Love Serenade: 'I got off in Sunray'
Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov) gets personal with his listeners in Sunray, a small town on the Murray River. Dimity Hurley (Miranda Otto) stops under a roadside speaker to listen, trying to ignore a ute full of local boys yelling obscenities. Her sister Vicki-Anne (Rebecca Frith) listens to Sherry’s every word in her hair salon, carried away by Barry White’s sexy 'Love Serenade’. Summary by Paul Byrnes.
George Shevtsov gives a superb sense of the absolutely fatigued spirit of Ken Sherry, a man from whom life is ebbing away – and not just because he’s turning into a fish! Sherry has fallen a long way from the heights of media fame in Brisbane, where he once did television as well as radio. 'I got off in Sunray’ is both an excuse, an admission of failure, and a double entendre (although strictly speaking, he hasn’t yet 'got off’ in Sunray).
Love Serenade synopsis
Washed up Brisbane disc jockey Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov) takes over the one-man radio station in Sunray, a small town on the Murray River. Vicki-Anne Hurley (Rebecca Frith), local hairdresser and disappointed spinster, sees her new neighbour as a terrific catch, but younger sister Dimity (Miranda Otto) gets in first. Dimity is an awkward and painfully shy 20-year-old eager to experience love. Sherry is a sleazy opportunist with a string of failed relationships, but a faint hint of glamour. As the sisters vie for his attention, Dimity notices something strange. She asks her boss Albert Lee (John Alansu), proprietor of the Chinese restaurant, if some men have gills, like fish. When Sherry dashes Vicki-Anne’s matrimonial fantasies, Vicki-Anne climbs the only tall building in Sunray – the wheat silo.
Love Serenade curator's notes
Love Serenade was a bold and imaginative debut from Shirley Barrett, an attempt to get inside the loneliness of a small and stifling Australian town without becoming predictable or pompous. The script walks a difficult line, wanting to depict the limiting effects of the town on its characters, without turning them into caricatures or victims. Barrett has said that Ken Sherry was a combination of 'every Mr Wrong’, and the decision to make him a broken-down disc jockey came directly from the inspiration of the songs on the soundtrack. Barry White’s sleazy lyrics, pumping out over public speakers in the dusty streets of Sunray, are a perfect match for Ken Sherry’s cliché-ridden, 'big city’ radio patois. The fact that the two sisters could fall for it tells us how innocent and isolated they are.
Much of the comedy comes from the dynamics between the sisters. Vicki-Anne believes she is normal and that Dimity is odd, which gives her not just the right, but the responsibility to dominate her. When Dimity throws herself at Ken Sherry, it is a declaration of independence, if not war, aimed at her sister. Vicki-Anne, for her part, responds with equal ruthlessness, but less self-awareness. Their disagreements are continuations of the battles fought since childhood. In a sense, they are trapped in those bonds, as well as by this town, and by their now adult biology.
The boldest stroke, in comic terms, is to have Ken Sherry turning back into a fish – a continuation of the idea of biology as a powerful determinant. He is literally devolving back to the earlier life forms from which humans evolved. It’s a credit to Barrett’s light touch, and the performances of the actors, that the film can get away with such an outrageous joke.
Notes by Paul Byrnes
This clip shows laid-back radio DJ Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov) alone in the studio in the rural town of Sunray. He introduces himself with a revealing monologue that is followed by a sexually suggestive Barry White song. Dimity (Miranda Otto) stares up at roadside speakers playing the song, seemingly transfixed by it as a carload of young men call out to her. Her sister Vicki-Anne (Rebecca Frith), a hairdresser, listens as she works, her attention drawn to the song only when the record gets stuck, repeating the phrase ‘we’re gonna do it’.
Educational value points
- Light and shade have been employed in the clip to reflect a sense of the main protagonists’ characters and intentions. Throughout the clip Ken Sherry is shown in his small broadcast booth, exposed to little natural light, suggesting that there may be a shadiness about him. In contrast Dimity, cast in bleached bright sunlight on a wide empty country road, is presented as innocent, exposed and vulnerable.
- The manner in which Ken introduces himself and plays the song reveals his jaded cynicism. The contrived suggestive way in which he introduces the overtly seductive song (implying a familiar routine), the self-satisfied rub of his chest, the smirk as he reclines and the way he allows the record to repeat the line ‘we’re gonna do it’ before sharply kicking the turntable seem to reflect his calculated knowingness, lack of empathy and fading limited ambitions.
- A long crane shot is used to symbolically link Dimity to Ken. The use of a slow elliptical and measured crane shot (with the camera placed on a cantilevered arm) to visually connect the mesmerised Dimity with the roadside speakers in one unbroken movement serves to link her to the source of the music, Ken, who is serenading the town through the speakers.
- In the street scene, the soundtrack overlay and Otto’s portrayal of Dimity reveal her sense of isolation and possible loneliness. Dimity’s lack of interest in the local boys and her cautious interest in Ken and the music are evident in the contrast between the way she eyes the speakers as if hypnotised and the deliberate manner in which she turns away from the local boys as they drive by.
- Ken Sherry is an example of the commonly used dramatic device of a stranger arriving in a community and disrupting the accepted order. In the boredom and monotony of this country town it is the two sisters who for very different reasons respond to his broadcast. Dimity seems mesmerised by his intimate confession and song choice while the sexually explicit repeated phrase ‘we’re gonna do it’ seems to both horrify and attract her more conservative sister.
- The cracked record symbolically foreshadows the difficulties Ken will encounter in his romancing of the sisters. The ease of Ken’s mellifluous introduction and initial broadcasting of the smooth soulful song, mirrored in long slow pans and zooms, is violently interrupted by the cracked record and Ken’s kick, which abruptly end the dreamy interlude. These events hint that Ken may not prove to be as smooth or seductive as he initially appears.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia