Not Fourteen Again

This is the fourth in a series of film documentaries about three working-class Australian women, a series Gillian Armstrong commenced in 1976, three years before she made her first feature, "My Brilliant Career." A real-life saga of contemporary "little women," the series provides a unique opportunity to follow the fortunes and misfortunes of not only the three women themselves, but also their daughters. Result is a passionate, intriguing series of character studies that should find a theatrical niche in Oz, and will have no difficulty obtaining slots on TV stations elsewhere. Further fest exposure is also indicated.

This is the fourth in a series of film documentaries about three working-class Australian women, a series Gillian Armstrong commenced in 1976, three years before she made her first feature, “My Brilliant Career.” A real-life saga of contemporary “little women,” the series provides a unique opportunity to follow the fortunes and misfortunes of not only the three women themselves, but also their daughters. Result is a passionate, intriguing series of character studies that should find a theatrical niche in Oz, and will have no difficulty obtaining slots on TV stations elsewhere. Further fest exposure is also indicated.

Armstrong first filmed Josie, Diana and Kerry when they were 14 years old; that was in “Smokes and Lollies,” which was followed by “Fourteen’s Good, Eighteen’s Better” (1981) and “Bingo, Bridesmaids and Braces” (1988). The ongoing series can be compared with Michael Apted’s British “7 Up” films, though Armstrong is working on a more restricted canvas, as her subjects started out as school friends from the same suburb of Adelaide.

Together with editor Suresh Ayyar, Armstrong has combed through mountains of material shot intermittently over 20 years, and has come up with a trio of fascinating life stories. Josie, who was an unmarried mother at 15 and had a second daughter when she was 17, struggled to provide a stable environment for her children against the most extreme difficulties. After a failed marriage, she now operates a country hotel with her new man and has two small children. Her eldest daughter, Rebecca, 18, lives alone in the city; her second, Wendy, 16, lives with her mother and wants to be an army officer.

Diana, a hell-raising misfit at 14, married Keith when she was 17 and, against all odds, the marriage has survived (though Keith was at one stage convicted of an assault charge). The mother of four children, she admits that her marriage has been through great difficulties and says she’s now relatively content. Her eldest child, Amy, is a moody girl who is unhappy at school and nurses an ambition to be an airline pilot.

Kerry, the most stable of the three, lived at home with her parents until she married in 1988. She now has two children, including a daughter born just before the recent filming began.

It is riveting to watch these women mature from the unthinking hellions they were at 14 to the reasonably comfortable thirtysomethings they are today. It’s equally fascinating to see their teenage daughters and hear them answer the same questions (about sex, abortion, parenting, etc.) posed to their mothers 20 years ago.

Armstrong herself appears in several scenes, and hosts a final celebratory dinner party in which it’s noted, “We’ve all come through it OK”– the “it” being life itself. And it does seem something of a miracle that things have, indeed, turned out so well for Josie, Diana and Kerry. Though an opening title states that this is the final film in the series, Armstrong herself, in the concluding scene, suggests that she might return to Adelaide once more to pick up the lives of these women in several years. Most viewers who see this affecting material will certainly hope so.

Not Fourteen Again

(AUSTRALIAN -- DOCU)

Production: A Roadshow (Australia) release of a Beyond Films presentation of a Big Picture Co./Spirited Films production, in association with the Australian Film Finance Corp., Australian Film Commission, South Australian Film Corp. and NSW Film and Television Office. (International sales: Beyond Films.) Produced by Jenny Day, Gillian Armstrong. Directed by Gillian Armstrong.

Crew: Camera (Atlab color), Steve Arnold; editor, Suresh Ayyar; music, Peter Dasent; sound, Toivo Lember; post-production supervisor, Rose Dority. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 18, 1996. Running time: 110 MIN.

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