“There were no hits,” singer/songwriter, Robert Forster, says emphatically of his group, The Go-Betweens. “We didn’t have any hit songs.” No case of false modesty, The Go-Betweens indeed failed to crack the Top 40, despite making appearances on Countdown and inspiring collective swoons from the local music press. But proving (again) that commercial success and true artistry rarely go hand in hand, many of their songs – most notably “Cattle And Cane” and “Streets Of Your Town” – are now justifiably part of the Australian lexicon.
While the band’s (formed by Forster and fellow songwriter, Grant McLennan, in Brisbane in the late ’70s) music is deceptively simple, their tortured, angst-ridden history is deeply, heatedly complex. Refusing to play to its more sensationalist qualities, busy director, Kriv Stenders (Boxing Day, Red Dog, Lucky Country, Australia Day), crafts this melancholy story into wonderfully cohesive and richly intimate documentary form with The Go-Betweens: Right Here.
Mixing starkly shot talking head interviews (irreverent music journo and friend of the band, Clinton Walker, steals the show) with artful recreations and stylish bridging visuals, along with vintage interviews and music clips, the story of The Go-Betweens: Right Here – in which two friends innocently form a band while at university, and eventually fall prey to ego, booze, drugs, and complicated relationships – is a familiar one, it’s also entertainingly perverse. Like a far less successful ABBA or Fleetwood Mac, the internal romantic machinations of The Go-Betweens are the stuff of legend, with the relationship of Forster and the band’s drummer, Lindy Morrison (a truly unusual and endearing figure), crumbling, only to be replaced by the equally intense coupling of McLennan and the group’s gifted violinist, Amanda Brown.
Stenders is obviously fascinated by these wonderfully eccentric characters and their fractious entanglements, but he’s also compelled by the complex nature of creativity and collaboration, and he incisively works these two central strands together seamlessly. Refreshingly, Stenders is far less interested in McLennan’s dalliances with drugs and alcohol, and his sad, curious death at the age of just 48 from a heart attack. Though less astute directors would opportunistically hone in on these more sordid story points, Stenders knows that there’s even more interesting stuff going on elsewhere, and cannily avoids merely making another doco about a muso who falls to the sway of narcotics and drops way before his time. With wit, warmth, and a lovingly bent sense of pathos, The Go-Betweens: Right Here digs through the surface details, and gets right to the battered heart of one of Australia’s most important and under-valued bands.