Number 96-Collector's Edition (1974)

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Released 10-Jul-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary
Script-Movie
Featurette-Number 96 - They Said It Wouldn't Last
Featurette-"The Final years" Interview Featurette
Additional Footage-Rare Footage - Spirit of 96
Trailer-Barry McKenzie, Don's Party, The Naked Bunyip, Chances
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1974
Running Time 108:06
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (46:29)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Peter Bernardos
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Johnny Lockwood
Philippa Baker
Gordon McDougall
Sheila Kennelly
Pat McDonald
Ron Shand
Bunny Brooke
Joe Hasham
Chard Hayward
Lynn Rainbow
Jeff Kevin
Tom Oliver
Rebecca Gilling
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Tommy Tycho


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    March 13, 1972 saw a watershed in Australian TV: the first episode of an adult Australian soap opera called Number 96. Channel 10, then the 0-10 Network, was in financial difficulties and needed a hit, so they commissioned a soap opera based on the successful import Coronation Street. What they got was a sex and sin fest that had the station's switchboards lighting up five days a week. And had the ratings skyrocketing.

    Number 96 Lindsay St was a block of flats in Sydney's Paddington, though the actual block shown in the credits of each episode is in Woollahra. The show revolved around an assorted group of characters, most of whom lived in the block. The most famous character from the early days was Bev Houghton (Abigail). By the time of the film version Abigail had left the show (she was replaced in the part but the character was subsequently killed off) but the nucleus of the show had been formed. Aldo Godolfus (Johnny Lockwood), a Hungarian Jew and his wife Roma (Philippa Baker) ran the deli on the ground floor. Les Whittaker (Gordon McDougall) and his wife Norma (Sheila Kennelly) ran the wine bar. Alf and Lucy Sutcliffe (James Elliott and Elisabeth Kirkby) were immigrants from Lancashire who lived in a top-floor apartment, where they took in the nerdy milquetoast Arnold Feather (Jeff Kevin) as a lodger. He also worked as an assistant in the deli. South African-born fashion designer and Tarot card reader Vera Collins (Elaine Lee) was frequently raped in her flat, next door to the sympathetic homosexual lawyer Don Finlayson (Joe Hasham). Even her stepfather flew all the way from South Africa just to rape her, then immediately flew back home. Vera ended up meeting scores of men who were no good for her while working for businesswoman megab**** Maggie Cameron (Bettina Welch). Jack Sellers (Tom Oliver) was the series' Casanova, though of the very direct, straight up-and-down, Jack-the-lad variety. Dudley Butterfield (Chard Hayward) was a campy movie-buff type who mimicked or mocked the real-life movie guru Bill Collins with cries of "Did you see it? It was ever so good."

    Rounding out or perhaps dominating the primary cast were the three pensioners in flat 3: relentless gossiper Dorrie Evans (Pat McDonald), who had a malapropism for every occasion, guaranteed to drive her henpecked husband Herb (Ron Shand) "beresk", and their friend Flo Patterson (Bunney Brooke). Dorrie's catchphrases "why wasn't I told?" and "that's a well-known fact" became part of the language of the day.

    Initially the series probed a lot of serious issues of the day, including rape, racism, multiculturalism - through many characters of every ethnic variety - feminism and sexuality of all kinds, laced with comedy, melodrama and a large slice of nudity. While Abigail is sometimes claimed to be the first woman to appear topless on Australian TV, she swears blind in the 1976 retrospective that she never took her top off during the series. In any case Arna-Maria Winchester had twice appeared topless in the series Spyforce in 1971, so these are moot points.

    In late 1973 it was decided to make a feature film version in colour, which was expected to attract people to the cinemas as Australian TV was still in the monochrome era. Shot in 11 days on 16mm the movie version is like several episodes of the TV series strung together with the same basic format. Each storyline is told in a series of brief scenes which are interwoven with other brief scenes from other storylines, occasionally intersecting. This meant in the series that there were always on-going story threads even when one story was resolved. In the movie they are all resolved near the end.

