Albie Thoms was born in Sydney in 1941 and studied Arts at Sydney University, where he became involved with SUDS (Sydney University Dramatic Society) and the Sydney Push.
He directed a number of productions for SUDS, including Ubu Roi (Jarry), The Dumb Waiter (Pinter). Fando and Lis (Arrabal) and Embers (Beckett), as well as his own compilations, A Revue of the Absurd (with scripts by Jarry, Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter and Albee) and, in 1965, Theatre of Cruelty (applying the theories of Antonin Artaud to scripts by Kokoschka, Marinetti, Schwitters, Tzara, Dali and others). The latter also included a number of works by Fluxus artists, and one of the first computer-generated poems.1 For SUDS, he also directed Sydney’s first Happening, The Aeroplane Crash, and the films …it droppeth as the gentle rain (made with Bruce Beresford), and The Spurt of Blood (made with David Perry).
Other theatre productions include Waiting for Godot and A Tribute to Jean Cocteau for the Contemporary Theatre Company, and he was manager of the Elizabethan Theatre’s Trust’s Lunchtime Theatre.
In 1965 he became a trainee producer at the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), and went on to direct episodes of the series, Nice ‘n’ Juicy, Australian Playhouse. Contrabandits, and Skippy as well as writing episodes of the latter series. He was also playreader for the Old Tote Theatre, the ABC and the Australian Writers Guild.
After the Theatre of Cruelty he formed Ubu Films with David Perry, Aggy Read and John Clark, with the aim of making experimental films. His productions for Ubu, including the shorts Blunderball, Man and His World, Bluto, Rita and Dundi, Bolero, and the feature, Marinetti, were screened at such international showcases as Expo 67, the Oberhausen Festival, the Cannes Directors Fortnight, the Cinematheque Francais and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Ubu went on to become the leading distributor of Underground movies in Australia, and was involved in film exhibition, Lightshows, Happenings and alternative theatre, as well as publishing the Underground newspaper, Ubunews (edited by Thoms).
In 1969, Thoms went to the US to exhibit his film Marinetti, and spent the next year screening the film in Europe, while also working for Oz, IT, and Friends magazines in London, the First International Underground Film Festival, the Wet Dream Film Festival and the Nederlandse Filmmakers Koop in Amsterdam.
On his return to Australia, he joined the Yellow House artists’ community in Potts Point, working with Martin Sharp, Brett Whiteley and others to create an installation that filled two large town houses. At the same time he worked with the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op, establishing Sydney’s first Filmmakers’ Cinema, made the experimental documentary, Sunshine City, and was involved in some of the first experiments with alternative video, including the production of a video news service as part of the Rubbish daily news sheet at The Odyssey Festival held at Wallacia on the Australia Day weekend, January, 1971.
At various times he was curator of film exhibition for Ubu Films, the Yellow House, the Sydney Fil-makers' Co-op and the Art Gallery of NSW.
In 1974, Thoms began making short films for the ABC-TV youth program, GTK, before taking over as its producer, and in 1976 was awarded a residence at the Power Studio in the Cité International des Arts in Paris. On his return, he took over as manager of the Experimental Film Fund for the Australian Film Commission, and was responsible for upgrading its operations, with it renamed the Creative Development Fund.
He then formed his own company, Albie Thoms Productions Pty Ltd, which made the experimental feature film, Palm Beach, as well as a number of documentaries, including Surfmovies (for ZDF, Germany), The Bradman Era (ABC-TV), JOK – the Wild One (ATN-7), From Neck-to-knee to Nude (ATN-7), Bohemians in the Bush (ABC-TV), and The King of Belle-Ile (SBS).
While making these documentaries, Thoms continued with experimental work, including the videos, Polygenesis, Akai Ghost Poems and Gulag. He also published a collection of his essays, Polemics for a New Cinema, and a history of the Australian surfing film, Surfmovies, as well as contributing to the Art Gallery of NSW exhibition catalogues, Bohemians in the Bush, and Belle-Ile: Monet, Russell and Matisse in Brittany.
He has served on the boards of the Sydney Film-makers Co-op, the Australin Film Institute, the Screen Producers Association and the Film Directors Guild.
He recently curated the exhibition, Then and Now and Everything in Between: the art of David Perry, for the Mosman Art Gallery, and is currently writing a book on the Counter-culture in Sydney in the 1960s.
- 1. Albie Thoms, The Theatre of Cruelty, programme, Sydney: University of Sydney, Union Theatre, produced by SUDS, July 2-10, 1965.