Upon its 1993 release, Rolf de Heer’s Bad Boy Bubby upset many viewers with its confronting portrayal of abuse, incest and mental illness, and stirred controversy with Italian animal rights organisations and the British censors – and yet it also won the Special Jury, FIPRESCI and OCIC (Ecumenical) Prizes at the Venice Film Festival, and was the second biggest-grossing film of its year in Norway. Not bad for an odd-ball, low-budget Australian film about a lost soul’s redemption.
Pitched somewhere between The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Being There and A Clockwork Orange (with touches of Eraserhead too in its claustrophobic opening third), the film’s picaresque plot follows crazy-haired man-child Bubby (Nicholas Hope) as he emerges into the unknown world beyond the Freudian prison in which his mother (Claire Benito) has isolated him well into his adulthood. This stranger in a strange land, always mimicking the violence, hostility and menace of those around him, eventually discovers the joys of music and pizza, the hypocrisies of religion, and the possibilities of a loving family – and so at last becomes his own person, himself now mimicked by others.
Shot by 31 different cinematographers to capture its protagonist’s constant sense of disoriented wonder, and recorded binaurally using a customised pair of mikes attached to either side of Hope’s head, this dark satire-cum-parable (cling)wraps itself in a quirkily beautiful aesthetic that keeps us watching even when the material is at its most repellent or alarming. It is a rich, idiosyncratic and at times very funny glimpse into the corrupting, contradictory nature of modern life – and now that Eureka! has released it uncut in a three-disc box-set that offers the film in Blu-Ray, DVD and downloadable Digital formats, there is no excuse for missing its distinctive genius.
© Anton Bitel