Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Lovers and Luggers - in search of a pearl for a girl
Back in the seventies, the ABC had a series replaying Australian films from the industry's heyday prior to the Second World War. This was, I think, the only period in which the Australian film industry occupied a key local box office position. I would love to see the series repeated, although it maybe that our images of ourselves have shifted so much that the films would no longer resonate. If so, that's a pity.
One of the films I most enjoyed was Lovers and Luggers. Made for Cinesound in 1937 by Ken Hall, the film tag read "Epic pearling adventure romance in glorious sun-splashed tropical settings of Thursday Island!", while the plot is described in these terms "A concert pianist, as concert pianists are wont to do, goes pearl diving in the South Seas to find a giant pearl for his girlfriend. He does, and that's when all the trouble begins."
The film is a romp sitting squarely in the middle of a number of past streams
As I remember it, the opening scenes show what used to be called a lounge lizard from the effete
focused side of the Empire clearly in
need of redemption, thus playing to both Australian's images of themselves and of
themselves in comparison to the English. London
Then we have the tropic Pacific location, appealing to resonances of the Pacific as an exotic location and source of wealth. Then, too, we have pearls. By the time the film was made the pearl industry with its romance but also its horrors and dangers was in sharp decline. Still, it retained its fascination.
Pearls have gripped human imagination for thousands of years. They were worn in civilised
Middle East and Asian
societies as early as 3500 BCE and continued to grow in popularity during Roman
times when pearl fever reached its peak. A pearl earring reportedly paid for
one Roman general's political campaigns. Cleopatra dissolved a pearl in wine
and drank it to prove her love to Marc Antonius.
When my daughter turned eighteen several thousand years later, her chosen present was a string of pearls. Her grandmother loved pearls too. For my part, as a gauche youth, I found those sophisticated country girls with their twin sets and pearls quite terrifying. It would be years before I realised that I was as nervous as them.
The book on which Lovers and Luggers was based was written by Gurney Slade, pen name of the English writer Stephen Bartlett, and was set in Broome where
had actually dived for pearls. Hall changed the location to Bartlett Thursday
Island because it made filming easier. As an aside, I found that
some scenes were actually filmed at Port Stephens, so I have to add it to my
growing list of films with New England