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Australia 2017
Directed by
Jonathan Sequeira
110 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Descent Into The Maelstrom

Synopsis: The story of legendary Australian band Radio Birdman

There is no doubt that Radio Birdman fans will eat up writer-director Jonathan Sequeira’s detailed account of the rise and fall and rise again of the legendary Sydney-based punk rockers who came together to form Radio Birdman in the mid-1970s, burned brightly for a handful of years before imploding in 1978 during their tour of the UK. The general punter may be a little overloaded by that same level of detail in a story which as we have seen with docos like Some Kind of Monster (2004) and End of the Century (also 2004) is about youthful naivety and exuberance being worn down on the long road to the top.

Not that Radio Birdman ever made it to the top, although the kernel off the original band, lead singer Rob Younger, guitarist  Deniz Tek and keyboardist Pip Hoyle is, the original drummer, Ron Keeley, bassist, Warwick Gilbert and lead guitarist Chris Masuak having been pushed out at various stages along the way,

Unfortunately for the uninitiated Sequeira pretty well assumes familiarity with Birdman’s music which is showcased in a scattering of largely interchangeable live clips from the day. The bulk of the film is given over to a blow-by-blow chronicling of the band’s history as recalled by the members who are all interviewed extensively and, given their criss-crossing estrangements, separately.  Their memories are illustrated with an extensive amount of contemporary still photography and impressive storyboard-like artwork by Gilbert.

This is diverting and, for music genealogists at least, valuable material although personally as an uninitiated I would have liked to have known more about the music. Tek, a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, emerges as the creative driver behind  the band bringing with him from the States an awareness of The Stooges and The MC5 but this hardly explains Younger’s evident borrowings from Iggy Pop’s stage style. And whilst there is much talk of the band’s artistic integrity, what their songs, apparently all written by Tek (another bone of contention) were about, is far from clear. Much is also made of the band’s influence on Australian music, paving the way for bands such as Midnight Oil, the Sunnyboys, the Hoodoo Gurus, the Lime Spiders, the Celibate Rifles and so on.  Once again this is a claim that goes unexamined.  

Still,rock’n’roll is ultimately about attitude and in the days when Molly Meldrum and Countdown ruled the pop charts Radio Birdman had attitude to spare. It earned them legendary status if nothing else. Descent into the Maelstrom is a fitting testament to all that.




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