Featuring the cream of Australian music in the 1950s, Rock'n'Roll was the first live Rock'n'Roll feature film ever made and the only feature length film of its type made in the 1950s. It is also widely regarded as the only film of its type from the 1950s to still exist. It was the brainchild of American Lee Gordon, a bullish and tireless promoter from Detroit, whose mind never shifted from 4th gear. 

Gordon experienced more outright failure than triumphant success. But while some rock stars like Chuck Berry had organized their careers more in the guise of a businessman, Gordon would lead his business like a gifted rock star. He knew as much as anyone that he was a gambling man and for him not to dream big was to live a life not worth living. 

Through the unwavering efforts of Australian researchers Don Hudson and Bob Hayden, we have crucial insight into the films evolution after premiering at the Newcastle Stadium Theatre on the 30th of October, 1959. This initial screening and the following one at North Sydney's Orpheum Theatre (31st of October), featured the main act Fabian. However, when a rather irate Bob Marcucci (Fabian's manager) got word of his inclusion, he ordered Gordon to strip the film of any sign of the burgeoning teen idol, who would later carve out a very handy B grade film career. 

Unfortunately for Marcucci, the second and only other copy of the film believed to have been made was already flying across The Tasman before he'd had time to slam the door behind him at Gordon's Rushcutters Bay headquarters. The NZ based Kerridge Organisation, paying a sizeable 3,000 pound punt on an Australian made film about of a bunch of kids losing themselves to a strange new music craze with an even stranger name, saw their investment split the proverbial goal posts. With Fabian still in the film, and a young NZ Elvis by the name of Johnny Devlin almost upstaging O'Keefe with his dazzling performance, Rock'n'Roll was an outright hit in New Zealand, where it premiered in Auckland December 10 and then on to packed cinema’s across the country. 

Back in Australia, Gordon supposedly lost interest in the Australian run, as he'd believed it had lost international appeal with the Fabian cut. By the time it had belatedly premiered in Melbourne at the Loco Cinestar Theatre in North Melbourne on January 11, 1960, it was already labouring. Devoid of a local star and Fabian's international appeal, Rock'n'Roll was met with a lukewarm reception. While O'Keefe's inclusion did turn a few heads, it reached the end of the road by June of the same year, petering out in the suburban cinema circuit without fanfare. 

While Rock'n'Roll did briefly appear again in 1968, slotted into a yawny January Sunday Matinee at the Rowville Drive-In Wantirna, it crept back into the shadows of history. And then things went from shadows to midnight blue in the late 1970s. While in the treasured possession of the director Lee Robinson, the original negatives would be lost forever in a miscommunication between Robinson and a removalist. 

Like some fabled script, the years passed and anxiety grew. Investigative leads and tip offs would invariably lead to dead ends as Rock'n'Roll's cultural significance grew on a similar trajectory. This led to the rather poorly funded National Film and Sound Archive of Australia switching on a dimly lit search beacon in the 1990s. And by the 2020's, it stood as the most important lost film behind the almost biblical in stature silent film, 'The Story of the Kelly Gang', made in 1906. 

This is the part of the story where the author, current owner and restorer of the film enters the arena. I am by no means an obsessive collector of film or music per se'. You won’t find me digging in a vinyl crate at 5am at your local swap meet or filling every spare metre of my home with nitrate film stock. But in saying that, I suspect my desire to find 'treasure' is worthy of a film itself. I am no Lee Gordon, but I've probably I have spent as many hours hunting for the pot of gold as he did, both on the road and in the air. When I read that Gordon had told a reporter shortly before his passing that he "must pull off the impossible, otherwise there doesn't seem much point to doing anything", it was clear that the motivation to make money was secondary to his motivation of finding the next big thing.

What I've learned on my own journey, is that whatever that 'big thing' may be, it will invariably render a life in colour. As I opened a rusty film can in the backstreets of Melbourne in 2020, it was there for me in black and white. 

On the 6th of April, 2024, Lee Gordon at last got his wish. Via YouTube, the film finally entered the world stage, some 65 years since the inspiration sprung in his brilliant mind through a haze of cigarettes and cognac. And in doing so, I sincerely hope it brings joy and cherished memories to the performers, their families and early Rock’n’Roll fans who are still with us. Mark Iaria www.rocknroll1959.com