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Albie Thoms (July 28, 1941 – November 28, 2012) was an Australian film director, writer, and producer. He was born in Sydney, Australia. He was nominated for at the 1979 AFI Awards for Best Original Screenplay for Palm Beach. He is best known for his work with Ubu Films, the Sydney Filmmakers’ Co-operative, and the Yellow House. He died on November 28, 2012.
Thoms’ first production for SUDS was Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (1962), followed by Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter (1962). He then staged a production of his own devising, A Revue of the Absurd (1963), consisting of playlets, poems and performance pieces by such authors as Alfred Jarry, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jacques Prevert, N.F. Simpson, Edward Albee and Kenneth Koch. One of its items, Alfred Jarry’s The Song of the Disembraining was thought by the police to be obscene, but Thoms refused to remove it from the show and was summonsed to court, where he was successful in refuting the charge. A Revue of the Absurd was also staged in Melbourne as part of the Marlowe Society’s Theatre of the Absurd season, organised by Bill Wakler. Thoms’ next productions were Arrabal's Fando and Lis and the Two Executioners (1963) for SUDS, after which he formed the Contemporary Theatre Company (CTC) with Arthur Hynes, and staged Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1963). Under the CTC banner, he also directed A Tribute to Jean Cocteau, and produced a Lunchtime Revue (directed by Hynes). Thoms then became manager of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust’s Lunchtime Theatre, which played in suburban shopping Malls, with productions of N.F. Simpson’s A Resounding Tinkle, G.B. Shaw’s Overruled, and Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story (all 1964). For SUDS 75th Anniversary celebrations, he directed Samuel Beckett’s Embers (1964), before embarking on a massive production of Theatre Of Cruelty (1965), which was developed and rehearsed over a six-month period. It involved applying the theories of Antonin Artaud, as expressed in his The Theatre and Its Double, to short plays, poems and performance pieces by such authors as Alfred Jarry, Oskar Kochoschka, Wassily Kandinski, F.T. Marinetti, Gertrude Stein, Kurt Schwitters, Tristan Tzara, Salvador Dali, And Jean Tardieu. It also included Happenings by Martin Sharp, and work from the La Monte Young and the New York Fluxus group, as well as work from Peter Brook and Charles Marowitz, who had been running Artaud workshops in London. It also included Australia first dramatic piece generated by an IBM1440 computer. Theatre of Cruelty represented Sydney at the 1965 Australian Universities Drama festival in Newcastle, where it underwent considerable modification and refinement.
For his production of A Revue of the Absurd, Thoms obtained the assistance of Bruce Beresford to make a film of Jacques Prevert’s ..it droppeth as the gentle rain (1963). This satire on complacency in the face of nuclear fallout was adapted to a Sydney setting, but was banned by the Chief Secretary of New South Wales, who was responsible for theatre licensing, as well as the Commonwealth Film Censors, who controlled film screenings in Victoria. Another attempt at having it screened as part of SUDS’ 75th Anniversary celebrations was also stopped by the Chief Secretary. Thoms then made two films in conjunction with David Perry for inclusion in the Theatre of Cruelty season. These were The Spurt of Blood (1965), based on a scenario by Antonin Artaud, and Poem 25, in which Perry scratched onto celluloid the numbers of a poem by Kurt Schwitters, which were projected beside the actor reciting it. Theatre of Cruelty also included another early example of Expanded Cinema, when Bruce Conner’ film, Cosmic Ray, was projected over the actors performing in a happening by Emmet Williams, while another consisted of an illegal screening of ..it droppeth as the gentle rain, in which wet paper ‘turds’ were dropped from the ceiling. At the conclusion of the program, four members of the production team, David Perry, Aggy Read, John Clark and Albie Thoms decided to form Ubu Films to continue such film activity.
While working on Theatre of Cruelty, Thoms was offered a position as Specialist Trainee Production with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and began learning the craft of television in conjunction with seven others, including Bob Ellis and Richard Brennan. A year later, he was assigned to drama producer, Eric Tayler, as his assistant producer, and worked with him on the first series of Australian Playhouse, and then on the comedy series, Nice’n’Juicy, of which Thoms directed the last three episodes. He then directed an episode of the second series of Australian Playhouse, before joining the production team of Contrabandits, a large-budget series on the activities of the Australia Customs and Excise Department. Thoms directed four episodes of this series, writing and directing one of them, and writing another. He then left to freelance, with his first job producing Chris McCullough's surreal drama, Vision for a New World, for Karvan International. He then ventured into Children's Television, writing and directing episodes of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. He then stopped television work to complete his experimental feature film, Marinetti for Ubu Films.
Established by Albie Thoms, David Perry, Aggy Read and John Clark in 1965 with the aim of making Experimental Films, Ubu became a distribution centre for Australian and foreign independent films, organising exhibitions of them in Australian capital cities, producing expanded cinema in the form of lighshows with rock bands and slide and film projections, and publishing the Underground newspaper, Ubunews. Ubu's first production was the spy-spoof, Blunderball (1966), a burlesque of all the James Bond films to date, written and directed by Thoms, and intended to raise money for experimental films. It was screened as part of the program Blunderball and Other Recent Australian Films, including works by Bruce Beresford, Richard Brennan and Garry Shead, who became one of the mainstays of the group. The program attracted turn-away crowds, with the profits split among the contributing filmmakers. Ubu used the funds to make Man and His World (1966), written and directed by Thoms for a competition for 50-second film on the title theme, using an ultra high speed camera and split-screen optical printing. The competition was held in conjunction with Expo 67 in Montreal, where it was selected for the finals and screened at the Montreal Film Festival. Thoms then made Rita & Dundi for Ubu, This experimental documentary about two young Paddington dress-makers was banned for nudity, but was screened widely in Australia without complaint. This was followed by an improvised Happening orchestrated by Garry Shead, with the Ubu filmmakers, along with Michael Pearce, David Stiven and Roger Whitaker. It was included in Ubu's second exhibition program, Underground and Experimental Films, which included previous work and news films, including Thoms handmade film, Bluto, made by scraping emulsion from black leader and hand-colouring the results. It led to Thoms’ penning a Handmade Film Manifesto that was published in Sydney and San Francisco, and led to a Sydney School of Handmade Films, many of which were used in Ubu's lightshows. Thoms next film for Ubu, Bolero (1967) came about as a result of an invitation from the Royal Belgian Film Archive to submit an idea for a film for the 4th International Experimental Film Festival in Knokke-Le Zoute. Thoms’ idea involved a camera tracking down a street into the eye of a girl, done to the music of Maurice Ravel. It was awarded an Agfa-Gaevert Prize and was exhibited in the final of the competition. Thoms next made David Perry (1968), consisting of scraps found in David Perry's editing bin, which were scratched on, coloured, and synchronised to the soundtrack of David Perry talking about his films. It was selected for screening at the 2nd Directors’ Fortnight at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival. After that Thoms commenced work on his experimental feature Marinetti.
Marinetti was made as a homage to the Futurist poet, F.T. Marinetti, whose theory of art Thoms thought had been neglected. Using a stream-of-consciousness technique in which the camera seemed to be looking inside the authors’ head, it expresses the state-of-mind of a man at a party at which his wife and previous wife are present. A feature-length montage with an overlapping soundtrack, it caused a scandal at its World Premiere in Sydney, but subsequently fared better in other capitals and in North America, and particularly in Europe, where it was invited to be screened in England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Italy, while Henri Langlois selected it for screening in a program of New Cinema at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Travels in Europe
Thoms travelled in Europe for six months screening Marinetti, before returning to London, where he worked for Oz magazine and on Freek Press at the Isle of Wight Festival. He then worked on the organising committee for the 1st International Underground Film Festival the National Film Theatre, and the Wet Dream Film Festival in Amsterdam, where he was employed as a consultant to the Nederlandse Film Ko-op.
