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documentary | John McDonald

documentary

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me

November 3, 2012

Archie Roach reckons Paul Kelly is Australia’s “bard”. It’s what people used to say about Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson back in the days when poetry was a popular art. But for every man-in the-street who could recite parts of The Man from Snowy River in the 1890s, there must be thousands today who can … More


Searching for Sugar Man

October 6, 2012

“Oh he was much bigger than the Rolling Stones,” says a South African record company executive. Bigger than Elvis, too. His debut album sold more than 500,000 copies while the republic was still grappling with Apartheid. It would be startling enough if we were talking about a white South African pop star, but the artist … More


Bernie

August 18, 2012

It may be true that everyone has a breaking point and everyone has a dark side. These are possible lessons to take away from Bernie, a semi-documentary tragi-comedy, set in a small town in southern Texas. Then again, it may be that Bernie Tiede, the protagonist of this story, had spent so much of his … More


I Am Eleven, The Curse of the Gothic Symphony

July 21, 2012

Screening opportunities are limited for Australian filmmakers, let alone documentary makers who may only expect to recoup their costs through TV and DVD sales. Two new efforts, I Am Eleven and The Curse of the Gothic Symphony, are currently enjoying the novelty of limited releases in cinemas around Australia. I Am Eleven by rookie film-maker, … More


In Search of Haydn

March 24, 2012

“Anybody can see just by looking at me that I’m a nice sort of fellow,” said Joseph Haydn. Indeed, one could tell simply from listening to the playful first bars of his Piano Sonata No. 56 in D major. Only a nice fellow could write that. The impression of niceness is reinforced by every talking … More


Decadence

December 10, 2011

‘Decadence’ is the kind of topic favoured by high school debating societies. Is western civilisation making progress towards a golden future, or are we in irreversible decline? It’s an issue that neatly divides us into optimists and pessimists. Pria Viswalingam may have debated this topic himself when he was a pupil at Aldenham, a British public … More


Bill Cunningham New York

November 12, 2011

There are many occasions in this film when one begins to wonder: “Is Bill Cunningham actually, clinically, mad?” Never in the course of a human life-time has so much energy and enthusiasm been expended on a subject that many would regard as trivial, superficial or blatantly commercial – the fashion industry. After watching this documentary … More


Autoluminescent

November 5, 2011

“I was a nightmare, but I’m not gonna go there again..” sings Rowland S. Howard in the plaintive song that gives this documentary its title. We never quite see the nightmarish side, but Howard was a long-term heroine user and few addicts are known for their charm and savoir faire. He was an addict ergo … More


Page One: Inside the New York Times

October 8, 2011

Think of the New York Times and Tom Wolfe’s acqueous description in The Painted Word comes quickly to mind: “that great public bath, that vat, that spa, that regional physiotherapy tank, that White Sulphur Springs, that Marienbad, that Ganges, that River Jordan for a million souls”.. a daily ritual immersion in news and commentary – … More


Cave of Forgotten Dreams

October 1, 2011

Whatever one thinks of Werner Herzog, it has to be admitted that he has a grandiloquent way with titles. Even Dwarves Started Small (1970) is hard to beat. In Australia in 1984, he made the peculiar – and pretty dreadful – film, Where the Green Ants Dream. His 1992 documentary on the oil fires burning … More