The story of The Go-Betweens had previously been largely untold save for Robert Forster’s autobiography, Grant & I. But the film, The Go-Betweens: Right Here is set to change that. It’s a wonderful music documentary that plays out like a love letter to a seminal, Australian band. It also dives head-first into the melodrama, adventure, mirth and madness that typified the group.
The film is directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) who became friends with The Go-Betweens several decades ago. He would go on to direct a number of their music videos including the one for their biggest hit, “Streets Of Your Town.” By having someone so close to the group at the helm you would be justified in thinking that this documentary is pure hagiography and congenial back-slapping, but thankfully this is not the case. Instead, Stenders has made a film that is fiercely intimate and doesn’t shy away from tackling raw nerves and difficult topics with brutal honesty (and this is particularly the case in the interviews with drummer, Lindy Morrison and multi-instrumentalist, Amanda Brown.)
The Go-Betweens’ story starts in 1977 when two young men met at the University of Queensland. They were Robert Forster and the late Grant McLennan. The two bonded over their mutual love of films, books and music and they would go on to start a band at a point when Queensland was practically a police state headed by the then state premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Forster and McLennan were eventually joined by Lindy Morrison on drums and she would also become Robert’s girlfriend. Amanda Brown would join in 1987 and become Grant’s girlfriend while several other musicians would enter and exit the fold.
This story chronicles the band’s attempts to conquer the world including the time they spent overseas. They would release several albums that were critically-lauded but that failed to reach the commercial success that they were due. Along the way there are many different elements and stories- from the misadventures of friends and lovers as well as egos clashing, commercial failures and their many creative triumphs. These things are all spectacularly rendered through a series of re-enactments, interviews and archive footage of the band including old interviews with McLennan.
The surviving members of The Go-Betweens are interviewed in a farmhouse that is similar to the cattle station where McLennan grew up. It is also like the setting of “Cattle & Cane” and proves a great contrast to the film’s other interviewees who are shot in black and white. Writers Clinton Walker and Toby Creswell discuss the influence and contributions of the group. There is also a veritable who’s who of Australian musicians who are interviewed including: Paul Kelly, Ed Kuepper, Dave Graney, Mick Harvey and Steve Kilbey.
The Go-Betweens: Right Here manages to pack a lot into its slim time frame including the various line-ups of the band and the reunion albums that McLennan and Forster made shortly before the former’s untimely death. The film’s soundtrack is worth the price of admission alone and will help introduce the band’s jangly and glorious pop discography to a new generation of fans. For those people already acquainted with the group, they will learn more about the emotional rollercoaster that transpired in tandem with the creation of their fine and unique music and those jangly pop gems. When you sit back and watch you can listen, laugh and cry with this documentary and you will not be disappointed because it is ultimately a jaunt through the streets, valleys and highways of this band’s town.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Go-Betweens: Right Here screened as part of Sydney Film Festival, where it was reviewed.