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Australia 2011
Directed by
Amiel Courtin-Wilson
86 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

Ben Lee: Catch My Disease

Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s documentary about Australian pop music prodigy, Ben Lee, is a curious effort as it makes absolutely no attempt to justify its existence. Unlike docos such as Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (2011) or Rock n Roll Nerd (2008), in which even if you do not know of the subjects you will find out about their art, Ben Lee: Catch My Disease assumes that you already know it and are one of the party faithful.

I know of Lee from his role opposite Rose Byrne in The Rage In Placid Lake (2003) and I knew he was some kind of singer-songwriter but even after having watched this documentary I still have no idea why I should have endured it. In the absence of any evidence of Lee’s talents (there are a few fragments of him performing) we are left with a frankly indugent story of his meteoric rise to fame, his buddying up with various young Hollywood celebs, his conversion to Hinduism and marriage to Ione Skye, the daughter of iconic 60s pop singer-songwriter, Donovan Leitch and who, in a characterstically looping way was the ex-wife of the Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz who signed Lee’s first band, Noise Addict, to their label when he was only fourteen years old.

On one level it is a rather bizarre story. Lee is clearly very intelligent but also very full of himself. And completely non-rock. Although at one point espousing that his ambition was to be an Elvis Presley or a Michael Jackson he is more like a member of the Brady Bunch and his rise to stardom seems to be driven more by an overweening ego than anything else (presumably there was a good deal of talent involved but this we must take on trust). Which is exactly not what one would expect to happen as he seems such a complete schlemiel, a kind of teenybopper Woody Allen, self-obsessed and chronically anxious, endless commenting on his own place in the world.

Amiel Courtin-Wilson seems to be one of his devotees as the documentary, if not exactly hagiographic, is very much in this self-obsessed, self-serving spirit although the net effect is exactly the opposite of what was presumably intended.  Infamously, Powderfinger’s lead singer Bernard Fanning called Lee a “precocious little c*nt” and if you don’t happen to be inside the Lee bubble you’re likely to agree.

Available from: Madman




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