Monday, 12 January 2009

australian perspectives at midsumma: a tribute to prisoner's jude kuring

Jude Kuring in Prisoner
Jude Kuring in Prisoner
As part of the 2009 Midsumma Festival, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) presents a special Australian Perspectives program - a tribute to the career of actress Jude Kuring - to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the popular Australian drama series, Prisoner

Jude Kuring is best known for her role as Noeline Bourke in Prisoner. She joined the show in 1979 and although only appearing in 27 episodes, her portrayal of inmate Bourke won her a loyal fanbase the world over.

Prisoner (Grundy Television), known as Prisoner Cell Block H to UK and US fans, aired in Australia from 1979 to 1987 for 692 episodes. The late night drama rated highly, scooping the ratings in its early years and winning ten Logie awards in its lifetime, including Best New Drama Series (1980), Most Popular Show (1981, 1985), Most Popular Drama Series (1981) and numerous awards for individual actresses. 

The series was popular abroad, too. In the UK the series became a late-night hit, even the theme song (On The Inside, written by Allan Caswell) made it to number three on the UK charts in 1989. In the USA, the show aired to a primetime audience of 39 million, despite being banned in Salt Lake City for being too risqué. After more than 20 years off air, the series remains popular, now a cult-classic internationally.

Set in the modern maximum security Wentworth Detention Centre, a women-only prison, Prisoner was a drama that depicted life 'on the inside'. The series followed the lives of the characters, from how they got there to what became of them afterward. It is widely regarded that the success of the series lay in the strong character acting; the innocent and guilty, the hardened ('Top Dog') leaders and weakened followers, the bold and the timid, strong personalities constantly clashing, uniting only against the 'screws' and 'the system'. Often the infighting of the inmates played out alongside their common struggle to adjust to life behind bars and ability to provide each other support and compassion when needed.

For the first time Australia had a production where all the lead roles were played by women, with men in supporting and cameo roles. For many female actors it was just the beginning; now they are household names. For the local television industry, Prisoner also ignited the careers of production staff, including writers and directors, many of whom went onto equally successful productions.

ACMI Film Programmer James Nolen says that while the Australian Perspectives program is a tribute to Jude Kuring's career, it is as much a nod to Prisoner. "Prisoner is an iconic, uniquely Australian drama still fiercely loved by fans today," said James. "And appropriately it is the 30th anniversary of the debut broadcast of the show that plunged Jude Kuring's Noeline Bourke into the hearts of adoring fans. Throughout her career, Kuring's portrayal of strong female characters and commitment to gender-political performance has endeared her to a loyal gay and lesbian audience, making the Midsumma celebration of gay and lesbian culture a fitting stage for this tribute." 

ACMI's tribute to Kuring opens with one of her star turns the series (Prisoner, Episode 122). At the beginning of the episode Kuring's permanently grimacing Noeline Bourke is on the outside, working as a tea lady in the corporate world, until she learns of the death of her daughter who is doing time within the walls of Wentworth. Another must-see performance from Kuring (Prisoner, Episode 35) screens in week two of this tribute. The inmates are out of control while celebrations are underway for probationer Clara's birthday, and Noeline Bourke soon takes centre stage as she gets drunk on the home brew and then is called out to save her brother in a hostage situation. Both Prisoner episodes screen with the pilot episode of Buck House (1995), billed as the world's first gay and lesbian sitcom.

While fans of Prisoner would instantly recognise Kuring as Bourke, it not was her only time 'on the inside'. Before Prisoner, Kuring played Grace, one of a group of female convicts liberated from their British penal colony, in Tom Cowan's 1977 film, Journey Among Women, also screening in Australian Perspectives this Midsumma Festival. The film, regarded as bi-product of gender politics raging at the time of production, attempts to reinterpret Australian history from a female point of view. At the time of the films release, frequent female nudity assured its box office success.

Kuring's other notable performances have included appearances in dramas such as Homicide and comedies Alvin Purple and The Gary McDonald Show, however, after Prisoner she did little acting.

After a 20 year hiatus, Kuring returned to feature in the film Prisoner Queen (2004), which remains her most recent appearance. Local film maker Timothy Spanos, a fan of the Prisoner series who has made several films with the Prisoner alumni, directs this low-budget black comedy staring Kuring. A passionate fan of her performances, Spanos says; "Jude Kuring is a truly original, unique and inimitable Australian actor. She uses all senses to the creation of a character with soul. She doesn't act, she becomes. There has never been anything like her and probably never will be." In Spanos' film, Kuring plays an actress diagnosed with leukaemia, supported by her son Alex (Tim Burns) who by day is a waiter and by night dresses up as a prison officer, taking his cue from Prisoner. Prisoner Queen also stars Matt Thomas (The Mavis's, The Blowwaves) in drag as singer Chrissy Amphelett.

ACMI celebrates Kuring's enduring performances for the 30th anniversary of Prisoner and the 2009 Midsumma Festival, on Sat 7 Feb and Sat 14 Feb with these specially programmed Australian Perspectives screenings. The Prisoner episodes (2pm) are free to attend and the films are at the regular Australian Perspectives admission (all tickets $8).

Further information

Claire Butler
Communications Coordinator
[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2415 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 654
[email] claire.butler@acmi.net.au  
 
 
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