In 1966 Ray Lawrence went to New York and then London, trying to get a start in a filmmaking career. He even wrote letters to many renowned film directors requesting work. As well as writing these letters, Lawrence began writing screenplays, while he worked producing commercials in an advertising job he gained in London.
When he returned to Australia, Lawrence set up a production company called Window Productions. In time, Lawrence would become this country's top director of television commercials, with scores of big name companies as clients. From 1975 onwards, Ray Lawrence's commercials have been widely awarded both in Australia and overseas.
Author Peter Carey also began his career working in advertising. This was the catalyst for the pair meeting and becoming good friends. Lawrence and Carey shared the same desire to make films and began writing screenplays together. Their collaboration produced two screenplays, Dancing On The Water and Spanish Pink. While they worked on these screenplays, Carey was also busy writing his first novel. The novel, Bliss, would go on to win the Miles Franklin Award and become the feature film that Ray Lawrence had dreamed of making for so long. Bliss was also the third screenplay co-written by Carey and Lawrence.
Harry Joy (Barry Otto) has it all. He is happy with the world and his place in it. He has a loving family comprised of his wife Bettina (Lynette Curran), son David (Miles Buchanan) and daughter Lucy (Gia Carides). Harry and his partner Joel (Jeff Truman) own and run a very successful advertising company. The Joy family live in a large and beautiful home on the fringe of the city. Life couldn't be better. Harry has one problem that he doesn't know about - he is about to die.
Harry suffers a heart attack and collapses on his back lawn. We, the audience, also experience Harry's death and subsequent resuscitation, courtesy of some innovative camera work by cinematographer Paul Murphy. Harry was dead for four minutes and his life would never be quite the same again.
In the days before Harry's bypass operation, he becomes obsessed with his death and the reality of a heaven and hell. He has vivid dreams of impending doom that only intensifies his paranoia. After the successful operation, he begins to notice strange changes in his once normal life. He believes that he has either gone mad or is living in hell, with impostors placed there to torment him.
As he spies on their everyday activities, he is more convinced with each passing day that he is actually in hell. Bettina is having an affair with Joel, David is a drug dealer and is also supplying Lucy in return for sexual favours. While these factors may be enough to satisfy Harry of his hell theory, his family is convinced he has descended into madness and plot to have him committed to an asylum.
Harry returns to his office on a Saturday to find one of his staff, Alex Duval (Tim Robertson), typing up conference reports on some of the products their company promotes. These reports highlight chemicals in client's products that cause things like cancer. Harry's initial horror is calmed when Alex reveals he doesn't actually post the reports and that this is his personal punishment for doing what they do. This theory rings true with Harry and he decides to sack every client that sells harmful products, regardless of the financial losses the company will incur. This action will surely bring a positive change to his life and restore some sort of balance.
Harry moves out of the family home and into an expensive suite, which he charges to the company account. In the process of sacking his biggest client, he meets a prostitute with earthy connections. Honey Barbara (Helen Jones) lives a clean, alternative lifestyle in a forest hideaway and only ventures into the city to earn her living. Harry finds trust in Honey Barbara from the start and they quickly form a close relationship.
Harry is committed into the asylum and is subsequently forced into an unlikely alliance with Bettina in order to leave the establishment. This goes against all the plans both he and Honey Barbara had made for their lives together. As Harry descends back into the evils of his old life, Honey Barbara returns shattered back to the sanctuary of the bush hideaway.
Harry soon embarks on a mission of redemption with Honey Barbara. He starts a love-letter project that will take eight years to arrive.
I have tried to present a comprehensive synopsis of this film without revealing the genuine surprises and twists in the story. Bliss has so many idiosyncrasies and sub-plots that my synopsis here in no way reveals too much of the detail.
When Bliss premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, it was a widely publicised disaster. A large walkout of patrons in the cinema started early in the film with the infamous sardine scene and continued thereafter. The only film to fare worse in that regard at Cannes was Antonionio's L`Avventura in 1960, when the only people left in the cinema were the director and the producer. The initial Cannes reaction thankfully wasn't consistent or sustained. Bliss was invited to screen at the New York and London Film Festivals and obtained an excellent international distribution deal with New World. At the 1985 AFI Awards, Bliss won three major awards including Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Cannes version of Bliss had a running time of 135 minutes. This was subsequently re-edited by Lawrence in order to improve the flow of the film. This edited version became the original theatrical version that screened in cinemas worldwide.
It would be some sixteen years before Ray Lawrence would direct another feature film. Lantana (2001) was an instant critical and commercial success and also scooped the AFI Awards that year with seven awards, including Best Film. Ray Lawrence's next feature film, Jindabyne, is due for cinema release some time in 2006.
This DVD contains the Director's Cut (129:44) of the film. My personal preference is for the Director's Cut, although I know many will disagree. The scenes that were either trimmed or removed for the original theatrical version are not vital to the telling of the story. However, these scenes are included in the Director's Cut of Bliss and include;
# Scene with David meeting Honey Barbara in the kitchen .
# Extension of the scene with Harry at the Police Station.
# Extension of the scene of Alex and Harry at the office.
# Extension of the drunk Alex scene .
# Scene of Alex's "vision splendid" story.
# Joel's self explosion scene.
# Scene of Honey Barbara, Lucy and Ken discussing food .
Also includes directors comments on separate audio track...