Director – Richard Wherrett, Screenplay – Denis Whitburn, Producers – Whitburn & Tristram Miall, Photography – Roger Lanser, Music Director/Original Music – Peter Cobbin, Original Compositions – Whitburn, Doug Ashdown, Phillip Blazley, James Morrison, Jimmy Stewart & John Vallins, Production Design – Michael Scott-Mitchell, Choreography – Kim Walker. Production Company – Australian Film Finance Corporation/New South Wales Film and Television Office.
Max Cullen (Billy Appleby), Kris McQuade (Kate Hammond), Tina Bursill (Louise Appleby), Richard Roxburgh (Rob McSpedden), Rachael Coopes (Casey Appleby), Drew Forsythe (Sid Banks), Julie Haseller (Ricky Patterson), Stuart Campbell (Kevin Freckle), Genevieve Lemon (Julie)
In Sydney, Australia, Billy Appleby runs a failing hardware store. At night, he fronts a bar band that performs old-time hits. One night, a friend conducts an experiment in group hypnosis. Later Billy sees a shooting star and afterwards finds that he can sing in a perfect imitation of the voice of Billie Holliday. As success and a recording contract soon comes his way, Billy is faced with some difficult choices.
This Australian film is a genuine oddity. In all regards. The film’s premise – an ordinary man suddenly finds he can sing with Billie Holliday’s voice – is frankly off the wall. It is hard to believe any producer would think that something like this would have an audience anywhere.
When you first see Max Cullen, the quintessential Australian rough diamond, open his mouth and the squawky, inhuman voice of Billie Holliday emerge, having been taken direct from a recording and not digitally touched up, you are not sure whether to laugh or be amazed. (Although a reading of the presskit for the film surprisingly reveals that Max Cullen performed all the Billie Holiday numbers himself).
Right throughout, the film seems to uncertainly waver between a peculiar idea and kitsch campiness that seems to recognise how silly it is being, never finding a clear tone between the two. It comes out somewhere between a B-budget The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You (1996). The dance numbers have definitely been intended as farcical with schoolkids hanging about in the street and bar patrons breaking into dance, even bizarre leaps off into fantasies of weddings all in Day-Glo colours.
The most bizarrely awful moment is one scene where Max Cullen does a Singin’ in the Rain routine and starts splashing about and trying to swim in a puddle in the street. Billy’s Holiday is a peculiar whimsy that just leaves one scratching their head.