Timothy Spanos: Throb Like It Just Won’t Stop

November 3, 2017
The prolific indie Melbourne filmmaker hits on ‘80s nostalgia with his latest dream project, Throbbin ’84.

“When it came to the egg scene, everyone just went ‘oh god! I’m not doing that!’ I said, ‘oh yes you will.’ I said, ‘It’s never been done before. I’ve never seen a film with hard boiled eggs surrounded around two naked men.’”

Take a map of all the world’s directors and you’d find it quite easy to draw a direct route from the salacious John Waters to Melbourne filmmaker Timothy Spanos. Spanos’ films are low in budget, poetic in language and occasionally come underscored by a celebration of the improper. For a recent example, look no further than 2015’s Sizzler ‘77, a ‘70s-set buddy cop movie about two detectives, Reynolds (Terry Yeboah) and Davidson (Alan King) protecting the streets from vicious pimp, Bossy Jim (Tim Burns). Its 90-minute running time houses killer clowns, prostitution and violent acts with broom handles, all handled with a sly smile on Spanos’ face.

Seemingly not done with that world, Spanos walks the thin blue line again with Throbbin’ 84.  As well as the return of King, Yeboah and Burns, the film also stars Last Cab to Darwin’s Mercia Deane-Johns (“She’s absolutely fantastic”), and sees our hapless detectives protecting the streets from ‘modern day’ Fagan, Billy Bitchmouth.

“It was a complete carbon copy of the first one. It was just a case of changing the decade and a few characters really,” Spanos laughs. “It was totally deliberate. All the James Bond films are like that too. They always open with this huge spectacular action sequence, a title designed with some sexy women, he sees M, he gets a new invention and then he’s off. I think it’s fantastic! I mean, Throbbin ’84 isn’t a sequel, it’s just another adventure.”

It’s an adventure that almost never happened, with Spanos dismissing the whole idea of an ‘80s set sequel as nothing more than a joke after the original’s end credits, despite the warm reception it had received on the festival circuit. It was actor and musician Matt Thomas, who has appeared in several of Spanos’ films, that won him over.

“[He] contacted me at the start of last year and said ‘Are you really thinking of doing Throbbin’ 84?’” Spanos recalls. “He said that he’d like to write all the songs for it, and release it as an album. He’s very influenced by ‘80s new wave, electro kind of music. He came over and we talked about it. And it was really interesting that I was talking about films with a musician rather than actors or a producer.”

Spanos is a stickler for the fine detail (“I hate seeing historical fuck ups in films. If you’re going to set your film in 1993, for example, you make sure it’s fucking 1993 not 2003. It drives me nuts.”) As such, Throbbin ‘84 is a Day-Glo assault on the senses in a Melbourne where Boy George lookalikes rub shoulders with Billy Idol wannabes. It’s a time of Chico rolls, crimped hair and shoulder pads. Considering the film’s particular aesthetic, Filmink brings up the recent ‘80s nostalgia stirred up by programmes such as Stranger Things, but Spanos is quick to dismiss comparisons.

“We didn’t live like that here. Australia was more English influenced as far as fashion and its hair. Kids in Australia didn’t have that bowl cut those kids in American shows always have. We may have played Atari, but we had BMX bikes and football jumpers.”

Returning to Matt Thomas and his plans for a Throbbin’ 84 album, both this film and its predecessor push music to the foreground, with their opening credits acting as music videos saturated in the culture of the time. In the case of Throbbin, this means Max Headroom graphics, new wave make-up and Duran Duran vocals. Music plays a large part in Spanos’ other films, such as Prisoner Queen and Nancy Nancy, and point to the filmmaker having a deep affinity for the art.

“I actually think a theme song is part of the script,” Spanos states. “I usually think about them while I’m writing them. And that actually came from Nancy Nancy, when me and Matt wrote the songs for that whilst we were rehearsing. It is incredibly important, because I find music very inspiring and motivating. I think it can make or break a film, and it’s a part of the process and a part of the story. You should be thinking about it as you’re writing, and not just throwing something in there at the last minute and hoping it matches. I still see feature films like that. All those horrible CGI films, they have the same score and I’m sure they’re all just thrown together at the last minute with their little orchestras they pay millions for.”

Describing each of his films as ‘a dream project’ and with his eighth fast approaching its premiere in November, Spanos is reflective on how he’s changed as a filmmaker. Does he think he’s perfected his craft?

“There’s always something new cropping up in feature films,” Spanos admits. “There’s always something new to learn. But you take some decisions you didn’t do too well in the last one, and you refine them on the next one. Telling the story, I’m getting better there, and refining it.”

 Throbbin ‘84 is screening at 8.30pm on Friday, November 3 at Moon Dog Craft Brewery, 17 Duke St. Abbotsford in Melbourne, and we’re pretty sure it’s free! It is also the closing film for the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. Tickets available here.

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