Friday, September 29, 2017


The life stories of bands of my generation don't really have much in the way of rags or riches. The triumphs are creative rather than popular. Joy Division's story has one ending. Get there and it's over forever. See also The Sex Pistols and ... well almost all of them. There's an early mention made in this film of Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel and The Angels, all acts who began earlier with a previous generation's values. There's none of the was it Yoko or Paul who broke them up or did Vegas destroy him? It's more the small explosions of daydreamers getting king hit by the realities of the industry. And instead of steadily rising curves it's a series of tiny undulations. This is the case of The Saints who remain influential without primary success. And it is the case of The Go-Betweens.

Put this in the hands of a jobber and you'll get a shoehorned three act documentary pretending to be Anthology. Give it to a filmmaker equally drawn to cinema and where the sustainable stories lie in the mess of real life and you get this film. Stenders keeps the early mix rich and heady, blending blurred re-enactments with present day to-cameras, allowing for a series of statements to build into a strange pattern of motions small on the world's stage but huge at face level. This is pretty much exactly like being in a band that exists before it has all its members, of the notions that swell with the popping of the afternoon's second flagon and then only kind of sort of happen the way they were dreamt.

While there are tales o' excess 'n' roll aplenty here they are given their place among all the others. A band starts from a duo and they add a member here and there, change tack as their fortunes promise and again as those same fortunes deflate. Having experienced it I can assure you that this is exactly what being in the Brisbane band scene felt like: sudden inspirations and do-it-yourself legend manufacture that hits its last snare beat without reverb. Even when the band appears to ride a high profile with clips on Countdown, MTV and a studio gig on Rockarena it still feels, appropriately, local and nicely tried.

So what you're left with is the music and the people in the band and what you get is a wall to wall testimony of why The Go-Betweens are loved beyond their age group and a series of often uncomfortably candid witnesses in black and white and close up who will not let you fantasise your way into any notion that this was the great pop music force that just might have happened. Like almost every band worthy of memory from the time The GoBs have left a legacy of good music and the marking of it here is personable, engaging and never less than cinematic.

I recall seeing Autoluminescent at the Nova and looking around me at the audience in one of the smaller cinemas. Like me they were post-punques getting on, a little more black than even a general Melbourne audience might sport and sitting in silence before the lights went down for the trailers and the ads. It felt, for all the world, like the viewing of a body. Everyone there would have known Rowland Howard if only by virtue of being in one of his audiences. Well, here they were again, always going to the same funeral. Well, what did I think I was doing? The lights dimmed, the film began and we joined as one.

For this it was a little stranger. One of the smaller rooms at the Kino and near full. Everyone respectful and well behaved as cinema goers ... go. We watched and took it in, fully hushed by the last shot and the white on black credits, realising perhaps better late than never, that we really did have this band in common.

By the the time I got to Brisbane from an even smaller Townsville, The Go-Betweens had flown. Some singles came through and whenever there was a new record 4ZZZ (nicely represented here) would get them in front of a mic. By the time I was playing in bands they were a revered name along with Melbourne's Birthday Party (Mick Harvey's comments in the film are priceless) and all the more for seeming to have become international. Not James Bond international but an international against the odds. They left an unspoken commandment on the scene that followed about sparseness. No guitar solos. No lurex or safety pins. Just play your songs. This, itself, is as much fancy as anything else but I remember it in the parlance.

Later, from Melbourne, they seemed to get bigger and poppier. I saw them more here than ever I had in Brisbane and felt a thrill to be in their crowd. At Festival Hall they opened for REM who had only just attained critical mass and who thanked them with what sounded like sincerity. Months before I'd seen them at the Showgrounds along with the Bad Seeds and easily preferred them to the Cave monster. We joked about Right Here being about Vincent Van Gogh (well, it was funny at 3 a.m. watching Rage) but, for all the whingeing good-old-days blather about them blanding out I heard the motion of the vocal harmony in the chorus of Bye Bye Pride and felt real chills. This film doesn't build that up or explain it, it tells the rest.

No comments:

Post a Comment