Pamela Gibbons- Writer/Director of the movie Belinda

It took me awhile, but I got lucky when a site was created which listed all Australian directors and producers. There she was, Pamela Gibbons, director and writer of ‘Belinda’. I only had to confirm that this was the Ms. Gibbons who wrote our favorite movie. ‘Belinda’ is no longer being distributed. I was fortunate to obtain a copy from an Australian fellow thumb sucker. Apparently, it still can be obtained from at least one video store there. If you’re interested in acquiring a copy, contact me by clicking here. Below, you will find a listing of the questions I had sent her and, more importantly, her answers.

Question 1:

All the dancers in Belinda had oral dependencies, liquor, cigarettes, etc. I thought that the symbolic meaning was a statement contrasting those who were out of control of their life with those who were. For instance, you show Belinda experimenting with smoking, only to reject it, as if smoking was an allegory to both the danger of certain types of flirtations and the potential addictive aspects of these flirtations, the seedy side of life. What was interesting was the camera work in this regard, the close-ups of chain smoking, the ever present bottles of alcohol, etc. What were you getting at by including these oral manifestations?

The oral dependencies depicted were simply an accurate reflection of the habits of the women I worked with in the sixties and early seventies. Smoking was not unfashionable as it is today. Speed was around in the clubs (mostly for weight control) but not heroin, so the girls drank heavily to escape and everyone smoked. The camera work you mention, the closeups etc, was designed to create a feeling of the claustrophobia of the club and dressing room. Once inside, it was a complete, engulfing world - stifling and intense.

Question 2:

Kathryn Walker, in her role as Kathy, the dancer who would very often suck her thumb, became the most prolific artist of all the actors and actresses in Belinda, yet, she had a minor role.

a.) What was her character portraying?

b.) Why wasn't there any reaction in Belinda to an adult blithely publicly sucking her thumb?

c.) Who thought of the role of an adult thumb sucker and how did the concept of this role evolve?

d.) What were the reactions of the others (fellow actors, others) to this role?

e.) Ms. Walker conducted her character quite naturally, does she actually suck her thumb in "real" life? What were her feelings about playing such a character and how did she study for the role?

Kathryn Walker was a model when I cast her in 'Belinda', as was the French showgirl Khati. Kathryn took direction well and seemed at ease with her character.

The thumb-sucking was imspired by a Dutch showgirl I worked with who was absolutely child-like. She was always stark naked in the dressing room but like a happy child who found clothes an inconvenience. This girl sucked her thumb for comfort and was never embarassed by it. Kathryn's character captured some of her childishness I think - the inappropriate remarks, the inability to follow conversation, the obsession with herself.

On set no-one commented on Kathryn's role particularly as it seemed no more eccentric than most of the others. I guess the transvestite cleaner, again based on life, was the most bizarre individual on set.

Question 3:

What factors in your life inspired you to create Belinda? And, what emotional elements and/or life-facts motivated you to make this film? I'm intentionally distinquishing inspiration from motivation here.

The story of 'Belinda' loosely reflects a period of four weeks in my life.

Like my central character, I accepted a job in a venue which I had never seen - because the choreographer was highly regarded and had hired me for a prestigious show which was to start later in the year. She was very persuasive and I was young and naive and simply assumed I would be working in a theatre.

I came from a sheltered home, where my mother played classical music while preparing dinner, so naturally the backstage environment of the nightclub I found myself in was something of a culture shock. The club was the hangout for Sydney crime bosses and it was extremely dangerous. The dancers themselves, the patrons, the club management - all seemed to be partying hard to mask their desperation. I saw more in four weeks there than I would later experience in years in show business.

Many of the characters who appear in 'Belinda' are identities from that club, etched into my mind for so many years. Certainly Crystal was based on a woman who I grew to know well and in some ways admire. Crystal's death was based on the suicide of a showgirl in Paris. She reputedly hanged herself in full costume above the stage area. I heard that she was not discovered until the next day's matinee was in progress and one of the girls looked up. I really understood her taking her life wearing her gaudy, glittering bikini and feathers. For me it is a gesture reminiscent of career officers who don full military uniform to blow their brains out. She acknowledged, by wearing her 'uniform', that it was a contributing factor to her deep despair and she was communicating that.

Luckily I escaped unscathed from my four weeks in the club, but the cruel experience I created for 'Belinda' was my true projection of the fate in store for any innocent who stayed for any length of time. I was motivated to make the film from a need to expiate those images and by a desire to tell my story. I was directing commercials by the time I wrote the screenplay and I wanted to try my hand at directing drama. I had been a performer and I now wanted to direct performances.

