Australia was never kind enough to Yahoo Serious. Our rejection of the absurd meant that the man who gave us cinematic classics such as Young Einstein and Reckless Kelly was never fully given his well earned place in the spotlight of cinema. Sure, at the time there was moderate success for Serious’ films, with a notable Simpsons joke about his name, but if you ask people now about the legend that is Yahoo Serious, you’re likely to get a scoff and a snort, and a comment about how his films aren’t all that good.
On a cold Sydney Friday evening, the great Yahoo Serious made an appearance before a 30th anniversary screening of Young Einstein. For those who have been monitoring the Australian film airwaves, this appearance was akin to seeing the Tasmanian tiger for the first time in decades. The myth of Yahoo Serious after his departure from public life after his last film, Mr Accident, in 2000, grew to undeniable heights. Why had he left? What made such a talent walk away from cinema? Walking into the screening of Young Einstein was akin to a spiritual experience for the many who were there. The mood in the air was purely electric. Excitement was tangible.
Sitting alongside other Yahoo Serious faithfuls, it was impossible to stay quiet when the man himself walked out, and then knowing that he was in the theatre watching the film with the audience made the mood even more powerful. Each joyful moment of the film was rewarded with a louder laugh than normal. Each occasion for cheer was met with rapturous applause. Australian audiences are usually quiet, reserved, contemplative and respectful. There is usually minimal audience interaction. But this night was different. There was a clear vibe that the audience wanted – needed – Yahoo Serious to know that he was missed, and most importantly, that he is loved.
Watching Young Einstein for the first time in decades was a thrill. It’s a film that moves along breathlessly, with a narrative thread that rollicks along at a great pace. No sooner has a scene finished, another ten take place in quick succession. In a flash, after drinking a warm, flat beer with his father, the titular Young Einstein manages to come up with the equation E=MC², and in turn, improve beer by putting bubbles into it. This happens so quickly that you’d be easily forgiven for forgetting that there is a wealth of other narrative threads that pull this film along. But, the genius of Yahoo Serious is not that he’s able to create a comedic goldmine from the concept that Albert Einstein was a red haired scrappy bloke from Tasmania, it’s that he’s able to make a narrative like this work, and not resort to turning this into a film of skits and derogatory stereotypes.
When you look at the mammoth unwarranted success of Paul Hogan and his gut churning creation, Crocodile Dundee, and compare him to the Aussie battler imagery of Yahoo Serious’ creations, you can’t help but feel that Serious manages to represent Australian iconography in a much better, enlightening, empowering light. Hogan’s Mick Dundee is a misogynistic, land conquering, ocker-to-the-extreme Mr Harbour-Side-Mansion take on ‘the Aussie bloke’. There’s a reason why Hogan became a massive success – he neatly fit into the desired view of the Australian man. Clean teeth, tanned skin, leather strapping, knife wielding, woman owning. Paul Hogan is a capital M Man.
In comparison, Yahoo Serious is a red haired, fork in the power socket, feet in the mud, late for dinner, kiss your mum on the forehead, kinda guy. He’s distinguished in his own way because he feels like he comes from the land. He feels genuine, because he is genuine. The Yahoo Serious that’s up there on the screen is the Yahoo Serious who lives and breaths. There’s no co-opting the lower class for his own gain, instead, in its place, there’s a learned care and compassion for those who struggle to get by with just the dirt under their fingernails to keep them going.
Where Mick Dundee sought to end fights with a bigger knife, the Aussie Albert Einstein diffused a nuclear bomb with the power of rock and roll. It’s inconceivable that Mick Dundee would ever be aghast at something that he invented would ever be used for nefarious reasons, whereas when Albert Einstein discovers that his invention to make beer bubbly has been employed to create a weapon of mass destruction, he’s horrified. If it seems like I’m wilfully throwing Dundee under the bus, then you’re right – I yearn for a history where Paul Hogan’s creation was discarded to become a mere footnote in the realm of Australian cinema, and where Yahoo Serious’ efforts were cause for imitation and celebration.
