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THE FILM COULD BE A WINNER

On Dunk ls. in the Barrier Reef a film unit, led by international star James Mason and famous director Michael Powell, is shoot ing "Age of Consent," the Norman Lindsay novel. After a stay on location Kay Keavney reports..,

CORA, sea-waif of the story (English actress Helen Mirren), with a piece of ornamental driftwood which artist Brad (James Mason) has set up and painted outside his decrepit shack on the island.

SUNDAY PICNIC (below) at Purtaboi, near Dunk Island. James Mason pours beer for the company on their day off. Right is Englishman John Pellatt, veteran of 60 films, who paid tribute to the crew.

ABOVE: Producer-director Michael Powell (pointing) and camera crew working in torrential tropic rain on a platform built out from Dunk Island jetty. Powell is signalling James Mason to start his run down the ¡etty.

PAINTER Brad (right) explores the beach with Godfrey, a wire - haired bitzer who plays the artist's boon companion in the film.

JAMES MASON, as Brad, '» the tropic solitude he hos crossed the world to fid

I MAKE-UP GIRL Peggy Carter, of Balgowlah, I N.S.W., shares a joke with James Mason and I Hehn Mirren. In the film they play a middle-aged I painter and a teenage ragamuffin orphan girl.

STAR James Mason spearfishing in the blue-green seas off Dunk Island, where "Age of Consent" is being filmed.

I'TITHO taught you to

TT steal?" snapped the artist. "My grand- mother," tjbe girl said.

She sat with the sea at

her back, grasping a bucket- ful of sea creatures between her bare brown legs.

"Where's your mother?" demanded the artist, a middle-aged man dreading involvement, and with a compassionate heart to hide.

"Dead," said Cora.

"Father?"

"Never had one," said Cora. "Not one that would own up to it."

The wind whipped her long, wet, sun-bleached hair.

Came a whirring, and artist and sea-waif and en- chanted island faded and disappeared. Lights went up.

I came down to earth.

I sat in a crowded tent on Dunk Island, off the ¡North Queensland coast, and what I had seen were rushes from the million-dollar film being made there, based on Norman Lindsay's novel "Age of Consent."

The bearded artist wa« James Mason, and Cora wa; England's Helen Mirren who were sitting just ar [arm's reach away.

I Producer-director Michac

I Powell, taut and dynamic I turned to argue color value: I with Hannes Staudinger I photography directo) I (whose credits include th< ?Japanese masterpiece I "Samurai").

I Sixty-odd people crammec I the tent, analysing and dis

I jeering in a sudden out

I burst of sound. Most o

I them were young - tannec (boys and girls in brigh j casual clothing. All wen I dedicated film professionals ? Nearly all were Australian: I Carpenters and cinematog I raphers, actors and account lan«, make-up and wardrob I girls, lighting experts, soun< I'xpcrts, a nurse, thre

artists, film editors, secre- taries, a generator operator, a dog-handler - all were part of an army air-lifted 2000 miles to this tiny island on the rim of thc Barrier Reef.

Their mood was victori-

ous. They seemed to feel they were on a winner. And so, over the next few davs,

did I.

""Age of Consent*' is dif- ferent. It's refreshing, and

what an advertisement for

Australia - part of Aus- tralia I, for one, had never

seen.

This is a film about indi- vidual human values, and human commitment, played out against a backdrop of sea and sky and scented air.

The film takes time out

to observe the way a frog leaps, and to listen to bird- song, which is a pleasant thing in a war-weary world.

Imported frogs

- local ones didn't jump high enough

It's a light-hearted film, often funny, and it features a very funny man, Ireland's Jack MacGowran, whom James Mason calls "one of the finest living actors."

"How are you getting on with the Australian accent?" I asked Jack.

"I'm listening for it, listen- ing all the time," he said in his lilting Irish. "I'm learn- ing, ah, but some Irish will come through. It's very like the speech of the west of Ireland, you know. I'm thinking maybe it stems from

there."

