Art & Design
Posted by Jenn Winterbine
12. Apr, 2011
Death in Brunswick, directed by John Ruane, is an early 90’s black comedy set in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.
Carl Fitzgerald (Sam Neill) is an unassuming chef who works in a cockroach-infested Brunswick nightspot. His spare time is spent pursuing colleague Sophie (Zoe Carides) and avoiding the clutches of his overbearing mother. After witnessing the murder of his workmate Mustafa (Nick Lathouris), Carl is thrust into Melbourne’s violent underworld. His grave-digger friend Dave (John Clarke) comes along for the ride.
Death in Brunswick’s charm comes from its deliberate ugliness. There are many tasteless moments in which nothing is sacred, including a trip to Melbourne General Cemetery to dump a body and a crash course in cooking with rodent droppings. Hideous décor and cringe-worthy colour schemes add to the film’s unpleasantness. Carl’s ramshackle house is overpowered by mustard and brown wallpaper, typical of the 1970s. His living room contains an array of chintzy furniture so unappealing not even Franco Cozzo would buy it at a garage sale.
The film includes significant references to Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The Brunswick we see in the film is an untouched one, in which white picket fences and overturned trash cans dominate the polluted landscape. The rich cultural diversity that Melbournians associate with Brunswick is prominent in the scenes of street life. Greek Orthodox iconography is a recurring motif, reflecting the deeply religious demographic of Brunswick residents.
Death in Brunswick serves as a living tribute to landmark venues that have since closed down. The Bombay Rock, which features heavily in the film, was a notoriously violent nightclub. It burned down in the mid 90s, much to the disappointment of its spandex-clad patrons. The heritage-listed West Coburg Progress Cinema, that Carl and Sophie visit on their date, is still standing but no longer functions as a cinema.
Loaded with familiar scenes of inner-city life, and earnest – sometimes cringeworthy – depictions of early nineties trends, John Ruane’s black comedy has immortalised a period of Brunswick and its unique character, serving as a witness to the forgotten landmarks that once dotted Sydney Road.