Cult biker film 'Stone' to be screened at Gerringong Pics and Flicks

FILM HISTORY: Gerringong Pics and Flicks is kicking off its 2020 program with a special opportunity to meet Sandy Harbutt (pictured in 2010), the director of the Australian cult film Stone (inset).
FILM HISTORY: Gerringong Pics and Flicks is kicking off its 2020 program with a special opportunity to meet Sandy Harbutt (pictured in 2010), the director of the Australian cult film Stone (inset).

Sandy Harbutt only directed one feature - but it left a lasting impression on audiences and film-makers.

The 1974 road movie Stone remains a cult hit.

Although criticised for its violence and language, the biker movie has won numerous fans here and abroad.

It partially inspired George Miller's Mad Max, and is a favourite of star director Quentin Tarantino.

"I haven't met him, but it's had three screenings at his cinema," Harbutt, 78, said of Tarantino.

"That's nice. He's as much of a film buff as he is a film-maker. He's got some pretty obscure tastes."

Made with a budget of $192,000, on a dollar-for-dollar basis Stone is considered one of the most successful Australian films ever made.

Harbutt, who has retired to Gerringong in recent years, wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film.

Set at the end of the Vietnam War, Sydney detective Stone is investigating the murders of Gravediggers motorcycle gang members.

"I sort of upset the establishment at the time... I was seen as a sort of a 'Johnny on the spot', exploiter of the industry that was just making this shocking picture to outrage people," Harbutt said.

"After it was a big success, they just had to eat what they thought about that."

As for the reason for the film's enduring appeal, Harbutt said, "I think it's original - there's nothing else like it".

"People talk about the other pictures that followed, but Stone was meant to be different, that was the point," he said.

"I set out to make something completely original."

However, soon afterwards Harbutt said the Australian government "stepped in and completely took over the film industry", which had repercussions for his career.

"Today, you can't get a TV series or a film, you can't make a documentary unless you go through the Screen Australia network.

"And what I represented was complete independence - I didn't need to go to them to get money to hire a screenwriter, for example, I could do it myself.

"I didn't need anything but a small amount of investment, and at that stage, there was the government saying, 'we'll give you all the money you need, as long as you make the sort of pictures we want you to'.

"By principle, as an artist, I don't believe governments should decide what artworks are made, especially in an opinion-shaping medium like cinema."

Harbutt plans for Stone to eventually be released on streaming platforms, and has grand ideas for its 50th anniversary.

"I want to have a big rock concert," he said.

"One of my ideas is I'd like to play the movie with the soundtrack turned off, and have a live band play the whole soundtrack. It would take a lot of work, but it could be a fabulous experience."

Meanwhile, Gerringong Pics and Flicks is kicking off its 2020 program with a screening of the film.

Harbutt will join patrons at the screening and speak about the film.

"They talk about the big screen experience, but it's not so much about that for me," he told the Mercury.

"It's the big audience experience. That concept of leaving home especially to go and see something, and sitting in a darkened room with 100 or 200 strangers, all experiencing everything that is happening is a special event, and I love that."

The screening is on February 7 at Gerringong Town Hall. Doors open 7.20pm, and the film starts at 8pm. Tickets are $10 at the door.

This story A 'Stone' cold classic: 1970s cult biker movie to screen at Gerringong in February first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.