FIFTY YEARS AGO Sharks on film were a rare encounter.
vent and Australia led the world in this respect. USA caught up during the 1970’s. The Shark Fighters programme ran for months in South Africa. In Australia it had a 30 day season in a Sydney theatre.
We released these shark films at similar venues along the east coast. Shark Fighters did amazing business on 16mm but in that era we were all too busy having fun making new films and underwater photographs to bother with the effort involved with distribution.
In retrospect we passed up (potentially) millions of dollars of potential income. It’s all different today. Sharks saturated the pay TV screens. Cinema entertainment has changed.
The advertising copy (here on a handbill) was a joint effort between shark victim turned shark fighter and much later a ‘shark protection activist’ (Rodney Fox), the Taylor’s and I. It’s interesting to see how our attitudes have changed since those early days when we knew less and the public knew nothing of shark species and their respective behaviour. A grey nurse to them was just as deadly as a WP. The Saumarez Reef 30 minute film showed a tiger shark and grey reef whalers for the first time, yet these advertising pictured focused on grey nurse pictures – which were more graphic.
The three, thirty-minute-each films were shot and edited by Ron Taylor on non-fading Kodachrome film stock. Considered amateur film at the time it is beautiful as archival stock today. Beginners luck.
At each screening there would be about upwards of 300 to 500 people attending – mainly because I only screened on average for one night in any town. Theatre availability was limited.
The surf film addition guaranteed extra attendances from that entertainment-starved group. It was a fun project to make then and still is to look at today. Maybe Ron T. will release them on DVD?
The Rodney Fox film showed the graphic still pictures taken by doctors after his shark bite incident, that have been widely published since. Without fail, at almost every show, a young man would ‘almost faint’ at the sight of the real blood on film and leave the auditorium for fresh air.
Memoirs of the road shows? The Australian Prime Minister attended our Feb 16 Canberra Theatre Centre screening – arriving by limo with a police escort. Ron and Valerie were at this travelling show. (He was booked to attend a ball, but being a keen spear fisherman squeezed-in the last hour of the movies).
The PM invited us for biscuits and tea the following morning at Parliament House. 21 months later he vanished in the sea while body surfing one morning near Portsea.
The programme ran for weeks in South Africa. Later all three films were seen on TV but only in black and white. The Surf Scene film was notable as Ron Taylor took his 16mm Bolex camera aboard a speedboat and rode waves alongside the surfers – something novel at the time.
MORE: Shark Fighters was shown at venues known for surf films, i.e. older suburban cinemas struggling to stay in business, some with 1000 seats which were mostly empty except when a surf film screened.
Advertised via teen-radio announcers (Ward Pally Austin on 2UW) and with posters like this plastered all over the city, the surf and shark films were a cultural delight.
Hawaiian shirts worn by almost everyone – the forerunner of beach culture fashion. Bleached hair, white jeans were the uniform of surf addicts. Supporting films included old cartoons, war newsreels – which brought howls of laughter from the growing group of soon-to-be anti-Vietnam war protesters.
Shark films attracted both the surfers and the public. Divers were a minority. The true potential never fully exploited, we distributors being too lazy for that. ‘Better things to do’.
Conventional 35mm movie distribution did not work profitably you had to do it yourself in 16mm or not at all. The most successful 16mm film of all featured crocodiles. While surf films were more numerous than features like the above, the undersea titles were timeless and were distributed for years.
Queensland audiences, especially, were patriotic and huge when Great Barrier Reef content was exhibited via 16mm but by law only in licensed cinemas, huge single screen venues which were packed by schools by day and families by night, made possible by affordable TV advertising.
Narration for Shark Fighters came via three now infamous voices. American stage actor Hayes Gordon, TCN9 news anchor Chuck Faulkner, and 2UW disc jockey Ward Austin (who had the Aussie accent of the future in an era then dominated by British culture – seems more incredible today).
Henri Bource led a double life – some say a triple one. He made a film about sharks while being handicapped with half his leg missing (eaten by a shark). Some knew Henri as a Melbourne-based sax player with The Thunderbirds. Others knew him as a diver making a film about sharks. “Savage Shadows” featured a realistic recreation of the shark bite and earned more as stock footage than the film did in it’s 35mm release. Mike Perry (the Sydney journalist) and I assisted Henri make his film by taking him to Point Lookout at North Stradbroke Island in a search for adventure to be filmed. It became a big holiday and we had many funny moments. Filming girls (with no film in the camera) etc
A shark victim turns film maker with a 16mm Bolex camera and makes a feature film released in cinemas.
“The only money I ever made out of Savage Shadows came from stock footage sales of the attack sequence” Henri Bource told me at his Melbourne home, as he hopped about on his one good leg.
Using self-hypnosis Henri was able to convince himself he still had two legs. It also got rid of the phantom pains (i.e. an itchy toe that wasn’t there anymore). The big white pointer shark had bitten Henri’s leg off, just below the knee. (Above the knee would have presented greater hardship – at least he had a knee-cap left that served as a hard base for the artificial leg he wore.
Henri didn’t look for sympathy – he was far more positive than that rubbish being required. He even had us convinced (in a strange way) he still had two legs. I once questioned his right to park in a disabled parking place – and this was a man with half a leg missing!
This was the attitude and influence Henri Bource projected to all who knew him.
I assisted in the film production in a slight way, with friends Mike Perry and Irvin Rockman
We appear in the film searching for sharks off Queensland’s North Stradbroke Island, (at the time a hot location, far-less-so today).
The resulting film was excellent BUT didn’t get adequate exposure. At the time it was difficult negotiating any deal with cinema companies. The film premiered in the sleaziest of city venues in Sydney, the former State Newsreel Theatrette. It was once possible to almost stick to the seats in this tiny theatre which ran continuous short films for anyone with 60 minutes of spare time.
Henri is gone now, missed by a heap of divers who were his good mates. But he lived genuine dual lives, there was also the music he loved and the friends and girls there. (His original band The Thunderbirds recorded the first rock ‘n roll LP album in Australia).
Before his shark accident (aka attack) he toured with the leading international acts working Australia’s southern states. This duality remained largely unknown.
SHARK AIR PATROL Ballina, NSW January 1968
We were invited aboard the New South Wales north coast shark patrol aircraft to do a live interview about sharks. We were the experts doubling as film promoters during the January holidays in 1968.
Our film show would be held at the town cinema (which no longer exists) tonight at 8pm, a local radio station arranged for us to go up in their Cessna which was patrolling the beaches north and south.
At the airport we waited for the Cessna to pick us up. When it touched down and taxied
over, up drove a limo with a businessman who turned out to be a sponsor of the shark patrol aircraft and he was also selling real estate. “Stop seeing sharks” he yelled at the pilot “I’m trying to sell land and you are scaring people away (with your shark reports)”.