You get the feeling that the story of The Church has enough in it to fill up several movies. But the documentary, Something Quite Peculiar doesn’t try to be a definitive guide to the band. Instead, it lays its focus squarely on front man, Steve Kilbey and adapts his 2014 memoir of the same name. The result is a fascinating look at one of Australia’s most prolific musicians and possibly our hardest working artist.
The film is directed by Mike Brook who previously made Don’t Throw Stones about Stephen Cummings from The Sports. In Something Quite Peculiar the spotlight is on the enigmatic, funny and articulate Kilbey. It’s a documentary that combines interviews with his current Church bandmates, Tim Powles and Ian Haug; as well as discussions with the band’s first manager, Michael Chugg; journalists, Michael Dwyer and Stuart Coupe; plus members of Kilbey’s family including his brother, mother, ex-wife and adult daughters who are also musicians.
This film puts a lot of attention on the song, “Under The Milky Way.” It is treated like a sentient being with its own opinions and voice (by Patti Brook.) This song describes the ambivalent relationship Kilbey shares with it and says that some of this discomfort may have first germinated when the group had another hit song, “The Unguarded Moment.” Kilbey himself stars in a funny scene where he casually mentions that he’s written 750 songs but all that people want to talk about is “Under The Milky Way.” It could be because it has been the soundtrack to so many things- from weddings and funerals to advertisements and television shows.
It should come as no surprise that this documentary features a lot of music from the band. There is a clip of “Reptile” from their 2011 Opera House show, which is used to tackle the subject of Marty Willson-Piper’s departure from the group. There are also clips from The Church’s induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2010. But perhaps the most illuminating moments come courtesy of the interview Kilbey did with journalist Andrew McMillen for the latter’s Penmanship podcast. In this discussion, they tackle some rather brutal topics like Kilbey being forced to say yes to everything and prostitute himself out because he made some bad business decisions and he had a decade-long addiction to heroin. These moments are raw and honest, and prevent the documentary from being a hagiography.
In some of the lighter moments, Kilbey is painted as a modern, renaissance man. He’s a unique soul and a creative hero who can paint a picture, write a song and spin a great yarn or ten. Kilbey is one of the most intriguing talents imaginable and he shares so many humorous thoughts and anecdotes as well as a cheeky, self-deprecating wit that you could watch for hours.
Something Quite Peculiar is an entertaining music documentary about Steve Kilbey and The Church. It’s a tale that is filled with success and sadness, accomplished artists as well as funny little slices of pop philosophy. Something Quite Peculiar is a must-see for any self-respecting fan of The Church because it’s a wonderful celebration of their enigmatic front man and a guy who is one of Australia’s most influential artists.
Review score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is running until the 20th of August, with Something Quite Peculiar: The Life and Times of Steve Kilbey screening on the 5th and 9th of August. For tickets and more details on these screenings, head HERE.