    Naturally the movie starts with Vera getting raped again, this time by some bikies. Next she is recuperating at the late Bev Houghton's mother Claire's place where she meets Nicholas Brent (James Condon), a potential future Prime Minister with whom she becomes involved. Sonia Vansard (Lynn Rainbow), who left the series after the first season, returns to the flats with new husband Duncan Hunter (long-time Play School presenter Alistair Smart). Jack Sellers gets involved with the next-door air hostess Diana (Rebecca Gilling) who has her own secrets.

    Meanwhile Dorrie and Herb realise that their ruby wedding anniversary is looming, so she gets Aldo and Arnold to organise catering for a party. Aldo is now working two jobs because of a fire which destroyed his nest egg. Dudley and Les take it on themselves to organise some catering on their own.

    Sonia starts experiencing strange dreams, while Vera discovers a disturbing secret about Nicholas' son.

    The movie was a big financial success in 1974. Artistically, though, it is a mess. Little attempt has been made to distinguish it from its TV progenitor, apart from location shooting, low-grade stunts and full-frontal nudity (supplied by Rebecca Gilling). Technically the film shows the speed of shooting: boom microphone shadows visible in some shots, some mediocre acting and worse direction. The 16mm source looks horrible when blown up to 35mm, being slightly out of focus and having awful colour.

    I found myself cringing with embarrassment when watching this again. It is all very dated, and it is hard to imagine that it wasn't dated when it was released, especially the slapstick and vaudeville elements.

    Back in the 1970s I was alternatively allowed and forbidden to watch the original series, probably based on the nature of the stories and the amount of flesh being shown. For example I can remember seeing the car crash that killed Sonia's first husband and the famous bomb in the deli, but I missed Arnold getting his leg blown off by a parcel bomb and the pantyhose murder storyline. In 1974 the series moved away from nudity and serious storylines in favour of comedy. When the show hit ratings trouble a couple of years later the nudity was reintroduced, full-frontally this time. The show died a rapid death in 1977. The really sad thing is that none of the black and white episodes (the whole first two seasons) survive. It would seem that all that is left of those episodes are the excerpts in the retrospective documentary made to commemorate the 1000th episode. Based on those sequences and the excerpts from the colour episodes I don't think the movie did the TV series much justice.

    Shortly after the success of Number 96, Crawford's started a similar series set in a fictitious Melbourne television studio: The Box. This series also ended not long before Number 96. Perhaps an enterprising company can resurrect this series and its movie version on DVD, as it would make an interesting comparison.

    As a document of the era, the Number 96 movie is a curio at best. The extra material on Disc Two is more interesting and the set is worth buying for the documentaries and commentary alone. It would have been nice to have one or two complete episodes of the series as well, but maybe a Volume 2 is in order..?

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.65:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. I imagine the original aspect ratio was 1.66:1.

    The film is preceded by a disclaimer about the state of the film and the quality of the archival material from which it is sourced. As stated above, it was shot on 16mm in 11 days and then blown up to 35mm for theatrical release. The video quality is quite poor as a result especially as it has been prepared from print material, the original negative being lost or misplaced.

    For much of the running time it looks to be slightly out of focus, although it varies from scene to scene. After a while I became used to it, so it is bearable. Background detail is compromised but as the sets are cheap there is not much to look at in the backgrounds anyway.

    Colour is pretty appalling. Flesh tones are way too pink and everything else looks washed out or lifeless. Possibly the colour on the print material has faded slightly. Reds are virtually non-existent, being more like orange. Shadow detail is below average. There are some poorly lit night scenes which suffer as a result. The bright studio lighting for the indoor scenes means that the effect here is minimal.

    There are few serious film to video artefacts, with some telecine wobble, occasional posterisation and some Gibb Effect. However the film appears to have been restored in some scenes by lightly rubbing the celluloid with steel wool. There are often showers of scratches, flecks, dirt and other assorted damage. This varies wildly from scene to scene, with some exhibiting few artefacts. There are also reel change markings every 15 minutes or so. Another issue is that the image is often unsteady, with a vertical flapping appearance, as if there was a stiff breeze blowing through the telecine machine.

