Melbourne Classics: Pure Shit

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Bert Deling’s Pure Shit is an underground film chronicling the escapades of four Carlton junkies. It revolves around their twenty-four hour quest to score junk by any means necessary – raiding pharmacies, evading the police, and busting friends out of rehab.

The 1975 film received an unfavourable reception due to its candid depictions of hard drug use. Herald Sun reviewer Andrew McKay described it as “the most evil film I’ve ever seen”. The film was briefly banned by the Australian Film Commission and its premiere screening was raided by the police. For these reasons, the film was not widely circulated. Yet despite its obscurity, Pure Shit has remained a cult classic amongst Melburnians, and was released on DVD in 2009 – the first time it has been widely available since its production.

Pure Shit’s trademark is its dirty realism. There’s nothing glamorous about the lifestyle of Lou (Gary Waddell) and his mates. John (John Laurie) winds up in the infamous Russell Street slammer, while Jo (Helen Garner) falls into paranoid cleaning frenzies. In a time when Australian film was dominated by picturesque images of the wilderness, typical of feature films such as Picnic At Hanging Rock and Walkabout, Pure Shit diverged from the norm and embraced the gritty drug underbelly of Melbourne with a daring, in-your-face truth.

The film also offers a social commentary on the techniques used by the State to rehabilitate drug users. Methadone Programs were introduced to Australia in 1970 amidst a wave of controversy amongst medical professionals, politicians, and addicts themselves. Deling’s portrayal of rehabilitation as a dehumanising process is a statement on the devastating effects drug withdrawal had on many people. Patients resemble the living dead – they lie stooped over ping pong tables like zombies, barely able to talk or move.

Shot on 16mm on a tiny budget, it’s amazing that Pure Shit has even seen the light of day. Large bulks of the dialogue are improvised, and the washed-out kaleidoscope colours are disenchanting to say the least. Yet this amateur, unpolished feel only adds to the film’s sense of authenticity.

Pure Shit is a dark, at times humorous, depiction of drug culture in seventies Melbourne. In many ways it serves as a time capsule, hidden away from public view until decades later when it’s now unearthed for all to see. For its remarkable survival despite all the odds, it is without a doubt a true Melbourne Classic.

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