Bizarro World Cinema 4: BAD BOY BUBBY (1993), directed by Rolf de Heer
“Christ, kid, you’re a weirdo!”
– POP (& BUBBY)
Rolf de Heer is one of my favourite Australian filmmakers. He was born in Holland but migrated to Sydney when he was eight years old. Through his production company Vertigo Productions he has directed thirteen feature films since 1984 including The Quiet Room (1996), Dance me to my Song (1998), The Old Man who Read Love Stories (2000), The Tracker (2002), Alexandra’s Project (2003) and Ten Canoes (2006). Multi award-winning and often controversial, de Heer continually pushes technical and storytelling boundaries. He is Australia’s answer to Werner Herzog; an outsider filmmaker who continually delivers cinema that while often straying into the bizarre and the surreal, are mostly examinations of truth and the beauty or ugliness inherent in nature – human or otherwise.
Bad Boy Bubby is arguably his most (in)famous film and over the years has garnered a considerable cult following while also being banned in many countries. When it was released in 1993 it caused a stir at the Venice Film Festival (whilst winning the Special Jury price) and has continued to polarize audiences ever since. In 1994 de Heer won Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards for Bad Boy Bubby.
The director himself describes Bad Boy Bubby as a film about questions and not answers, a film about the importance of being loved as a child, a film about how we judge people and about a man who has no concept of judgement. In his own words de Heer set out to present a funny, tragic, ugly, beautiful, spiteful, forgiving, loving, hateful, honest and hypocritical world. The film is also about appearances (what is beautiful and what is ugly) and belief systems. It’s a film about almost everything wrapped up in a relatively simple yet often brutally funny and shocking narrative pushing taboos and exploring themes of incest, brutality, god-rejection, animal cruelty, punk rock and mental illness, pizza and cling-wrap.
Bubby (the phenomenal Nicholas Hope) is a 35 year old man who has spent his entire life locked in a dilapidated concrete box of an apartment. His whole existence is this room as he has never been allowed to leave. He shares the room with his mother (Claire Benito), a hideously abusive and selfish woman who has tricked Bubby into thinking the outside world has been poisoned and she only ever leaves the apartment wearing an old gas mask. Bubby spends his time staring at walls, eating cockroaches and playing with his feral cat. He has never known anything different. That is until Pop (Ralp Cotterill), a drunk dressed as a priest, returns home one day to try and rekindle his sordid relationship with Bubby’s mother. It’s through the arrival of Pop that Bubby is finally able to escape into the outside world for the first time. Here he encounters a very strange, wonderful and terrible place. He encounters other people for the first time, including a Salvation Army worker, a punk rock band, a woman with cerebral palsy, a god-hating atheist and through his talent for mimicry he eventually manages finds true love and happiness.
I cannot recommend this film enough. Once seen it is impossible to forget. It begins as a nihilistic parade of shocking degradation but as the story moves forward and Bubby explores the outside world it slowly becomes something completely unexpected – a tender, darkly comical and beautiful exploration of the human spirit. As I mentioned above Nicholas Hope delivers an outstanding and incredibly brave performance as the title character and the rest of the cast (mostly non-professional) are great as well. De Heer admits the film was intentionally constructed to be a technical experiment with the use of no less than 31 cinematographers (a different one for each scene) and it was the first film in the world to be shot using binaural sound (all sound was recorded using miniature microphones attached to Hope’s skull to place the audience directly into Bubby’s experience of the outside world.)
It’s a fantastic film; strange, disturbing, sad, haunting, hilarious and heart warming. In my opinion it’s a masterpiece from one of Australia’s greatest filmmakers.
- Billy Hysteria