These characters aren’t like for like, but as a way of representing the Aussie bloke via comedy, Mick Dundee and Albert Einstein were the full stop to eighties cinema. And sure enough, it was the era when Australian cinema was making its mark on the world – let’s not forget that Crocodile Dundee topped box office records around the world (only pipped to the post by that other eighties ode to masculinity, Top Gun) – and as a way of reflecting who we were. The ‘shrimp on the barbie’ brute bloke-ish-ness of Hogan is as distasteful as a warm can of XXXX beer, and the sight of Hogan co-hosting the Oscars alongside genuine comedic talents, Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn, is as off putting as Rob Lowe dancing with Snow White. Hogan became the Dr Frankenstein to the monster creation that was Mick Dundee – an obnoxious blender of Aussie icons, poured into a pint glass that everyone downed gleefully.
Whereas, Yahoo Serious’ kaleidoscopic views of Albert Einstein and Ned Kelly took international icons and skewed them to the relatable. Making Einstein a Tasmanian feels right. Transforming a science genius into a bloke from the forgotten part of Australia who happens to change the world makes you wonder because of the way Australia operates, how many potential Aussie Albert Einstein’s have been denied a future, and in turn, a chance to change the world? This next sentence is reductive, but it stands to reason, because of the success of Paul Hogan, how many other Yahoo Serious’ have been denied a chance to make their mark on Australian cinema? Sure, one could argue that without the eccentricity of Mick Dundee, there would have been no chance for Yahoo Serious to bloom, and that’s a fair point.
Yahoo Serious went on to make Reckless Kelly in the early nineties – a reimagining of the myth of Ned Kelly, transplanting him into modern day Australia and transforming the legend into a Robin Hood-esque hero. The ethos of this Ned Kelly meant that as he robbed banks across America to try save his family home, he did so with the idea that he would never want to take a dollar for himself, only giving back to those in need. Again, this is a very Robin Hood concept, but when viewed through the perspective of Yahoo Serious as a person, one can’t help but see that this is a core belief of who he is and what he believes in. In his absence from the screen, Yahoo Serious was one of the founders of the Kokoda Track Foundation, working to help the foundation and the legacy of the Kokoda track, as well as people of Papua New Guinea.
Young Einstein is like no other Australian film – it’s a whirlwind of mania and ideas, spinning out of control on celluloid, writ large on the cinema screen. It’s unique, it’s powerful, and by gosh is it entertaining. Once the credits roll, you can’t hide the undeniable feeling of Australiana that have just washed over you. There’s no attempts to appease or entertain international audiences, but there is certainly a warm invitation to them to enjoy what they see. Instead, Young Einstein feels like a reminder to Australians that it’s ok for them to dream big, and that’s it’s ok to enjoy science and the arts, and to celebrate who we are as people.
Sitting in that theatre on that cold Sydney evening, it was clear that Mr Serious was one of us – a bloke who told a few stories, made a name for himself, and then decided that that was enough. What was possibly the most touching aspect about the evening was not the fact that we were all getting to see Yahoo Serious in person, and not the fact that we were there to celebrate thirty years of Young Einstein, but that Yahoo Serious was celebrating this screening for his daughter, who was celebrating her birthday that day, and who had never seen Young Einstein on the big screen before.
There was a warmth in that room that will carry on in my soul for a long time. There was something purely religious and heavenly about the experience of that night, and while I’ve asked myself whether it was the wealth of beers I had beforehand or not, I’ve come to realise that no, it was the experience of being in the room with someone who was in charge of his own life path. Yahoo Serious was the first Australian to write, direct, star, and produce his own feature film, and I wish that this anniversary would force Australians to reassess Yahoo Serious and his work. We’ve done him wrong, we’ve neglected his talent and genius, and it’s time that we stood up, applauded, and celebrated who Yahoo Serious is.