You’ve never seen or heard anything quite like Stork. I don’t mean the film itself, which lays no claims to uniqueness: director Tim Burstall’s scatterbrained comedy is a melange of mild character-propelled misadventures and bears an uncanny structural resemble to another of his films, the similarly irreverent Alvin Purple (1973). But Stork’s eponymous protagonist, on whose clunky back this clunky film is carried….indeed, you have never seen or heard anything like him.
Played with hulking authority by Bruce Spence, who towers over his supporting cast, Stork is easily one of the strangest looking non-CGI characters to have ever galumphed his way onto the silver screen. One part lanky basketballer, one part Napoleon Dynamite, one part Chewbacca, Stork is enormously tall, rakishly thin, frizzy-haired, chisel-cut and bookish. Clearly he’s some kind of high-powered mutant descended from a bloodline of big foots, but shaved down and taught how to speak.
Bruce Spence’s fascinating appearance never tires - nor does his rambunctiously ‘ocker’ speech and mannerisms - even if the goofy narrative around him inevitably does. It’s a rudderless story adapted from The Coming of the Stork, the first professional play by prolific Australian playwright David Williamson.
Stork’s hot-footed escapades make up a scrapbook of situations, some of them ‘real’ and others a visualisation of the character’s twisted imagination. Like Alvin Purple the plot is inherently episodic and can be easily broken down into a series of basic comedy skit scenarios: Stork goes to work; Stork goes to a party; or, slightly less conventionally, Stork imagines life as an artist who makes a living out of vomiting on canvases. He’s a quintessentially Australian creation and a diehard nonconformist. The story begins when Stork quits his job with GM-H; in a fabulously bent opening scene he removes his work clothes, hollers like a madman and bolts out the building. Things generally go downhill from there. Strange foursome relationship woes materialise when Stork sleeps with Anna (Jacki Weaver), who already has two boyfriends. There are lots of gags about beer and barfing and general tomfoolery.
Spence’s performance is a totemic delight of freaky mayhem. He furiously enlivens Stork, a booze-addled rabble-rouser with a penchant for disturbing the peace and rolling out faux pas like claps of thunder from the gods of bad taste. The film itself, however, is a bit of a hodgepodge - the absence of a tangible solidifying plot takes its toll on the audience’s patience, and Spence, while utterly charismatic in his own deranged way, isn’t quite able to save the day.
Stork isn’t the only weird looking character on the veteran actor’s resume: Spence also played a smooth-scalped trench coat alien in Alex Proyas’s Dark City (1998), as well as Tion Medon, one of the strange semi-human creations in George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels.