If there was Australia’s answer to the film, Play Your Gender, then Breaking The Mould is it. This music documentary includes interviews with Australian artists about their thoughts and experiences with gender in the local industry. The film is an interesting one about our history and it is something that should help shape the conversation around what should happen next.
Breaking The Mould is written and directed by a young artist and film composer called Jessie Ryan-Allen who is no stranger to this subject, having previously written an honours thesis about it. The film was also inspired by a 1995 documentary by The Go-Betweens’ Lindy Morrison and Greg Ferguson titled Australian Women In Rock And Pop Music: Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves. While Play Your Gender is the more contemporary point of reference, that film was quite broad in its range of talent and included interviews with musicians, engineers and promoters. Breaking The Mould however, is exclusively based on interviews with musicians and this has both positive and negative results.
The roll call for Breaking The Mould is impressive. The interviewees include no less than: Grace Knight (Eurogliders), Greedy Smith (Mental As Anything), Mia Dyson, Abbe May, Stonefield, Katie Noonan, Quan (Regurgitator), Patience Hodgson and John Patterson (The Grates), Vanessa Thornton and Chris Daymond (Jebediah) and Heather Shannon and Samuel Lockwood (The Jezabels). It is fascinating to see the differences in the experiences that these artists have faced. Stonefield are often asked about their fashion choices rather than their musical influences. Noonan had to put her foot down and insist that her baby would die if the powers that be kept scheduling interviews and failing to allow for appropriate breaks so that she could feed her son and Thornton felt shielded by being in a band with her guy friends.
This documentary covers a lot of ground in that it focuses on the period from the 1950s to today. Zoë Norton Lodge (The Checkout) narrates and offers us some historic context during the different decades. This includes information about the changes that allowed women into public bars, the drinking age being lowered from 21 to 18 and the rise of Triple J, to name a few. The film also uses graphs to show the changes in the representation of female artists over time. It would have been interesting to hear some other voices (like academics or other people working in the music industry) and to see whether some changes were on account of specific artists like Kylie Minogue and her ilk having a hit that year and whether this influenced the state of play at the time. The film is also structured into a chronological telling but perhaps a more compelling argument may have been to have similar ideas expanded on and linked together by the different interviewees. That being said however, this is an impressive debut for a young filmmaker.
Breaking The Mould is not a perfect telling about the story of Australian women in music, but it is certainly an intriguing one. The talent of the subjects is excellent (Katie Noonan is an absolute star and a loveable, badass chick) and this topic is certainly an interesting one. The subject matter is also important because our music is a reflection of our values and culture so it is important to consider the past as we try to navigate the future. Breaking The Mould is certainly a strong and compelling voice in a dialogue that needs to continue.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Breaking The Mould has its world premiere at Australian Music Week Film Festival tonight, in Cronulla. For more details head HERE.