The Go-Betweens: Right Here is a conventional rockumentary that provides fascinating insight into an unconventional and extraordinary Australian band.
I need to start with a disclaimer. Two, in fact. First, I love rockumentaries. I find them rivetting, even if I don’t like the band or artist in focus. Second, I love The Go-Betweens. I caught them live every time I had a chance and have all their albums, but I don’t know much about the story of the band. I was therefore excited to learn of the impending release of Red Dog director Kriv Stender’s doco, The Go-Betweens: Right Here. But guess I can’t claim objectivity as a reviewer, so factor that in.
I rate The Go-Betweens as Australia’s greatest pop/indie band, and one of the greatest globally – and I say that mostly on the strength of their 1988 masterpiece, 16 Lover’s Lane, in my view an emotional tour de force that marks the creative peak of their definitive line-up: the songwriting core of the band, Robert Forster and Grant Mclennan, drummer Lindy Morrison and violinist/vocalist Amanda Brown. Typically for The Go-Betweens, this brilliant album (their sixth) received widespread critical acclaim that did not translate into sales. In the aftermath of the album’s commercial failure came an acrimonious breakup, with Forster and Mclennan deciding to go it alone.
Rightly, Stenders doesn’t spend much time on the post-16 Lover’s Lane period. Except for the tragic premature death of Grant Mclennan at 48 in 2006, the most absorbing and dramatic aspects of the band’s story happened en route to 16 Lover’s Lane and the subsequent departure of Morrison and Brown.
Adhering to a chronologically conventional structure, Stenders begins with the first meeting of Forster and Mclennan as students at Queensland Uni, using stand-in actors. I do wish doco makers wouldn’t resort to stand-ins. Sure, an absence of early footage has to be overcome somehow, but…
The narration is done via interviews or voiceovers from band members and insiders like the straight-talking and anachronistically PIC writer Clinton Walker, Paul Kelly and Grant McLennnan’s sister, Sally. Stenders has done a good job of editing the available material, including some previously unseen archival footage, to trace The Go-Betweens’ musical development and balance this with the members’ personal stories. Ego clashes, volatile relationships and couplings within the band provide plenty of drama. In this respect, The Go-Betweens give the American incarnation of Fleetwood Mac more than a run for their money.
Morrison and Brown, interviewed together, give emotionally raw and gripping accounts of their dumping after 16 Lover’s Lane, both still clearly outraged and bitter about the way they were treated. Forster’s self-forgiving version of events is far kinder: “We were just bumbling boys,” he claims, staring into an open fire. It’s unfortunate that Stenders omits one pertinent detail that really should have been included: Morrison and Brown’s fight for a share of royalties post break-up, which culminated in an out-of-court settlement with Forster and McLennan.
However, both women are credited for their creative input in the course of the film (what would the wonderful Cattle and Cane be without Morrison’s idiosyncratic but so-right drumming?).
The film’s emotional climax comes – unsurprisingly – with accounts of McLennan’s shock death, Amanda Brown’s being especially poignant.
The Go-Betweens were unique, and their post-career influence speaks far louder and truer of their artistic worth than their failure to make a mark on the charts or receive financial recognition during their time as a band. They deserve to be remembered as the great original band they were, and Stenders’ film is important in this respect, even if largely unremarkable as a doco per se. If you’re into rockumentaries, put this down as one to see. If you’re a Go-Betweens fan – well, file under unmissable.
The Go-Betweens: Right Here features: Robert Forster, Grant McLennan, Lindy Morrison, Amanda Brown, Robert Vickers
Director: Kriv Stenders
Runtime: 95 min
Australian release date: The Go-Betweens: Right Here Special One Week Screening Event at Luna Leederville Thur Sept 28 to Wed 4 Oct. Screening daily 8:15pm plus 4:30pm on Sat & Sun only.
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