Melbourne Classics: Spotswood

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Mark Joffe’s Spotswood (released in the United States as The Efficiency Expert) is an endearing comedy about a close-knit moccasin factory in Melbourne’s west in the sixties. Class tensions flare up when the company, deemed inefficient by management, is modernised and workers face the prospect of mass sackings.

At the head of the modernisation process is Mr. Wallace (Anthony Hopkins), a productivity expert who has recently come under fire from union officials for downsizing a car parts factory. He soon butts heads with unassuming factory manager Mr. Ball (Alwyn Kurts), who is committed to idea that his workers should come before profits. Their imminent face-off is coordinated by Kim Barrette (Russell Crowe), a sleazy company salesman hoping to make a quick buck.

Performances by Toni Collette, Ben Mendelsohn and Dan Wyllie create a heart-warming portrait of working class life. The murmurings of concerned executives about productivity and profit margins are juxtaposed with the light-hearted chatter of the employees they hope to retrench. To distract themselves from their tedious jobs, staff exchange dating advice, health tips, and chip in to buy each other birthday presents. In many ways, they resemble an extended family – their closeness has been forged by the painful ordinariness of their jobs.

Cinematographer Ellery Ryan captures the essence of Melbourne’s industrialised suburbs. Power lines hang down over rows of weatherboard houses, as smokestacks churn out thick pollution across the gray scale horizon. Yet Spotswood is by no means a depressing film: somehow the colourless images of concrete silos exude a charm of their own.

Spotswood offers an enchanting snapshot of working class life in 1960s Melbourne – an era when picket lines, strikes and union placards were the norm. It evokes the spirit of Melbourne’s west without a trace of gloom. For anyone who has worked a shift on an assembly line, or faced the prospect of redundancy, the film is sure to strike a chord.

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