This was the first movie to truly show what it was really like to be an Australian teenager in the suburbs during the 1970s.
The brainchild of Michael Thornhill (who also produced, directed and co-wrote the film), the movie used predominantly unknown actors to give the project a harder, more authentic edge.
Eva Dickinson was seventeen and still at school when she was chosen to play Anne, who works at Bankstown Square and is desperately relieved to be out of school and quietly proud of being at this obvious hub of existence, and plays housekeeper for her deserted father and two very much younger brothers.
Dickinson’s previous acting experience was in a couple of school plays and singing the lead in Ashcroft High’s West Side Story and My Fair Lady.
Paul Couzens was 22 when the film appeared. He played Kevin, an emotionless Westie whose main interests in life are restoring and driving his car (an FJ Holden, obviously), drinking beer, and occasionally, screwing Anne. He sometimes shares her with his best mate, Bob (Carl Stever).
Shot on a ridiculously low budget of $300,000, the movie used real locations, mainly around Bankstown. The wreckers yard where Kevin works was on Milperra Road.
There is no plot in a traditional sense, just teenagers doing what teenagers did in this part of the world. In other words, not a lot. It’s almost as much a documentary as a feature film.
The FJ Holden was a brave experiment at the time, but it got a thumbs-down at the premiere held at Sydney’s Chullora Drive-In (where else?) when carloads of old Holdens – admitted free of charge – started to leave within the first twenty minutes.
Too much reality? or not enough action? Who knows?
For many of those who stayed, the most impressive performer was the canary yellow FJ, registration number BAD 781, which inspired the film’s title.
Even though music only plays a background role in The FJ Holden, it still deserves to be called a rock movie.
There’s the fact that Frankie J Holden, lead singer of the then-popular Ol’ 55, makes a cameo appearance. There is also a brief scene in a typical Australian beer barn.
But more pertinently, this is one of the few Australian films that depict the suburban wasteland in which pub-rock thrived. The accompanying soundtrack features tunes from Ol’ 55, Skyhooks, Stars and Renee Geyer, with the incidental music composed by Ol’ 55 bassist Jim Manzie.
Kevin and his mates represented the majority of the audience at 1970s pub-rock venues, mainly there for the beer and the birds.
In a case of reality imitating art, Couzens (pictured at left) was convicted of drunk driving shortly after the film was released.
He registered 0.19 on the breathalyser at a time when the legal limit was 0.08 and explained to the court that he had eight beers in the two hours before being picked up. He mentioned this as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. Judging by his actions in the film, it wasn’t.
There is no record of Couzens, or of his leading lady, ever working in a film again.