Helen Mirren is a joy, as natural and unselfconscious as Cora, the girl she plays. She's completely anti glamor (her sole costume for the film cost $4) and she's built like a female.

With any luck she might start a new trend that buries

Twiggy, and all the girls in

(he world with curves will be able to start acting proud of them again.

"'Age of Consent" is vir- tually her first film*.

"'So I'm learning my trade as I go along," she told me, biting messily into a guava.

"'When I got this part with James Mason, I thought, marvellous, I'll be able to watch a master at work. But, in fact, what he does is so clever and so subtle, you don't know what it is till you see it on the screen."

As for Mason himself, the film seems likely to reveal

for the first time? - the

tremendous personal quali- ties, the warmth, seen in his television interviews in Aus- tralia.

I saw quite a deal of him on th? island. Mason, at his actor's trade, Mason, the co producer, in constrnt con-

sultation with Powell.

Going over his lines and fan mail with his good friend and secretary of many years, Frank Essien. Combing the shore for seashells. Spending his one day off, Sunday, at an impromptu picnic, stand- ing by the hour pouring beer

for the crew.

I saw crazy things, part of the crazy film business.

A crewman, for instance, at the height of an absolute downpour, frantically work- ing a machine to make a bit

more rain.

And a barrel of fat frogs, specially imported at great expense because the local variety didn't leap right.

I talked to the Australians, men and women, whenever I got the chance, trying to find out how they developed such competence in a land devoid of a film industry.

Lots of them have knocked around the world. Most have worked on the films that

occasionally and increasingly

are shot here, and TV series, like "Skippy," and com- mercials and anything else that gets them among film.

Every one of them was worth a story, and a spot of national pride. IT1 just men- tion young, dark Tony Buck- ley, who will edit the film -

the first time it has been wholly done in Australia and the first time it has been done on actual location.

"What a responsibility," groaned Tony. "But what an opportunity!"

All the international big shots paid tribute to the

Australians.

Said Mason, "Absolutely professional." Said English- man John Pellatt, finance ad- viser, a veteran of 60 films, "Wouldn't you agree. Micky,

that this is thc finest crew we've ever worked with?"

Said Michael Powell, the perfectionist, "It's becoming

so."

I marvelled at thc sheer logistics - air- and sea freighting everything from a hairpin to a $50,000 genera- tor to the pocket-handker- chief of an island.

(That generator sank in 24 feet of water just off

Townsville. It had to be dug up, towed underwater to Dunk, landed, dried out, and reassembled - and so tight was organisation that the production hardly missed a beat.)

I watched young bearded artist Paul Delprat and his two pretty girl assistants, who actually paint the works

artist Brad does on the

island. They also painted the decrepit shack Brad rents

and turns into a riot of color.

Machine-made

rain to boost a

tropic downpour

Some of the paintings of Cora are nudes. In the film, she poses for them in total innocence. Brad paints them with total objectivity - until the world breaks in and brings conflict and tension, and violent death.

Paul works on the nudes at a remote beach called Muggy Muggy (now known to the crew as Nuddy Muddy) and on the perfect little island across from Dunk called Purtaboi.

It was the scene of the Sunday picnic, when the hard workers played just as

hard. The skippers and crew of the two permanently chartered motor - cruisers cooked delicous barramundi in butter on an open range and Helen Mirren cut up salad and James Mason poured beer.

He also played a tough game of water polo for the Beards and Birds against the Cleanskins, and got a blood- ied nose in the process.

Then back to Dunk with the first stars. Drinks, tall stories, songs, and shop-talk on the broad verandas. Monday tomorrow, and a six-thirty start.

Inevitably, talk of the future of the Australian film industry. Well, "Weird Mob" led to this, and this could lead to - what? Spirits high, that sense of being on a winner.

"All Australia needs is backing," said someone.

"And guaranteed distri- bution," cut in someone else.

Dennis Gende, the art director, summed up for all: "The future is limitless. It can go as far as Hollywood has gone. I only hope it doesn't end as Hollywood

has ended."

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