    I know that Umbrella have been criticised for not including subtitles on many of their releases, but here we get hard of hearing subtitles not only on the feature but also on the extras. These are particularly handy on the feature as some of the dialogue is difficult to understand. The subtitles are in a clear, well-sized white font and are positioned in relation to the speaker. I sampled them a few times during the film and the dialogue seemed to be transcribed verbatim.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer change occurring at 46:29, immediately prior to Rebecca Gilling's nude shower scene. I wasn't distracted.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The soundtrack comes in Dolby Digital 2.0 and is resolutely mono.

    Again, allowances need to be made because of the nature and state of the source material. The sound is thin and often strident, and some dialogue is a little unclear either because it was not recorded properly or due to harsh distortion. The subtitles come in handy here.

    What music there is comprises Tommy Tycho's familiar series theme and (I assume) stock music. There is no evidence that a score was written specifically for the movie.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    All of the extras are in 1.29:1 unless stated otherwise. The two documentaries have optional English hard of hearing subtitles.

Disc One:

Main Menu Audio

    The static menu features the familiar theme music.

Audio Commentary

    The audio commentary is moderated by Aussie soaps expert Andrew Mercado, who doesn't need to do much to get Elaine Lee and series creator David Sale to speak about the series. There are plenty of interesting behind the scenes stories and comments about the TV version and what happened to several cast members. All very upbeat and worth listening to.

Script-Movie

    A 141 page PDF version of the original script is included on Disc One. It looks like it is taken from a photocopy and is a little hard to read in places. From the bits I read the final product was pretty close to what was scripted, though there are some differences.

Disc Two:

Featurette-Number 96 - They Said It Wouldn't Last (90:11)

    This was a TV special made in 1976 to commemorate the 1000th episode of the series. It features copious excepts from the shows, including the now-lost black and white episodes, introduced by series regulars. Some of the introductions show how attitudes have changed, with Abigail in a low-cut dress and low voice doing her best to appear sultry (not a big stretch) while Alf and Les snigger while introducing the nudie bits. Woooaar!!!

    All of the classic moments are included, with the Knicker Snipper, the Pantyhose Murderer and the deli bomb getting coverage. The special is preceded by a new introduction from Abigail.

    As the special was shown a couple of times, there are two endings, the later of which reprises the 1976 season's cliffhangers. The original ending only survives on ordinary VHS so the quality is lower, but otherwise the video quality is surprisingly good, having been preserved on digital video tape.

Featurette-"The Final Years" Interview Featurette (59:26)

    Here's where we get to see how much some of the actors have aged in thirty years, as they introduce excerpts from the last couple of years of the series and reminisce. The presenters are Elaine Lee, Sheila Kennelly, Wendy Blacklock, series creator David Sale and white witch Deborah Gray, who must be about 50 now but looks 15 years younger.

    All seem very proud about the series and their roles in it and tell some amusing stories. Gray introduces her spectacular nude scenes as Miss Hemingway. We also get the extended finale to the final episode, where past and present cast members appear in front of a studio audience.

Additional Footage-Rare Footage - Spirit of 96 (6:07)

    Silent footage of the cast and crew travelling down to Melbourne for the Logies on a special train, with the theme music repeated ad nauseam. It mainly consists of shots of them drinking on board while wearing Number 96 tee-shirts, getting off at various stops to sign autographs, and clowning around in front of the camera.

Trailers - Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, Don's Party, The Naked Bunyip, Chances (5:09)

    Trailers for other similar Umbrella releases.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This material is only available in Region 4 at present, and probably for the foreseeable future.

Summary

    The original series was a watershed in Australian television. The film version is more of a water-closet, though it is of interest for historical reasons, especially given the loss of the TV series episodes from the early years.

    The video quality is terrible, but that is due to the source material, not the digital transfer.

    The audio quality is also poor, but again the source material is to blame.

    An excellent extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD Projector projected to 80" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES for surrounds, Elektra Reference power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

Other Reviews NONE
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