On his return to Sydney, Thoms joined with Martin Sharp in establishing the Yellow House, a ‘community of artists in the South, in the sun’, inspired by Vincent van Gogh's Yellow House in Arles. Thoms became principal of the Ginger Meggs Memorial School of Arts in the Yellow House, arranging classes in Modernism, film poetry, plays and performance in preparation for the Spring Exhibition(1971), in which two city townhouses were decorated from floor to ceiling with artworks inspired by van Gogh, Hokusai, Magritte, and Walt Disney. Working with such artists as Martin Sharp, Brett Whiteley, Peter Wright, Dicky Weight, David Litvinoff, Nic Lyon, John Lewis, Ellis D Fogg and Bruce Goold, Thoms contributed the ‘Whaaam Wall’, inspired by Roy Lichtenstein, the ‘Fur Tunnel’ inspired by Meret Oppenheim, and the ‘Caterpillar Corner’ inspired by Lewis Carroll.
Thoms had become the regular record-reviewer for the surfing magazine Tracks, edited by David Elfick, and when he left the Yellow House after the Spring Show, he was engaged to edit their surfmovie, Morning of the Earth,(1972), which became Australia's most-successful surfing film.
A Sunshine City: Thoms had received a grant from the Experimental Film & Television Fund to make Sunshine City (1973), a record of the artists’ return to Sydney, Using a flicking light pattern to modify the imagery, Thoms inserted conversations with Sydney associates amid scenes of Sydney life, and featured, among others, Germaine Greer, Brett Whiteley, Jim Anderson, David Elfick, David Litvinoff, and Aggy Read.
GTK: After travelling in Europe and North America, studying avant-garde film on a grant from the Australian Film Radio and Television School, Thoms took up a position in 1974 making a film a week for the ABC-TV youth program GTK (Get to Know). He soon was made co-producer of the program, producing more than 200 episodes of the nightly series, and directing more than 50 short films for it.
Cite International des Arts: After GTK, Thoms was awarded an artist-in-residency in the Power Studio of the Cite International des Arts in Paris (1976), but was unable to complete much work there due to a lack of funds. Instead he furthered his education by attending the museums and cinema.
Australian Film Commission: On his return to Australia, Thoms was appointed manager of the Experimental Film and Television Fund for the Australian Film Commission (1977–78), where he was able to bring about significant reforms to the fund, which remained the Creative Development Fund, and not only encouraged production, but distribution and exhibition, with many films made during his tenure winning prizes and were selected for screening at international film festivals.
Polemics for a New Cinema: On completion of his contract with the Australian Film Commission, Thoms was commissioned by the publishers, Wild and Woolley, to collect his writings on film into a book, Polemics for a New Cinema (1978), which brought together essays and articles Thoms had begun writing a decade earlier.
Palm Beach: After five years seeking funds for another experimental feature, Thoms received a loan from the Creative Development Fund to make a tripartite narrative Palm Beach (1979), concerning an out-of-work surfer, a drug dealer, and a runaway teenage girl. Shot with a single take for each scene, it had a complex sound montage, in which sounds and dialogue overlapped from scene-to-scene, and were united by talk radio, which gave cohesion to the differing suburbs of Sydney's Northern Beaches, where the characters lived. It shared first prize for Best Australian Film at the Adelaide Film Festival, was nominated for Best Screenplay in the Australian Film Awards, was sold to German Television, and was released on video in the US.
