Film review: DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTROM, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Australia’s Radio Birdman rightly deserve their place alongside the great pioneering proto-punk acts from Detroit and New York such as Iggy and the Stooges, the Ramones and the MC5 and the iconic British punks like the Sex Pistols and The Clash. Before the spiky-haired Brits upended popular music in the late 70’s, Birdman were annihilating Sydney pubs and town halls with a blistering twin guitar attack and snarling attitude every bit as venomous as the Pistols. The documentary Descent into the Maelstrom explores Radio Birdman’s career from inception to ugly break-ups and fragmented reformations.

Mixing talking head interviews, TV and live gig footage, snippets of news articles and some of bass player Warwick Gilbert’s artwork, writer director Jonathan J Sequeira takes a fairly traditional approach to the subject matter, one that’s less impressionistic or hallucinogenic than Jim Jarmusch’s Iggy and the Stooges doco.  Although American ex-pat guitarist and doctor Deniz Tek is ostensibly the founder and chief songwriter and seems to have ruled the band alongside lead singer Rob Younger, Sequeira gives ample time to each band member to tell their story.

Sequeira also provides decent helpings of classic Birdman tunes which sound amazingly contemporary even though many of them were recorded nearly 40 years ago. Birdman’s impact on the Australian music scene and on so many terrific indie and hard rock bands is incalculable. Amusingly, though, the band often have a poke at their underground music contemporaries.

The early part of the film is the more uplifting as it captures the feral energy of young misfit guys desperately trying to express themselves in culturally conservative mid-70’s Australia. Their ferocious but brutally efficient sound sent shockwaves through the satin jumpsuit wearing glam loving music world that dominated music shows like Countdown at the time. The film goes to great lengths to talk up the band’s outlaw image, repeatedly describing how they were derided by the press and often barred from venues.

The latter part of the film becomes a little grim and spends too much time on their bitter disintegration. With multiple break-ups Birdman’s demise seems particularly acrimonious in an industry rife with shattered relationships.  Still, this is a must-see for any Birdman fan and anyone interested in the vital lynchpins of the Australian rock music scene.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Documentary/ music.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Jonathan J Sequeira.

Release date: 20th July 2017.

Running time: 109 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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