces the gender stereotypes and norms of the urban surf sub-culture that dominate the film. Debbie and Sue jointly carry the board (a surfer would carry the board by themselves) and are bombarded with several verbal slurs from passing surfers (“You’re kidding, chick’s surfing?”) as they look to enter into the male domain of surfing. The girls have had enough of conforming to gender stereotypes (“it stinks”).

Shot 2 continues the reinforcement of the surfing culture hegemony and stereotypes. A long shot continues to track Debbie and Sue as they now walk along Cronulla beach with their new surfboard. In the unfocused background you can see surfers and male swimmers giving the girls odd looks, while in the focused foreground a group of girl’s stereotypically sunbaking on the sand comment on the oddity of the situation (“Cop these Chicks”). As the camera pans, following the girls, other surfers enter the foreground and continue the hostile taunts.

In shot 9 Beresford introduces a series of shot-reverse-shot, beginning with the Greenhills surfie gang in a low angle long shot, before cutting to a low angle long shot of Debbie and Sue leaving their belongings on the beach and getting ready to surf. The following shots continuously cut between the Greenhills gang and Debbie and Sue as they exchange verbal banter (“Chick’s don’t surf” – “Just you wait!”).

At first the protagonists fail at their act of rebellion. Sue, in shot 20, attempts to paddle out, slipping off the board numerous times, laughing at she does. In the ensuing shots, medium close ups of the Greenhills gang members, male and female, shows how ridiculous they think girls surfing is, laughing at Sue’s hopelessness on the surfboard.

A medium close up shot of two male Greenhills gang members as they approach the water for a better look in shot 25 is the beginning of a change in attitude. Although through their verbal slurs of “You are bent!”, they are reinforcing their dominance in surfing culture, their separation from the group, which can be seen out of focus in the background, is a sign that something is changing. In the next shot however, the two have returned to the gang.

Probably the most important scenes in the sequence begin with shot 28 when the first non-diegetic sound is introduced in the form of Split Enz “Nobody takes me seriously”. This song has powerful lyrics and accompanies just under two minutes of Debbie’s progress in surfing. Throughout Debbie’s attempts, the camera uses powerful reverse shots to cut back to medium close up shots of individual Greenhills gang members, monitoring their reaction. When Debbie first tries to catch a wave, medium close up shots of gang members reveal their embarrassment through their expressions, dialogue and laughter (“How embarrassing”). However, their opinions soon change.  

Rose Capp (2011) sums up the Greenshills gang’s shift in attitudes quite well; “The boys’ hostile incredulity turns to grudging admiration while the girls shift rapidly from mortification…to bemusement and finally, a distinct distaff pride in Debbie’s success.” These changing attitudes are exemplified in their changing facial expressions.

After numerous attempts, Debbie finally manages to stand up on the surfboard and ride her first wave in shot 30. As the camera peds down from her face to her feet on the surfboard in a medium shot, the grin of Debbie’s face is priceless. The changing facial expressions of the gang members are also priceless. As Capp (2011) describes it the “female empowerment registered in the dawning comprehension on the faces of Debbie’s fellow surfie chicks is what makes this such a literally liberating moment.” The female gang members are at first mortified, then embarrassed, then curious and finally proud.

In shot 32, an eye-level long shot captures Debbie surfing the same wave as a male surfer, symbolizing her new found equality and independence from the constraints of the Greenhills surfie gang. The final shot in the sequence shows Debbie and Sue leaving the beach, with Debbie carrying the surfboard like other surfers do (in comparison to their joint carrying in shot 1), symbolising her defiance of conformity. As the sun sets behind the two protagonists, so does the traditions and contraints of male-dominated surfie subculture.

The sequence analysed above is key to the film Puberty Blues as it shows Debbie and Sue’s defiance of and independence from the male-dominated youth counter-culture of surfing. It also importantly shows a shift in the members of the Greenhills surfie gang’s attitudes to female’s right and ability to surf.