Question 4:

Belinda was your only, and first, film. When you finally realized that you wanted to make a film, what steps did you take toward its fulfillment? What conditions occurred that convinced you that it will happen? I'm interested in knowing how one goes about making a film, from conception to completion. (I realize you could write a book on this subject, but, please indicate the bold headings of the subject.)

Government incentives for investors were very strong at the time I wrote 'Belinda' and a lot of films were made around that time. The production company, Fontana Films, for whom I had directed any commercials decided to expand into drama and 'Belinda' was funded by private investors who would benefit from the Government tax write-off. I focused entirely on the creative side of pre-production and was not heavily involved in the deal-making process. The permanent staff from the production company continued to make commercials and freelance film people were hired for 'Belinda" - although the picture's interiors were shot on stage at Fontana Films.

Question 5:

The character of Belinda was somewhat of an observer in that, though she was very emotional at times, she wasn't nearly as obviously emotional, or even appropriately emotional, as the woman around her were. A good case in point was that, after she was raped by her jealously enraged fellow dancers, she continued to work at the same place. What were you trying to say here?

Belinda's attempts to conceal her fear or pain also reflect my own upbringing and childhood values.

My family was quite British in their stoic acceptance of life's trials and not 'making a scene' was considered good manners. Displays of temperament, I realised later, were considered in poor taste.

I tried to depict Belinda as a young girl who tried to deal with events as they arose but she certainly was an observer of those around her and possessed a maturity beyond her years. The story is not told from her point of view but her assessment of the people around her is apparent to the film's audience.

Regarding the sexual assault, she was not raped by her fellow dancers but by a group of waitresses. I think that is an important distinction because for all the petty jealousies and conflict within the dressing room, the dancers did maintain a cameraderie and would not have subjected one of their own to that treatment. Belinda only continued to work in the club for that same night of the attack. Although that may not be clear, Crystal's suicide occurs on the same night that they all receive the news of the club's closure - the same night Belinda was attacked. The fact that Belinda goes onstage when called for the final number is entirely credible. She is in shock.

Also over years of performing, I have seen actors and dancers go out onstage in the grip of the most harrowing physical or mental anguish. "The show must go on" is not questioned by performers and they seem to need that self-imposed discipline as a balance for the lack of structure and certainty in their existence.

Question 6: .

Who was Deanna Jeffs (the main character)? Why hasn't she continued her acting career in movies?

Deanne Jeffs was just sixteen when she made 'Belinda' and had never done any acting at all before that role. I found her at the Victorian College of the Arts where she was attending school and studying dance as part of the curriculum. I screen tested her and was impressed by her charm and intelligence. It is very difficult to find a talented dancer who is also a natural actor. Deanne wanted to go back to school after the film and intended to pursue a career as a dancer. I have lost touch with her and don't know if she did become a professional classical dancer.

Question 7:

Why haven't you made any films between 1986 and 1998?

There are several reasons why I have not made a film since 'Belinda' but I am pleased with my first film and I would rather the long lapse than have a string of indifferent films to my name which did not build on the first. As I mentioned on the phone, I am about to direct a feature film this year called 'Sweet Surrender' and I believe it will be a terrific experience.

Question 8:

What happened to Fontana Productions?

Fontana Films continued to be an active production house after 'Belinda'. I have not worked with them for some years and I believe they were recently bought out by another company and adopted a new name.

Question 9:

Why did you name the film "Belinda"? What other names were in contention and how did Belinda win out? Why was the name changed to "Midnight Dancer" later on? Why did the deal with MGM fall through?

As a dancer and actor in Australia, I was often confused in the media with another actor called Belinda Giblin. I suppose I looked as if I could have been named Belinda and our surnames were very similar. Since the character was based on me and I was often addressed as Belinda, it was a joke which hung on.

Originally the screenplay was called 'A Few Weeks in Paradise' and then "The Littlest Dinosaur'. Both these names were rejected by distributors.

The decision to call the U.S. version 'Midnight Dancer' was made by the U.S. distributor. The offer from MGM for their Classics Division was made after the Producer had signed the picture over to a Sales Agent. Although the Sales Agent had not signed a U.S. deal at that time, he continued to negotiate with a specific party and pursued that deal to its conclusion.

Question 10:

How much of Belinda was based on real life events?

Probably about seventy percent of 'Belinda' is based on true events but the tone of the picture is highly accurate in reflecting the mood and climate of the film.