Wayne Groom - Profile

Independent Profile of Wayne Groom published in the Adelaide Review

WAYNE GROOM EXPOSED!     By Colin Varney

Picture the film crew on the shore. They wear a conglomeration of mid nineties casual wear: jeans, shorts, trendy shades.

Perhaps a T-shirt featuring Pearl Jam or the name of a recent film project. Except the director. He’s Wayne Groom, and he’s starkers. “The crew had the option to work naked, but not one of them took it up”, Wayne says with a hint of disappointment. “They didn’t even take their clothes off to go swimming. I often directed naked to be in empathy with my actors. The strange thing about nudity is that it’s only odd while you’re contemplating it. Once you’re naked all self-consciousness disappears.”

Ask anyone to name an idiosyncratic, independent South Australian film-maker and they’ll probably opt for Rolf De Heer. If Groom is mentioned at all it’s in whispers. He’s the one who made Maslin Beach, that movie where everyone’s nuddy. The one that drew huge ratings for Channel 9 when it was screened after the football. Groom the sleeze-meister. Yet while Groom’s output is not quite as prolific as De Heer’s his range of subject matter is equally as unpredictable: supernatural thrillers, futuristic soft porn, docos and children’s television drama. Upcoming projects include a semi-sequel to John Ruane’s Death in Brunswick, a collaboration with Paul Cox and a drama about the Snowtown murders based on Debi Marshall’s book Killing for Pleasure.

And while De Heer enjoys the plaudits of Mike Rann and the Adelaide Film Festival, Groom describes himself as “shockingly independent”. “Nietsche said that we should never be bound, that even the silkiest thread can become a chain,” he admonishes. “You need the independence to think freely and honestly. Whenever I’ve taken money from the FFC I’ve felt constrained. You immediately try to second guess what people want.”

This is the other surprise about Groom: the ageing grandeur of his inner city sanctuary is stacked with books, but not many of them are film related. There’s one by Capra on his desk, but it has nothing to do with Frank. It’s Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, which he recommends for its endorsement of life as a “dance of energy”. And he cites his influences as Nietsche and Wilhelm Reich. “They had a brilliant understanding of the human condition,” Wayne declares. “But Nietsche succumbed to madness and Reich pushed his sexual experiments too far.” Reich worked with Freud, developing influential theories of character analysis and the link between sexuality and neurosis. He went on to invent and market the Orgone Accumulator, a booth-like device that sucked sexual energy (orgone) from the atmosphere to focus it onto a patient sitting within. He claimed that it cured various ailments, including cancer. The FBI disagreed, and when Reich continued to market it he was imprisoned. “With heroes like that”, Wayne grins, “I’ve become accustomed to being a fringe dweller.”

A biopic of Groom’s life would include terrible tragedy, civil engineering and Bernard King. At fifteen the loss of his mother in a car accident caused what he describes as a “disconnect with reality”. Retreating into himself, he toyed with stories and situations in his head where he could “play with emotions safely”. Cut to a teacher encouraging the quiet fantasist to help organise school concerts for charity. Wayne begins writing and performing humorous skits for these shows. Dissolve to the face of Bernard King, contorted with laughter. He’s watching The Groom and Clancy Report, a comedy duo performing on the ‘70s talent show Pot of Gold.

Their ‘Two Ronnies’ style humour gets them into the finals, where they come third in the national competition. “But these were just things you played with”, says Groom. “I never imagined you could make a career out of them.” He was working as a civil engineer at the time. Successful and respected, rising in the ranks. “Making good money. And longing to get out.” The creative urge niggled at him. “Eventually my wife at the time said ‘just do it’. It was incredibly liberating.”

Groom had always loved movies, but with that inner spark still struggling to emerge, why become a producer? “Because it was a way in. It was almost engineering: structured lines. Artistic people couldn’t add up.” He grins mischievously. (Media Watch alert: I was one of those maths defectives. Groom and I worked on the script for an unmade children’s TV show in the mid 80s). Groom produced a string of feature films, television series and documentaries, including a TV special in 1984 that reunited Scotland Yard detective Jack Slipper with his nemesis Ronnie Biggs, via satellite (Long Time No See, Ronnie).

Engineering films for people who couldn’t add was no longer satisfying enough for Groom. Bernard King’s unrestrained laughter was echoing in his ears. Groom moved briefly to Los Angeles, where he studied film performance and comedy writing at UCLA, but was irresistibly drawn back by “a love of South Australia that bordered on the patriotic.” He found himself living at Maslin Beach, entranced by the landscape and inspired by the inhibitions of those who bathed there. He dreamed of writing a script that combined an alternative view of the world with mainstream appeal. A crowd pleaser imbued with serious ideas about the complexities of love and desire. Awash with the spirit of Nietsche and Reich. “I wanted it to be a blow against repression. My idea was that people would put the nudity out of their mind. They’d just relate to the characters.” I can’t help wondering if all those footy fans did manage to put the nudity out of their minds.

Scripting was difficult. During a period of doubt Groom enlisted the advice of film critic and lecturer Noel Purdon who perused an early draft. Purdon urged Groom to continue, telling him the concept was unique and full of potential (Purdon eventually appeared in the film, sporting a wrought Teutonic accent. Oh, and no togs). Galvanised, Wayne toiled on, at one point scooping up a handful of sand to place on his desk to remind himself that he was “writing about a beautiful place”. With the script completed and actors recruited through an ad placed in a rag called The Adelaide Review, filming began on the titular beach (no pun intended). This was a happy experience for the director. “I always felt I knew what I was doing. The cast were superb. Everything fell together.” The film ran theatrically at the Mercury Cinema and has since been sold to Swiss, British and Canadian TV. It still enjoys healthy DVD sales in many countries including the USA.

Groom has a cameo in Maslin Beach, Hitchcock style (no pun… etc). It remains his favourite project. He feels the combination of comedy and philosophy, serious themes and commercial appeal largely succeeds, unlike the follow up, Summer of Love, also filmed at Maslin. This feature, Australia’s first shot on high definition video, was commissioned by Channel Nine and had a much larger budget. There was a strong audience reaction against the film which was publicised with references to Maslin Beach, but which was very different in style. A drama rather than a comedy, and with a mainly clothed cast. “People weren’t prepared for a more European-style film”, says Groom.

The Groom biopic would forgo the languorous pan, the existential silences and the Phillip Glass soundtrack. He distrusts art cinema, believing it to be based on negation rather than a celebration of life. Meanwhile, genre films are “full of vitality”. He’s excited by crowd magnets such as Saw and The Undead. But like many creative people he is a tangle of contradictions. “High art is corrupt” he claims, yet he is currently collaborating with art-house favourite Paul Cox. A self-confessed fringe dweller, he wants to make mainstream films. He loves life and the Taoist “dance of energy”, yet is preparing a film about bodies in barrels. He makes a skin-flick so we can ignore the flesh.


Posted on 03 Nov 2008