Tapehead: Wizards of Oz

     |    Wednesday September 4th, 2013

From September 12 to 15, the third Down Under Berlin Australian and New Zealand Film Festival will present over 50 features, documentaries and shorts from the Sixth Continent. This year’s music savvy program inspired Tapehead to revisit an adolescent passion.
In the 80s, Tapehead developed a major fixation on music from Down Under. Australia, as a former British colony, seemed both familiar and exotic, and this was reflected in the music. Faves included the inevitable Men at Work (often compared to Tapehead’s then favorite group – gasp! -The Police) who were catchy and cute and made the definitive video about the end of the world, “It’s A Mistake”.

Tapehead then graduated from the new wave lite (or New Music, the US blanket term for any sounds created by musicians sans long hair and long instrumental solos) of Men at Work to punk and post-punk by the likes of the Saints, the Go-Betweens (fan Robert Bramkamp included a song by co-lead singer Robert Forster in his film TESTSTAND 7, a riff on Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”), Hunters and Collectors, the Church and the Birthday Party. Thankfully, Down Under Berlin is screening the Sydney punk history lesson “Distorted” and “Autoluminiscent: Rowland S. Howard”, Richard Lowenstein’s (director of music clips for INXS, another guilty Aussie pleasure) and Lynn Mareen Milburn’s documentary about the late, lamented guitarist of Birthday Party and Crime and the City Solution, to name just a fraction of Howard’s musical legacy. Watch the film and discover it for yourself. Here’s the clip for Birthday Party’s “Nick the Stripper”, featuring a very young Nick Cave (Femen take note). Howard is the one in the striped shirt.

Another aspect of Australian music that fascinated Tapehead was how it expressed indigenous peoples’ struggle for equality. In addition to protest songs by non-Aboriginal groups such as Midnight Oil, “blackfellas” (colloquial, non-pejorative term for Aborigines) had created a vibrant music scene. No Fixed Address was a tight reggae-rock group who were featured with another band, US Mob, in the docudrama “Wrong Side of the Road” which combined performance footage with scenes of everyday discrimination. Screened at the Berlinale Forum back in the day and worth rediscovering (maybe at Down Under Berlin 2014?). The video for “We Have Survived the White Man” offers a more symbolist, but no less powerful social critique.

Before punk, there were “The Sapphires”, a Motownesque girl group of young Aboriginal women who performed in clubs and army bases, eventually entertaining U.S. troops in Vietnam. The Berlin premiere of the somewhat fictionalized biopic is Down Under’s closing film. While the foregrounding of a white character, the group’s manager (played by Chris O’Dowd of “Bridesmaids” fame) evoked criticism, the scene below evokes a kinship between indigenous Australians and another oppressed minority, African Americans as represented by the G.I.s watching the show.

In terms of straight music video, there is exactly one screening in the otherwise narrative short-dominated New Talents section, but this one is a winner. Nikki Pallaras from the University of South Australia in Adelaide directed the clip for Oh Land’s song “White Nights” with style and accomplishment. “White Nights” is sophisticated eye candy – in a very good way. Pallaras is a talent to watch.

A short film in the Aussie Appetisers section, DIRT AND DESIRE by Diane Busuttil, is not a music clip but relates to music through Busuttil’s background as a choreographer and her on-going exploration of movement, rhythm and sexuality on and through film. DIRT AND DESIRE and other shorts by the now Berlin-based filmmaker are available on realeyz.tv.

Not screening at Down Under Berlin and not exactly an undiscovered gem, but too good not to include, as it, like Men at Work and their videos did 30 years ago, humorously encapsulates Aussie clichés and socio-cultural touchstones as well as how the Australians view themselves: Rap News #20, featuring Julian Assange in a wicked John Farnham impersonation.

Down Under Berlin
September 12 to 15, 2013
Moviemento Cinema
Kottbusser Damm 22