By: Megan Walford, z3291268

Word Count: 991



Beresford, B., 2001 [interview], in Malone, P., (eds.), Myth and Meaning: Australian Film directors in their own words, Currency Press, Strawberry Hills (NSW).

Capp, R., 2011, “Chick’s Don’t Surf: Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981)”, in Senses of Cinema, issue 58 [online] <http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2011/58/chicks-don’t-surf-puberty-blues-bruce-beresford-1981/> Accessed 29th April 2011

Speed, L., 2004a, “You and Me Against the World: Revisting Puberty Blues”, in Metro Magazine: Media and Education Magazine, no. 140, 2004: p.54-59.

Speed, L., 2004b, “Puberty Blues [Book Review]”, in Metro Magazine: Media and Education Magazine, no. 144, Feb 2004: 168-169.



Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981).

 (NOTE: Although not strictly important, screen caps of the movie will soon be incoporated into this blog post. At the time of posting my computer, unfortunately, was experiencing technical difficulties 😐 But we shall keep calm and carry on !)

Puberty Blues (Bruce Beresford, 1981) Trailer


This is Australia: Gallipoli (Weir, 1981) and Nationalism

31 Mar

        (Source)                                 (Source)

CONCEPT ANALYSIS: Nationalism and Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981)

The following is a concept analysis of nationalism, designed to define this idea in the context of Australian national identity and analyse its representation and projection in the Australian film, Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981).

Gallipoli is a compelling fictional story of friendship and adventure between two Australian soldiers, Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), travelling from the Western Australian outback to the deserts of Egypt to Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915. Michael Bodey (in Hocking(eds.), 2006), as well as other film critics and historians, believe that ‘Gallipoli is a truly grand Australian film. A searing national character study[…]’ (p.104).

Gallipoli embodies and projects Australian nationalism by ‘offer[ing] [a] re-enactment of events already invested with national significance’ (Raynor,2000, p.110). All Australians know of Gallipoli and the ANZAC myth/legend. The film celebrates Australia’s essential culture, qualities and values as embodied by the battle of Gallipoli and the consequent ANZAC myth/legend.

What is meant by (Australian) Nationalism? Anthony D. Smith (2001) outlines his five meanings of nationalism as follows:

  1. The process of formation, or growth, of nations
  2. A sentiment or consciousness of belonging to the nation
  3. A language and symbolism of the nation
  4. The social and political movement on behalf of the nation
  5. The doctrine and/or ideology of nation, both general and particular (p.7)

As Smith’s definitions clearly show, there are different meanings of nationalism that tend to overlap and reveal common themes. The main theme is an overriding concern with the nation. Nationalism seeks to achieve national autonomy, national unity and national identity (Smith,2001, p.9).

Every nation’s defining features are different. Australia’s idea of nationalism is centred on a post-British, unified country, and how we define ourselves in terms of unique and valued qualities. The motif of the harsh outback and landscape is also key to our national identity, as is our desire to distance ourselves from Britain and reassess (and sometimes rewrite) our history (Freebury,1987, p.43).

The battle of Gallipoli, as Jane Freebury writes, was ‘an episode in Australia’s history which has become associated with the birth of nationhood’ (1987, p.44). This true unification of the Australian nation, fourteen years after Federation in 1901, is the focus of Weir’s film. However, Gallipoli is not essentially about or centred on war. The majority of the film, in fact, follows Archy and Frank through Western Australia and Egypt. But this is done purposefully. Weir uses an extended period of time to construct the kind of valued Australian character found in ANZAC soldiers.

Gallipoli then is focused on the quality of the men who fought and died, celebrating ultimately national ideology. The film largely centred on what is intrinsically Australian – for example; mateship, endurance, the battler image, anti-authoritarian, anti-British, the outback, competitive spirit, courage, selflessness and a ‘nationalistic belief in an as yet unrealised potential’ (Freebury,1987, p.45).

