Vale Bill Hunter, the voice and face of Aussie cinema
The great Australian actor Bill Hunter has died in a Melbourne hospice, aged 71. Hunter had inoperable cancer. Film studies teacher Richard Smith celebrates his life work and legacy.
A friend and I once had a joke about Bill Hunter: that he was the Gerard Depardieu of Australian Cinema. This meant that he was in everything and that he could do anything.
He did not seem to change much from one appearance to the next, but he seemed to be so naturally right for the roles: Think of the difference between his role in the BHP ads and his role as Bill Heslop in Muriel’s Wedding, one the voice of The Big Australian, the other the patriarch of little Australia.
I knew immediately that he was the voice behind the dentist in Finding Nemo. I cannot think of too many Australian actors whose voices are so clearly and immediately recognizable, perhaps with the exception of Jack Thompson, or John Clarke.
His voice formed a kind of soundtrack to Australian screen culture; one which may suggest its one time predilection for the rural, the middle and the eccentric.
On screen, his voice always commanded a space and often requires the whole shot to encompass it. I remember - whether it is true or not is beside the point - his first appearance in Muriel’s Wedding is of a large rounded face that is swollen by the lens but also by the importance of his social position.
I remember also the face leaning into the camera over a lazy-susan at a Gold Coast Chinese restaurant. This memory bleeds readily into another of him as Barry Fife in Strictly Ballroom, again his face bloated by social stature.
Apart from these obviously kitsch images that emphasise his face, I remember the gravity of his voice as that of an Australian male whose time was either past or in decline, and yet it resonated so strongly, seemed so vibrant.
I wanted him to be the killer in Wolf Creek and Gregory (the guy with the ute) in Jindabyne so that he could do what David Gulpilil has been able to do, to act in roles that somehow develop his own place in the Australian cinematic imaginary.
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