Documentaries: Thoms first documentary was Petfoods is a Serious Business (1969), made for Uncle Bens, with the next being one about the artist Martin Sharp, Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue (1976), made for ABC-TV. After that he was commissioned by Saarlander Rundfunk in West Germany to make New Australian Film (1977) and by ZDF, West Germany, to make Surfmovies (1981), about the Australian surfing film phenomena. Then it was The Bradman Era (1982), for ABC-TV, about Australia's legendary cricketer. This was followed by JOK-the Wild One (1983), about Australia's first rock star, Johnny O’Keefe, and From Neck-to-Knee to Nude (1985) covering the history of Australia's beach bathing customs, both made for ATN-7. Two scripts for the NFSA followed, with Hot From the Spot to the Screen (1986) dealing with newsreels, and It’s On Record (1986) dealing with the music recording industry. Getting Straight (1989) was a drug recognition film made for NSW prisons, while Aluminium Dampcourse Production and Lead Dampcourse Production (1992-3) were training films made for the family company. Australia is as Good as Its Words (1994) was a promotion for the Literature Board of the Australian Council, while Bohemians in the Bush (1995) dealt with the camps of the Australian Impressionists in Mosman at the end of the Nineteenth Century, as was subject of an exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW), and was screened on ABC-TV. Another for an exhibition was State of the Waratah (2000), made with Rosie Nice for screening in the Botanical Gardens, while The King of Belle-Ile (2001), about the Australian painter, John Russell, who lived in France and worked with Rodin, Monet, van Gogh and Matisse, was made for an exhibition at the AGNSW, and was screened on SBS.
Videos: While earning his living making documentaries, Thoms continued to experiment, making Hollywood Expanded (1976) a nine-screen film for Ellis D Fogg, that was screened at the opening of the Hoyts Entertainment Centre. Polygenesis (1990), was made by transferring fictional film to video and mixing six layers to create an abstraction, while Akai Ghost Poems (1995), edited 40 hours of experimental videotape shot in the Yellow House, and Gulag (1999) used the dripping style of Jackson Pollock to make a hand-made film that was then transferred to video and its speeds altered in a video mixer.
Books: As well as Polemics for a New Cinema (1978), Thoms wrote Surfmovies, (2000) a history of the Australian surfing film, published by Shore Thing, Noosa. His memoir ‘My Generation’ (2012) was published shortly after his death by Media21 publishing. He has also contributed to The Documentary Film in Australia publication as well as providing catalogue essays for Bohemians in the Bush (1991) and Belle-Ile: Monet, Russell and Matisse in Brittany (2001), both for AGNSW, and Then and Now and Everything in Between (2010), Mosman Art Gallery,
Exhibitions: Thoms was curator of all the film exhibitions staged by Ubu Films. He also assisted with the exhibitions, The Yellow House (AGNSW, 1991), Bohemians in the Bush (AGNSW, 1992), and curated the David Perry retrospective, Then and Now and Everything in Between (2010) for the Mosman Art Gallery.
Heritage: Thoms is descended from Cornish tin miners, one of whom, Thomas Thoms (1820-1862) migrated to Australia on an assisted package in 1849. He was sent to work in a copper mine in Bathurst, but it proved unsuccessful, and he was working as a well-sinker, when gold was discovered the Bathurst region. As a result, Thomas was able to build his own home in Bathurst and pay for apprenticeships for his five sons living sons. One of these, Thomas (1857-1928), became a tinsmith, but soon left for Sydney, where he became a plumber at Summer Hill. He was able to expand his business, established in the backyard of his family home, adding the manufacture of galvanised iron water tanks and lead piping, using a machine of his own design. On his death, the business, now named Thomas Thoms Pty Ltd, was operated by his five sons, one of whom was Albie's father, Ronald (1915-1990).
Schooling: After attending Yeo Park Infants School and Canterbury Boys Primary School, Albie attended Trinity Grammar School, where he was a member of the 1st XV, 2nd X1, Athletics Team, and Drama Club. In his final year he won the School Art Prize and a Commonwealth Scholarship to attend Sydney University.
University: Thoms studied Arts at Sydney University, majoring in English and Anthropology, and passed an M.A. qualifying exam, which enabled him to work on a thesis on The Stagecraft of the Theatre of the Absurd, which was never completed. A member of the Film Group (SUFG) and the Dramatic Society (SUDS), he was also involved with the university Libertarians, who were part of the Sydney Push. As a writer he contributed to the student newspaper, Honi Soit, and the university magazines, Hermes and Arna, and wrote for the annual university revue, with the first of his scripts produced by Clive James, and the second performed by Germaine Greer. Thoms was elected president of SUDS and the university Theatre Council, and helped organise the 1963 Australian Universities Drama Festival, which had as its guest-of-honour, the expatriate Spanish playwright, Arrabal.