Weir’s focus then is on dramatising and examining elements popularly associated with national character (McFarlane in Murray(eds.), 1993, p.74) through cinematic techniques, visual symbolism and narrative devices. He portrays the spirit of Australia through the lives of two typical Australians; Archy the bushman, and Frank, the urban larrikin. The characterisation of these protagonists is exceptional and allows them to both symbolically embody perceptions and interpretations of the ANZAC legend/myth (Raynor,2000, p.113).

Archy, is the first of the two introduced to the audience. He is a bushman of the outback, an athletic sprinter, who seems to beat adversity in running races. Frank on the other hand, is an urban dweller and more wise than Archy in certain ways (he forges birth certificates, jumps trains) (Rattigan,1991, p.137). They both embody accepted Australian characters, but with an emphasis on Archy being the more ‘pure’ Australian (Rattigan,1991).

Mates: Archy & Frank (screen shot)

Australian concepts of loyalty and mateship are explored through the powerful relationship between Archy and Frank. Their mateship, a nationalistic feature in Australia, is cemented when they ‘navigate’ across the vast desert to reach Perth. The cinematography of these scenes is amazing. It captures the landscape, as a feature of national identity, but also as a transformative agent of the Australian spirit; a place where boys and men endure adversity and hardship, and ultimately grow into the strong and ideal Australian bushman.

Another very Australian character quality, emphasised in Gallipoli is competitive spirit. Competition plays a key role in developing the friendship and emergent mateship of Archy and Frank, who verse each other in rural running races. Other examples of Australian competitive spirit are borderless, with the football played in the deserts of Cairo (Western Australians v Victorians) and the constant haggling of prices with Egyptian traders (McMahonAndQuin,1990, p.117).

The battle of Gallipoli also represents a national development, of stepping away from Britain, and towards Australia as a nation. While still under the umbrella of the British Commonwealth, the film highlights the anti-authoritarian/anti-British sentiments felt by Australian soldiers. When the Australian soldiers move through the traders in Cairo, they spot British officers and take it in their stride to disrespect and imitate their formal manner. Another example is the description of the British sipping tea on the beach, while Australians sacrifice their lives going over the top (McMahonAndQuin,1990, p.117).

The final scene of Gallipoli is where the film really exemplifies Australian national character. Weir has chosen to remember the courage and selflessness of the ANZACs, epitomised by Archy’s final act (of mateship). Archy encapsulates what it means to be Australian when he knowingly runs towards certain death – dying for his country, but more importantly, for his mate, Frank.

Archy’s final act (screen shot)

Australian audiences responded to Gallipoli’s celebration of national identity (Freebury,1987, p.44). ‘Film, […] is the most powerful medium for projecting a “national identity”’ (Freebury,1987, p.43). Australians need to ‘see’ themselves in order to form a ‘national identity’. From this analysis one can see how nationalism is represented and projected in the film Gallipoli, a prime example of how Australian cinema can add to the resurgence of Australian nationalism.  


Bibliography: (Harvard, In-text)

Bodey, M 2006, ‘Gallipoli’, in Hocking, S (eds.) 2006, 100 Greatest Films of Australian Cinema, Scribal Publishing, Richmond (VIC), p. 104.

Freebury, J 1987, ‘Screening Australia: Gallipoli – a study of nationalism on film’, Media Information Australia.

McFarlane, B 1993, ‘Gallipoli’, in Murray, S (eds.) 1993, Australian Film: 1978-1992 – A survey of theatrical feature, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p.74.

McMahon, B and Quin, R 1990, Australian Images, Science Press, Marrickville (NSW).

Rattigan, N 1991 ‘Gallipoli’ in Images of Australia, SMU Press, p.135-138

Raynor, J 2000, Contemporary Australian Cinema: An Introduction, Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Smith, A D 2001, Nationalism: theory, ideology, history, Wiley-Blackwell, Great Britain.


Gallipoli (Peter Weir, 1981).

By: Megan Walford, z3291268, ARTS2062

Word count: 980