Stone (1974)

A very well made Australian biker film with more than just a touch of the unusual. Severin R0 USA two-disc.

The Film

An Australian motorbike gang called the Grave Diggers cruise by a politician speaking on environmental issues. They stop to heckle him and their member Toad, stoned out of his skull, wanders off and climbs onto the roof of the city hall. There he sees a sniper take a fatal shot at the politician. Over the coming days, several members of the group are killed off by an unknown assailant, seemingly in an attempt to kill off anyone who might have seen the assassin. A policeman, Stone, is sent with the intention of posing as a member of the group to try and find out who is behind the killings - at first highly skeptical, the group accept him when he saves them from another attack. However, when he gets incorporated into their daily lives, can he still uphold the law?

Written and directed by Sandy Harbutt, Stone is a pretty typical cinema story - an outsider entering into a counter-culture, tightly-knit group and having to adapt to their unique ways. The framing storyline of the assassination is only very slightly developed and so we never find out why it took place or under whose orders, which might annoy some viewers, but does help to avoid wasting time with lengthy and ultimately unnecessary exposition. Indeed the film as a whole seems to avoid wasting time wherever possible, Stone's attempts to be accepted by the gang for example could have gone on for several scenes but instead a quick life saving and a vote by the bikers sees him made a fully fledged member. There are a couple of scenes which do add background to Stone's girlfriend which seem to be trying to emphasise the upper class background of the policeman, but they are not particularly developed and seem surplus to the storyline. A number of action scenes help to keep the film moving briskly and they all build up to a fittingly dramatic climax but a rather unexpected conclusion.

A particularly curious aspect of the script concerns the biker's religion. While many bikers adopted a deliberate counter-culture attitude of Satan worship (evident in most biker gang names), it was usually only observed for the sake of upsetting society. In this case however the gang seem to have a very authentic belief in a pseudo-Christian hell, as evidenced in their funeral scenes, which although not factoring into the storyline, helps to add to the unusual aspects of the film. With any movie of this sort there is a fine line between showing the gang as mere thugs, which would lose any audience sympathy, or romanticising them and ignoring the fact that they are an outlaw group. Fortunately Harbutt is able to balance this particularly well and contrasts the amicable nature of the bikers to each other and later to Stone, against a brutal brawl between rival gangs and several unnecessarily violent bar fights against outsiders, culminating in the film's brutal conclusion scenes. He refrains however from showing any hardcore criminal activity by the gang - there is no theft or murder (outside of that required by the storyline) and it is clear that the female characters are all willing participans in the drugs and sex.

The all important biker footage is very ably handled by Harbutt and he displays some unique angles on-board and behind the bikes. There are a few shots in an "immediate" documentary style but these are outplayed by a number of more unusual scenes - a wonderful sequence at the start with the bikes drifting silently along the motorway to some high pitched string music gives the film a strangely post-apocalyptic feel, while a number of later scenes provide an almost Jess Franco style surrealism, particularly when representing their drug taking. Using the biker community, Harbutt was able to assemble large casts of extra bikers used in several scenes, most notably the opening burial procession and the dramatic brawling sequence. The locations are all well scouted real biker hangouts and there are no set shots at all, giving the film an authentic atmosphere. Billy Green is credited with the film's "rock and roll" and certainly there are a number of classic biker songs, but much of the soundtrack is made up of more unusual and quite surrealist music which adds to its unusual, drug influenced style.

The majority of the cast, playing the Grave Diggers gang were occasional actors but also bikers or at least members of that brand of counter-culture, this means that the acting all round is generally strong but they can also really convince as being members of the "great unwashed". The most established actor in the group, Ken Shorter as Stone was really an outsider to this community and it gives him a unique edge to make the performance even more believable. Director Sandy Harbutt takes on the role of the group's leader, 'the Undertaker'.

Stone is not just another biker movie, a labour of love from its director it boasts an effective storyline, some wonderful cinematography, well realised surreality and a generally unique atmosphere. It comes highly recommended to all fans of cult cinema.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? No-one of note.
Directed by anyone interesting? Sandy Harbutt - an otherwise unknown Australian director who had a few minor roles as an actor on Australian television.
Any gore or violence ? Various fighting scenes, some blood but no gore.
Any sex or nudity? A few female topless shots. A sequence where the whole group go swimming in the sea with male and female nudity.
Who is it for? All fans of cult cinema should enjoy this.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
Some minor scratches but otherwise a perfect looking print with only mild grain.
Audio English mono - comes through fine throughout.
Subtitles None
Extras Disc 1 includes:
  • Original theatrical trailer.
Disc 2 includes:
  • Stone Forever (1999) - a feature length documentary about Stone featuring detailed interviews with the majority of the cast and crew, plus footage of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the film, an enourmous biker festival. Well illustrated with clips from the film, behind the scenes footage, archive interview and television footage and still photos. Very well put together and definitely worth watching. 61 minutes
  • Making of Stone - a comtemporary documentary with behind the scenes clips and interviews (as used in Stone Forever). Black and White. 22 minutes
  • Make-up tests - a reel of colour calibration and tests with the main actors from the film. Worth peeking at although not really interesting enough to sit through. Silent. 8 minutes.
  • Director's Slide Show - a large selection of still photos from the set accompanied by a commentary from the director about them, as created for the earlier Australian DVD release. Lots of interesting information about the film and some good pitures. 21 minutes
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Other regions? Released on DVD in Australia although with only a fullscreen (open-matte) and low quality print - included the 'Making of' and 'Slideshow' as included on this release, but not the full length 'Stone Forever'. Due for release from Severin UK during 2009 with the same, uncut print.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The print used is English language.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 28th January 2009.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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