In 1991 Tom Zubrycki, a recognised Australian director made a documentary movie about the first Aboriginal musical Bran Nue Dae created by Jimmy Chi. The year 2010 in Australian cinema was opened by the same titled film directed by Rachel Perkins. The film musical Bran Nue Dae, starred Geoffrey Rush, won the Audience Award during the Melbourne Film Festival and soon after released became a hit. Hippies, the 60s, step-dancing Aborigines dancing Zorba – that mixture seems to be quite absurd, however behind the original 1990 production this absurd was bitter comment on the present day events.
And a piece of the documentary movie.
Bran Nue Dae was written by Jimmy Chi and his band Kuckles. The movie of Zubrycki explores the issues behind the musical which is a blend of road movie, comedy, song, dance and romance and the life of the author in particular. Jimmy Chi was born in 1948 in Broome, he place linked to Aboriginal culture very strongly. His roots could be a symbol of modern Australia: his mother is a Scots/Bardi Aborigine and his father is a Chinese/Japanese/Anglo-Australian. Bran Nue Dae, the story about forgiveness, reconciliation, about family ties, with Chi's dry humour and sharp political approach became a comment on Aboriginal-Australians relationship in space of many years of Australian history.
There's nothing I would rather be
Than to be an Aborigine
and watch you take my precious land away.
For nothing gives me greater joy
than to watch you fill each girl and boy
with superficial existential shit.
This is one of the most well-known songs from the Chi's musical, an echo of Mabo Case that change face of Australia in 90s . It is claimed that making irrelevant the declaration of terra nullis followed by other events like Reconciliation Sorry Day, Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and Kevin Rudd's national apology to Stolen Generation influenced the Australian culture, including cinema.
Set in Jimmy's home town of Broome Bran Nue Dae tells the story of an Aboriginal boy's, Willie flight home from a Catholic boarding school city in Perth to his homeland at Djaridjin (known to Europeans as Lombadina), searching his identity. Willie, wanted by the German priest, meets a couple of hippies and old Aborigine drunk bloke, uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo, who played in the original musical, look clips below). At the end it turns out that uncle Tadpole is his father and once, his mother had an affair with a German priest and gave birth to a boy – one of the hippie that Willie travelled. “Today everyone is an Aborigine” - the sentence finishes the movie and the musical.
It smashed taboos surrounding mental health, abuse, sexuality, religion and mysticism of New Age with humour and optimism and criticised a naive, stereotypical view of Aboriginal culture in the Eastern society. The music derives from sources as disparate as traditional Aboriginal performance, blues, rock 'n' roll, Hollywood musicals and the rituals of the Roman Catholic Mass.
While watching the Chi's musical in 1990, an audience was able to catch an irony and all subtexts hidden in the story. Is it still possible today?
Even looking at the trailer of Rachel Perkins movie it can be seen that something is missing from original musical. When I saw the movie for the first time, Bollywood and High School Musical connotations came to my mind.
Perkins, who admits to admire the Chi's musical, did not manage to make the adaption natural. Chi's irony disappears in a picaresque narration of kitschy and unfortunately boring love story. Even Geoffrey Rush, who seems to have really good fun playing father Benedictus, exaggerates his character. Instead of flowing narration we get series of sketches that are sometimes better, sometimes worse (great Magda Szubanski as the gun-toting manager of a petrol station!)
However, movies such as Bra Nue Dae or last year's comedy Stone Bros presenting indigenous stories with a very light touch are signs of cultural maturity.
And for a dessert one more clip from Bran Nue Dae: