MIFF Review: The Go-Betweens: Right Here

One of the ironies of popular music is that so much of what tops the charts is pure novelty that is soon forgotten, while the music that stays in our hearts often didn’t fly so high the first time around. Case in point, Ultravox’s Vienna was infamously kept from the number one spot in the UK by Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face.

It’s best to keep this in mind when considering that The Go-Betweens, who hold such a special place in the hearts of many Australians, never had a hit single. It’s a fact that will have you shaking your head in disbelief while you listen to one classic tune after another during Kriv Stender’s doco The Go-Betweens: Right Here.

Nevertheless, the band have a devout cult following, and it’s clear that Stenders is one of the faithful. After the considerable success he enjoyed with the Red Dog films, here he has the opportunity to indulge in this exhaustive love letter to the band.  

His doco is shot principally in a country house with a big verandah, a visual representation of the band. Various members approach the house to signify their inclusion in the band, and then walk away when their time is up. Such were the shifting sands of the group’s personnel between 1977 to 2006.

At the core were songwriting duo Robert Forster and Grant McLennan. McLennan actually had no musical experience, but Forster was so intent on starting a band with his best friend, that he taught McLennan how to play the guitar. He figured he’d rather be in a band with the guy he shared his passions with, despite his lack of music experience, than be in a band with musicians he had nothing in common with.

Forster, tall, charismatic and egocentric, was the initial creative force behind the band, but he describes the blossoming of quiet, studious McLennan, with his more personal lyrics, as watching his friend in the rear-view mirror, coming up behind him and overtaking him.

The third member in the band was drummer Lindy Morrison, who almost immediately became Forster’s girlfriend, causing friction between her and McLennan. Then when she broke up with Forster, the friction was two-fold and multi-directional. When Morrison recruited Amanda Brown, violinist and oboist, into the fold, who became romantically linked to McLennan, the group became a hydra-headed beast with a complicated set of couplings that put Abba and Fleetwood Mac to shame.

And who knew it was the bass guitarist Robert Vickers that was keeping the whole thing together?

If you’re a fan of the Go-Betweens, you will likely be thrilled to see such a comprehensive dissection of the band, and to see contemporaries such as Paul Kelly and Lloyd Cole wax lyrical about their talents. If you’re not such a fan, you’ll still probably get a tickle from watching so many larger than life characters negotiating their creative space in the band. 

Clearly a labour of love for Stenders, this is an affectionate and exhaustive look at one of the country’s most beloved bands. It’s just a shame that Forster, who died in 2006, isn’t around to be a part of the storytelling, which is something he did so well throughout the band’s career.

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The Go-Betweens: Right Here is currently screening at the The Melbourne International Film Festival

Richard Leathem @dickiegee