Director – Yahoo Serious, Screenplay – Yahoo Serious & David Roach, Producers – Yahoo Serious, David Roach & Warwick Ross, Photography – Jeff Darling, Music – Martin Armiger, William Motzing & Tommy Tycho, Special Effects – Steve Courtley, Laurie Faen, Patrick Fitzgerald & Pauline Grebert. Production Company – Serious Productions
Yahoo Serious (Albert Einstein), Odile Le Clezio (Marie Curie), John Howard (Preston Preston), Peewee Wilson (Mr Einstein), Su Cruickshank (Mrs Einstein), Paul Clarke (Charles Darwin), Michael Blaxland (Patent Office Desk Clerk), Michael Lake (Hotel Manager), Lulu Pinkus (The Blonde), Kaarin Fairfax (The Brunette)
Tasmania, 1905. Albert Einstein grows up on his parents’ apple farm. After discovering that everything has an equal and opposite reaction, Albert decides that he wants to be a scientist. His father gives him the job of finding how to put bubbles in beer and in doing so Albert discovers the relationship between matter and energy, a formula he calls E=mc2 or ‘Emk’. He travels to Sydney to patent Emk. On the train journey, he meets the lovely French scientist Marie Curie and the two become excited by one another’s ideas and strike up a mutual attraction. In Sydney, as Albert struggles to find an application for Emk, he also comes up with “roll-and-rock” music that is played with a beat akin to the human heart and the idea of electrifying his violin, and invents surfing. Meanwhile, the villainous Patents Office head Preston Preston, who also desires Marie, steals the idea for Emk and beer bubbles at the same time as dismissing Albert’s ideas as worthless. When Albert discovers this, Preston has him placed in a lunatic asylum. Albert must escape and race to France to stop Preston before he inadvertently turns the beer atom-splitting machine into an atomic bomb.
Young Einstein brought to attention an Australian auteur with the bizarre moniker of Yahoo Serious. Yahoo Serious was born with the rather more mundane name of Greg Pead. Pead first appeared with the documentary Coaltown (1974), which traces the political history of Australian coalmining, and then as a comedy performer and in educational tv. After changing his name to Yahoo Serious by deed poll in 1980, Pead then emerged onto cinema screens with Young Einstein, which he wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in and even performed most of his own stunts. Young Einstein was a considerable worldwide hit (grossing a reported $100 million). Serious’s face even ended on the cover of Time magazine and he was acclaimed as the newest sensation to emerge from Australia. Although this success was something that Serious’s sporadic output since has failed to quite extend, even though his films and comedy have become much more polished.
In considering Young Einstein, it is important that one dismiss from mind all connection to the historic figures of Albert Einstein and Marie Curie. You could almost in this sense regard Young Einstein as being an alternate history film. The film has Albert Einstein growing up on an apple farm in Tasmania instead of Germany, where he makes the discovery of Relativity, along with several Newtonian principles, while attempting to manufacture beer bubbles. Elsewhere we see Einstein carving his own surfboard and inventing surfing, deriving the notion of rock music from a children’s hopscotch square and then coming up with the idea of turning his violin into a prototypic electric guitar. This is all presented with a nonchalantly absurd sense of humour upon Serious’s part. There are a number of cute science geek types gags throughout. During the climactic scenes, we encounter Charles Darwin who has a dog on a leash called The Beagle, and also meet a Sigmund Freud who is berated by his mother for picking his nose. Amid the wacky comedy, Serious throws in discussions about the nature of the relative observer and of the speed of light as a universal constant. Even the prostitutes at the hotel engage in discussion on the limitations of Newtonian mechanics under the Einsteinian model.
Yahoo Serious’s appeals as a director and a comic are his sense of gonzo humour and offbeat absurdism. Young Einstein is a film filled with incongruous delights – Serious taking a bath in a tub on the Einstein farm at the same time as he is washing the dinner dishes in the tub; Einstein’s mother sitting at a table casually knitting wool direct off the sheep’s back; an absolutely adorable scene with Serious saving kittens about to be baked in a pie. On the whole though, Young Einstein is not as funny or inventive as it might have been – certainly, Serious’s gonzo visual style and slapstick became a good deal more polished in his subsequent films. Although as a performer, Serious has an appealing innocence and undeniably lively presence that almost single-handedly carries the film over its rough spots.
Serious does not seem that interested in the romance between Albert Einstein and the perkily thrust-jawed Odile Le Clezio’s Marie Curie, which is depicted with a perfunctory disinterest. If anything, Serious seems more interested in offering up a gentle pacifist message and one for respect for all animal species. Certainly, the overall message in Young Einstein – Serious’s obvious championing of brains – and the enthusiastically wacky delight in displays of science are a refreshing and welcome change from the bushman persona as aired by Paul Hogan in the same country’s smugly obnoxious Crocodile Dundee (1986) and sequels. Another great plus about Young Einstein is an excellent soundtrack of Australian music – Icehouse, The Models, Paul Kelly – and some superb choices as to each song’s placement.
Yahoo Serious went onto make two other films:– Reckless Kelly (1993), a spoof of the Australian bank robber and folklore hero Ned Kelly, whose descendent continues the family tradition and unintentionally becomes a Hollywood star; and Mr. Accident (2000) about the world’s most accident prone man. Serious’s gonzo humour became much more polished through these films, although neither of these proved to be any type of hit outside of Australasia.