It’s not often I post up what might be termed an anti-advert or reverse-spruik, but in the instance of Stranded, a new documentary aired by the ABC on September 15, I feel compelled to, and not just to try and make excuses for my own involvement as a talking head, but to issue a warning generally. Stranded puports to be the story of the Saints and the besieged punk underground that festered in Bjelke-Petersen’s Brisbane in their wake, but it barely does half of that, and then poorly. It is a dog’s breakfast that manages to pull off the difficult feat of taking great material and making a meal of it, or worse still, missing the point altogether.
When I agreed to be interviewed for the film, I did so because it was in good hands – those of Buried Country director Andy Nehl, who knows this particular story well, and knows how to use the medium of documentary films to tell stories a broad audience can appreciate. But then Andy was sacked, and the film that’s resulted is a wasted opportunity that to name just its most major failing spends large swathes of time on the generic treatment of a story everybody already knows anyway (the rise of punk in London and New York; it’s as if these film-makers have just found out about it!) at the expense of the unique story under its nose, which it’s still misleadingly pushing as its selling-point (the promo under that banner was accompanied by a photo of Bob Geldof!); it just serves as yet another unwanted extension of the old Australian cultural cringe, whereby we’re nothing without approval from overseas. And the film is full of stock library music! You’ve got to be kidding!! The list of crimes could go on… oh alright, I’ll name them: tons of irrelevant footage from 50s American horror films (doubtless because it’s free); factual errors all over the place; a complete lack of continuity and even then no dramatic dynamics; an overabundant voiceover so cliched it’s worthy of Paul Clark; minor characters getting major airtime (even more egregious when I could ask: Where’s Jim Dickson? Where’s Warwick Vere? Where’s Brad Shepherd? Where’s Mark Halstead?)… But the worst indictment is perhaps of ABC-TV, which continues to content itself with this sort of second-rate pap. You’d do much better to read Andrew Stafford’s justly-celebrated book Pig City – why didn’t they just make a film of that? Why didn’t they make a film of my own book Stranded, which was first proposed as such as far back as the late 90s? Approach with extreme caution.