Tie Me Kangaroo Down!: Gillian Armstrong’s radiant new wave musical comedy “Star Struck”

By on April 16, 2018

On February 27, 1983, Night Flight went “down under” for “Video Gallery: Australia,” which focused on a few of the country’s top music acts as well as recently-released Australian-made movies, including Gillian Armstrong’s radiant 1982 new wave musical comedy, Star Struck.

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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In 2013, Pitchfork’s blog The Dissolve talked to former MTV veejay Dave Holmes, who selected Star Struck as a film he thought everyone should see.

Holmes agreed with the Dissolve that Star Struck was the kind of movie that could have aired on “Night Flight” back in the day, saying it “fits into [‘Night Flight”s] catch-all, semi-underground aesthetic that, for people of a certain mindset, was super-important to discover in the 1980s.”

(We agree!)

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The movie’s plot tells the story of “Jackie Mullens” (Jo Kennedy), an 18-year old teenage waitress from Sydney’s The Rocks neighborhood, in the shadow of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

She lives in the Harbour View Hotel, and works at the pub downstairs that her parents own, which has fallen into dire financial straits.

Jackie has big wild-eyed dreams about becoming a popular new wave singer, ultimately so she can meet really, really cute boys, but also so she can help keep her family’s pub operating.

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Jackie’s 14-year old cousin “Angus” (Ross O’Donovan) becomes her shrewd, fast-talking talent agent/songwriter, and he comes up with wacky ways to get Jackie noticed, including a publicity stunt by having Jackie walk a tightrope between two high-rise buildings while nude.

Jackie wears a faked topless outfit that looks like her real breasts are exposed (the scene’s stuntwoman, Dale Aspen, actually ended up being badly injured when she fell during filming, although she fortunately survived).

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Angus ends up entering Jackie as a contestant in a major talent contest on “The Wow! Show,” with a $25,000 grand prize for the winner.

The film — shot entirely on location in Sydney, New South Wales — culminates with the contest on New Year’s Eve at The Seymour Centre, a theater adjacent to the University of Sydney in Camperdown.

Australian audiences particularly Jackie singing in their bedroom while she’s surfing on an ironing board, and a Busby Berkeley-inspired water ballet scene, with Esther Williams-style synchronized male swimmers accompanied by inflatable rubber sharks.

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Read more about Star Struck below.

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Stephen MacLean

Star Struck’s original screenplay was written by Stephen MacLean, a journalist, broadcaster, screenwriter and film and TV director who surely had seen similar music biz-type sagas — like 1980’s Breaking Glass — as well as basing the story on what had happened in his early years.

He’d grown up in the Newport Hotel in Melbourne, where his mother Isabel worked as a barmaid. (MacLean died in 2006).

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The producer’s first choice for the film’s director was Graeme Clifford, who later pulled out to make the Jessica Lange-starring Frances.

The movie ended up being directed by Gillian Armstrong, who had turned down a number of different projects — including Bruce Beresford’s Puberty Blues, one of the other films highlighted in Night Flight’s “Video Gallery: Australia” — in order to direct Star Struck.

At the time, she was enjoying much success for her very first film, 1979’s My Brilliant Career, a historical drama set in turn-of-the-century Australia.

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Jo Kennedy and Ross O’Donovan were both relative unknowns when they were cast, but got their roles due to the acting chemistry they displayed during auditions.

Geoffrey Rush — later an Best Actor Academy Award winner for Shine (1996) — also has a quickie cameo in the film, his first on-screen credit, as the TV show’s put-upon stage manager who sneaks off-stage when Jackie and her band, the Wombats, ambush “The Wow! Show”‘s New Years Eve special.

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In America, Jackie’s resplendent thrift-store prom queen wardrobe and explosive, flaming red hairstyle reminded more than one reviewer of Cyndi Lauper, whose first big U.S. success didn’t really happen until 1983.

Among the production’s stand-outs are the luridly colorful costumes — by Luciana Arrighi and Terry Ryan (who did the bulk of the work) — and the set decoration by Brian Thomson, who’d decorated the sets for original Sydney and London stage productions of The Rocky Horror Show, as well as the film.

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Star Struck was released in Australia in September of 1982, and today the iconic new wave comedy musical remains beloved among the country’s nostalgic-minded populace.

The movie went on to become a cult fave here in the U.S. despite its rather limited theatrical screenings, beginning on January 26, 1983.

This was a great time for Australian cinema, frankly, arriving immediately after the huge international success of George Miller’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and other popular Aussie imports (several of them are featured in this “Video Gallery: Australia” special).

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The movie’s soundtrack LP — released on A&M Records in the U.S. — was a successful release, powered by a hit single, “Body and Soul,” which made it to #5 on the Australian charts in May 1982.

The song — sung by Jo Kennedy — as well as most of the songs we hear, were written by Tim Finn of Split Enz, but the soundtrack also featured perky new wave tunes by the Swingers, who had formed in New Zealand in 1979 from ex-members of the Suburban Reptiles and Split Enz.

Australian rock music bands INXS and Men at Work were among the bands considered to star as the band that was eventually played by the Swingers.

Watch “Video Gallery: Australia” — featuring musical performances by Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees, INXS, Jo Jo Zep, Mental As Anything, Rick Springfield and others — now on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.