There is really no pithy opening paragraph I can come up with to properly start this review of a film that, rather charmingly, calls itself “The World’s Best Film”. I tried, couldn’t think of anything… mostly cos I was just too damn charmed by the film to really bother with the normal format of these reviews.
Do you remember the Tay Twitter bot? For those who don’t remember, this was a Twitter bot that Microsoft designed in order to try and get an AI to learn how to have a normal human conversation… and because they put this on TWITTER, that bot went from sweet and charming to full-on Nazi in under 24 hours. It was a quick lesson in how quickly an AI can learn and how that learning can be used to create something terrifying… and the limits and uses of AI make for an interesting time in the Sydney Underground Film Festival entry Origin Of The Species.
After the gut-punch of a documentary with Lydia Lunch, it feels right to wash it down with a documentary about another performer that broke boundaries in her own unique way. The idea of course was to try and watch something that was a little lighter and maybe a little easier to take on… stupid me forgetting that the Sydney Underground Film Festival thrives on really just fucking with the audience. So, time to talk about Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché.
The history of music is filled with some truly great female bands. The Go-Go’s, The Runaways and The Bangles just to name a few that hit big mainstream success. One band however is considered to be the first all-female rock band to be signed to a major label, a band that would influence all the others that followed, were championed by such icons as David Bowie and would open for bands like Slade and Jethro Tull… that band was named Fanny and they were at the forefront of women’s right to be rock stars (which is great because that gives their documentary a fantastic subtitle to put after the semicolon).
I’ll be honest and admit the name Lydia Lunch was not one I had heard of before I started watching the documentary Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over. Why would I? I’m an unhip Aussie who wasn’t even conceptualised back in 1979 when Lydia started performing with her band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (which… yeah, best band name ever, calling it now). In a way, I feel like not knowing anything about Lydia worked to my advantage because watching the film felt like being punched in the face with shock and awe, which feels like it fits in well with her aesthetic.
There’s an old truism that “If you remember the 70s then you weren’t there”. This has also been applied to the 60s, largely because of Woodstock, but it can also apply to the 70s when everyone was just doing endless amounts of drugs… like, enough drugs that anyone who was around in the 60s or 70s isn’t allowed to ever talk shit about what drugs the youth of today do. Anyway, this era led to a lot of memorable big festivals where a lot of people did a lot of drugs. Today’s Sydney Underground Film Festival entry is about one of the lesser-known drug-filled festivals, but also one of the strangest.
It’s been two years since I’ve been able to go to a film festival, specifically my favourite film festival on earth. The Sydney Underground Film Festival, a festival dedicated to strange underground films that are usually shown in this great little venue that’s clearly not really meant for a film festival but some nutbags decided to put up a projector in a few rooms and boom, you got a festival.
This festival provided 2 previous entries to my “best of” list, that being Greener Grass and Use Me, and I was hoping to get to go again this year but… well, that thing that meant I only got to review Fast and Furious 9 yesterday moved the festival to online only. The upside? That means that for the next month I’ll be able to get through a lot of these films that I might not have been able to see if I was going in person (maybe that’ll keep me sane until this lockdown ends).
So, let’s start this off with a documentary about a guy and his arcade system.
Between 1983 and 1994, Bob Ross delighted viewers with his charming little show The Joy Of Painting. For over 400 episodes, Bob and a series of guest stars would talk the viewer through methods of painting landscapes and he became a cultural phenomenon. Even now, years after his passing, the image of the cheerful man with the giant afro and the well-used painter’s palette is iconic. Hell, it’s well known enough that a recent episode of Drag Race had someone recreate the look with a wig made of squirrels (and sure, they were in the bottom that week but you still knew who they were). Well, turns out the story of Bob Ross’ legacy wasn’t exactly as happy as the little trees that were in many of his paintings.
So over on Soda & Telepaths I wrote about this fascinating documentary about the star of Eight Legged Freaks deciding to do wrestling… it’s a good review of a good film, you should read and then watch.
If you want to get on the express ticket to my bad side, be on the side of Conversion Therapy. Conversion Therapy, otherwise known as Pray Away The Gay, is the idea that people can be turned straight via some form of extreme therapy. In reality, it’s a way to force queer people into suppressing their true selves in order to be accepted by a group made up of bigots who have only read one book and decided that the part of that book that said gays were bad was a rule they had to follow forever but the part about mixed fabrics was up for debate. Over the years there have been a lot of documentaries regarding this movement but the recent documentary Pray Away might be one of the best of the bunch.