The Illawarra Film Society (IFS) is the brainchild of a local woman, Therese Huxtable, who – together with support from other like-minded friends – came up with a scheme to source a range of films that are not usually part of the mainstream blockbuster offerings, negotiated with a Wollongong cinema to screen them, and organised a film club.
The society has a membership of 500, and films are screened every Sunday evening, except for school holidays, public holidays and during film festivals. That means a total of thirty films a year, for the incredibly economical price of A$90 per head (US$70; 65 euro; 55 pound). The society is now in its fifth year of operation.
Last Sunday week, (19th February) was our first film for the year. We saw Sing Street, shot on location in Dublin, Ireland. The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.
Co-incidentally, my blogging recently put me in touch with Richard Alaba, the man behind the film review site CineMuseFilms. I recommend his site to you. As well, from time to time I will feature his guest posts on mine, and here is the first one!
SING STREET (2016)
Guest Review by Richard Alaba @ CineMuseFilms
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
For many people, garage bands are synonymous with adolescence and its associated yearnings for identity, independence and fun. The Irish-produced Sing Street (2016) steps into this space with a more complex mixture of ingredients than is usual for such films. Described as a musical comedy, it is also a coming-of-age romance and a period film set against themes of economic recession, family discord and school bullying. Director/writer John Carney prefers to call it a ‘stealth musical’: one that sneaks up on audiences who otherwise might not choose to see a traditional musical. Whatever you call it, this is one of the most engaging and enjoyable films of the year.
Set in Dublin during the 1980s, this simple story is told through the eyes of 15 year-old Conor whose quarrelling cash-strapped parents move him from an expensive private school to a local parish school. It is a cultural shock and violence from schoolyard thugs and priests are standard fare for a community where drugs, alcohol and beatings are commonplace. He meets alluring but unattainable 16 year-old Raphina who has left school to become a London model and asks her to join his band (which does not exist). The rest of the film traces the formation of his band called Sing Street and its growth from hopeless wannabes to a credible group of musicians.
Unlike traditional musicals where dialogue slips into song at the slightest provocation, the music works naturally both in and for the film to underscore the humour and pathos of growing up. The first-time romance runs parallel to the evolving music while Conor’s maturing outlook on life helps him rise above the limited opportunities that Dublin offers. The toe-tapping soundtrack includes Duran Duran, Joe Jackson, Hall & Oates, The Jam, The Cure, as well as performances by the Sing Street Band and others.
Sing Street has no pretensions to originality and it relies entirely on genre-familiar ingredients. But it soars well above its class because of outstanding casting and a brilliant soundtrack. Conor and Raphina are immensely attractive and likeable personalities and their remarkable acting range lets them glide effortlessly from precocious youth through adolescent angst to unrestrained exuberance. They are the soul of the film and become as one with its music. This is a joyful upbeat film that expresses youth’s unshakeable faith in the power of music and a great little gem from The Emerald Isle.
Director: John Carney
Stars: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton
There were ten in the group I was with. One had seen the film previously, so it is a great vote of confidence to watch it a second time (which he did). Beforehand I asked his opinion of this review and the answer was, “Having already seen this film I thought the review captured the spirit of the film perfectly.” Two of our group liked the film but had hesitation about the bullying scenes early in the piece. The rest of us raved about it. My husband’s evaluation of a film often includes its running time, and in this one he was completely transported beyond that. It is a sweet, engaging, and at times gritty film, with great music and some intriguing music video scenes.
On a personal note, there was a moment of shock which I was unprepared for. Raphina is a sixteen-year-old with no father and a mother who is often in hospital. “Why?” Conor asks. “She’s a nurse,” Raphina answers. Then she says something like, “no – joke. She’s bi-polar”. It’s exactly my story, and her laconic, self-deprecating humour is very close to the way I dealt with the situation too.
Humour is littered all the way through the movie, but I can’t give away too many of the gems. One line gave me a particular chuckle, although it is a confronting scene. Brother Baxter has “chastised” Conor for his use of makeup, and Conor likens himself to Mozart. “That would make me Salieri, then,” responds Baxter. It’s a clever film that can meld those type of references with Duran Duran and other hitmakers of the 80s.
Watch out for the disclaimer that runs in the closing credits. It was only by chance that I saw it, and I had to look it up on IMDb later to remind myself of the exact wording:
“This is a period film. Synge Street School, like much of Ireland, was a very different place in the 1980’s [sic] than it is now. Today Synge Street School is a progressive, multi-cultural school with an excellent academic record and a committed staff of teachers.”
If you have seen the film too, you might like to leave your thoughts here or jump over to CineMuseFilms and add them there. I am sure Richard Alaba would like to hear other’s opinions.
Thank you Richard for your Guest Review.