Sunday, August 16, 2015

MIFF Session #14: DALMAS

A beefy ex-cop barges through the early 70s underground scene in Melbourne, looking for clues to find a Mr Big and investigate Plastic Man who is seeding seedy acid into the realm of corruptable youth. His encounters take him to a philosophy-spouting ex-cop current junkie (nice turn by a young Max Gillies), into the fists and boots of his old colleagues on the narc squad and a crew he meets in psychedelic clubland who are making a film about the counter culture. Soon after this, the quite solid private eye in edge-land has worked with real muscles, despite the stiff dialogue.

Everyone flees to the country where they try to keep the film going as the director and crew and cast of the film we are watching pull at the strands of the conventional cinema it started with and draw out, by group agreement, any theme or method that anyone can think of. That's not my criticism, it's what happens on screen.

So, before the film is half its running time old we have moved from cop land to late 60s Godard territory (which by this film's production was populated by anyone but Godard) and are presented with a mishmash of recorded meetings, avant theatre, satire, reconstructed anecdotes, campfire chats, and anything else that the people we have seen in the kitchen can think up. That's really it. So, why did I find this constantly diverting and thoroughly enjoyable?

It's before my time for nostalgia (my yoof movement was punk, a few seemingly long years later) but it did remind me of some of the friends some of my older siblings attracted in the early 70s, fabulous furry and freakish dreamers who proposed anything from the influence of alien races on local politics to plans for building flying saucer engines, the resurrection of the lost arts of tarot, organic farming and whatever was frowned upon by the straight world. I liked these familiar people from my glimpse of them from the sidelines of my childhood and who later appeared abundantly in Peter Carey's stories and novels.

The too frigidly dated anti-Viet politics are almost entirely absent in preference for resistance to Hollywood film convention. It took me a few scenes but the time capsule value on screen here is far less the wearisome hippydom of Godard and Antonioni fetishists (the characters here are happy to distinguish themselves from the "middle class" hippies they see). This is less film in revolt. This is 1973; it's an apotheosis of the big gleaming optimism of the Whitlam years. We were out of Vietnam, the White Australia policy and weren't even official colonialists with the return of the admin to New Guinea's people. This is less Billy Jack than Man With a Movie Camera, life, love and movies are going DIY and BYO. Life is free if you want it.

Still, worthiness doesn't cut it for even five minutes of directionless lens-pointing. What's left is the character of the people in front of the camera. These are fresh faced folk, rambled minded but charming with it. Their endless fraying of the points and arguments are neither naive nor particularly profound and most of them, without the restlessly changing visuals. The moment of violence I was hoping for came pretty much when it needed to and the looping self-reflexive finale, while predictable felt welcome rather than trite. I was expecting to be exhausted by this one and feared I might walk out but I easily settled into it on its terms, knowing that the director would heed his own lessons for his more famous Pure Shit a few years later. So, I met this with the enjoyment that it was made to combat and can't think of a finer outcome for a film that deserves a continued screen life.

No comments:

Post a Comment