When I was maybe eleven or twelve my mate Barry’s parents had the soundtrack to this movie Stone. They were more country and western fans so I’m guessing it was left over after a party. There were a lot of parties back then. We always found cigarettes and beer and shit like that, plus records, there were always records left behind, Stone was one of them I’m sure. And we dug it. On the cover was this skull in a digger’s hat and on the record was this weird ass music with didgeridoos and guitars and chaos and power and man, I used to go over to Barry’s everyday to hear that record. We had no idea what the movie was really about and it would be years before I saw it but that soundtrack gave me a taste and when I finally did see Stone, I wasn’t disappointed.
Ostensibly a biker flick about a gang of Satan worshipping bikers called The Grave Diggers who witness a political assassination and then get hunted down one by one this is so much more. But we’ll get to that. With a cast that would eventually be the who’s who of Australian film and television, like Garry McDonald, Bill Hunter, Rebecca Gilling (Damn she was hot!), Vince Gill, Tony Bonner, Roger Ward, Helen Morse and Hugh Keays-Byrne the talent on show was amazing. Producer, director and co-writer Sandy Harbutt himself plays the leader of the Diggers and he was no slouch either. In fact for me the one weak link is the man who plays Stone, Ken Shorter who is a pretty boy but not really a great actor. Or maybe he just hasn’t aged well. Stone by the way is a drug squad cop who goes sort of undercover (the bikies know he’s a cop but no one else does) to try and find the killer.
Keays-Byrne (in a forerunner to his mad max days) plays the acid tripping Toad who witnesses an assassination while he’s on an acid trip and thus brings havoc down on the heads of the Grave Diggers. The bad guys want them silenced so one by one the groovy looking, comb over, moustache wearing baddy cuts them down. Decapitation, bomb and then an amazing ride over a cliff that for its time was a world first, an eighty foot drop off a cliff on a motor bike into the ocean. Damn that’s tough! In an amazing funeral scene, Harbutt managed to gather 400 bikers to ride down the Gosford (F3) highway in what is now a seminal Aussie movie moment. Incredibly when they recreated the scene in 1998 at the 25th Anniversary celebrations they attracted over 30,000 riders! But back to the movie…
Vince Gill gives his all as Dr Death who gives the sort of sermon I want at my funeral screaming “Saaaaattttaaaaannnn!!!” at the top of his lungs before they bury their mate standing up so he doesn’t have to take any shit lying down! Stone then shows up at the wake looking like a 70s version of a wild colonial boy in his white clobber, his vest and with his blonde ponytail. Sure to go down well with a pack of bikie bastards who just buried their mate and want to get pissed. But after he saves one of the bikies from a crossbow attack (?!) he manages to get the go ahead to ride with the gang. (as long as he stays at the back). So Stone tears himself away from Helen Morse and her tennis circuit set and goes to shack up with the stinky biker scum in an old fortress on a cliff top. He manages to prove himself by racing gang member Midnight around the circuit and not winning but giving it a damn good try. And that there is just one of the things that make this film Aussie. A yankee flick would have had Stone win. And another thing, Bindi Williams as Midnight – an aboriginal actor in a leading role? 1974? This movie was so far ahead of its time. And that’s where we should go now. Because this is so much more than just another 70s exploitation flick or bikie movie or cop coming to terms with the streets type flick. The film is about a gang of Vietnam and Korean Vets who get together and ride as the Grave Diggers because they fell they have nowhere else to go.
When you think about it this movie was probably one of the first if not the first to really tackle the idea that the vets weren’t wanted when they came home. Vietnam polarized the nation, no one wanted to talk about that, or admit it. Sure this isn’t outright political but it is the underlying feel, the post Vietnam statement here is the cry for understanding, for freedom and fuck the system that fucked them when they came back from war. And the movie tackled the idea of business interests overshadowing the environment and the people with the movie opening with the assassination of a politician who is rallying against a new land development. This was early 70s people, this was way ahead of its time. Now we’d be blasé about the plot but hey, tell me who else was even thinking like that at the time? I’ll admit some of the lingo and the clobber has dated and occasionally you laugh at the hip talk and the badly dressed assassination squad but the bike scenes are still awesome, the fight scenes still ring true and the ending when Stone, after giving his girlfriend a spiel about honour and integrity, gets the living crap kicked out of him by the Diggers is spot on. I mean, how else could it end?
Stone was never given its dues back in the 70s because frankly the Aussie Film mob didn’t want the world to think Aussies were that uncouth. Oh no, we had Picnic At Hanging Rock and that sort of ‘art’ we didn’t do sex comedies like Alvin Purple or crass kick arse biker movies like Stone. Luckily the movie going public didn’t have their heads up their own arses like the AFC and such illustrious movie critics as Mike Gibson (so he’s always been a git!) and they flocked to see this flick when it first hit the big screen. This was made with no money, with everyone pitching in to help out, a labour of love, taking years to finish and Harbutt has never made another film but hell he doesn’t need to – his legacy is well and truly covered. The critics as usual were wrong. Stone will live on forever. If you haven’t seen it, where the hell have you been? And if you have, well then you know you want to see it again… and again… and again.
And as an added bonus the buggers at Umbrella have thrown in the hour long SBS doco Stone Foreverwhich covers the 25th Anniversary pissup, 30,000 strong bike ride. I mentioned earlier with interviews with Harbutt, Vince Gil, Keays-Byrne, Ward, Gilling, Morse and others plus a 20 odd minute doco from the 70s voiced over by Johnny Laws called The Making Of Stone and an incredible slideshow narrated by Sandy Harbutt where he talks about the actors, the movie, the whole experience. Damn but this is a mighty fine package for a mighty fine movie.
Take The Trip…
- The Making Of Stone
- Director’s Slideshow
- Stone Make-up Test
- Theatrical Trailer
- Region All PAL format 1:77:1 ratio
- Stone Forever-Richard Kuipers’ classic making-of documentary featuring interviews with original Stone cast and crew, and extensive footage of the incredible Stone 25th anniversary celebration attended by 35,000 bikers in 1998.
DIRECTOR(S): Sandy Harbutt | COUNTRY: Australia | YEAR 1974 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Umbrella Entertainment | RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 16:9 | REGION: 0 | DISCS: 2