27A (Esben Storm, 1974) prod. Haydn Keenan, Smart Street Films, wr. Esben Storm, dp Michael Edols, design Peter Minnett, ed. Richard Moir; Robert McDarra, Bill Hunter, Graham Corry, James Kemp, Richard Moir, Max Osbiston; alcoholic imprisoned under section of Qld Mental Act; Melbourne, colour, 16mm, 86 min.
Esben Storm's 1973/4 film 27A (named for a section in the Qld Mental Health Act which allowed voluntary patients to be detained at the authorities' pleasure) is not really a crusading quasi-documentary, but more a meditation on what happens in people who are cast in roles such as internee and guard (cf. the various Experiment films). However, it's unfortunately still quite relevant. Bill Hunter's first featured film role, and the last for the main actor, Robert McDarra, who actually was an alcoholic, and died a year or two after starring in the film.
Storm did not conceive of his film as an expose of government malpractice; the Queensland mental health act, which had enabled the hospital to detain Somerville, had already been modified to prevent similar incidents from occurring. Rather, his film explored the 'social neurosis' which created the situation: 'the asylum in the film is not a reflection of the people in it, but more a reflection of the society that built it'. Sandra Hall in the Bulletin, 27 July 1974, welcomed the film as 'one of the best features so far produced here, adorned with bitter and sometimes funny dialogue [and] rich characterisations'. Pike & Cooper: 276.
The best parts of young Esben Storm's bitter condemnation of our institutional treatment of alcoholics, drug addicts and mental patients have a Loach-like semi-documentary reality about them - plus a naturalistic performance from Robert McDarra as the derelict metho drinker ... overall it is a truly remarkable achievement from Storm and colleague Haydn Keenan, and a comparative rarity - an Australian film of social concern. Colin Bennett, The Age, as quoted in Stratton: 192.
It should be remembered that 27A was one of the pioneering Australian feature films along with Tom Cowan's The Office Picnic and one or two others. It was a foolhardy, brave attempt to make a serious film, and it seems a shame that, in a year dominated by Libido and Alvin Purple, it couldn't have reached a wider audience. Stratton: 192.
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