Review / ‘Gurrumul’ (PG) *** and a half

WHERE to begin to review director Paul Damien Williams’ comprehensive and compassionate documentary film studying the life and music of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, blind from birth, dead at age 46 from liver and kidney diseases?

Somebody writing about a filmic study of somebody whose creative work crossed between his own Yolngu culture in Arnhem Land and the European musical tradition that has spawned such a horde of thematic and performance styles should really know about both of those arts. I have never learned how to interpret those specks of ink scattered along five lines accompanied by instructions in other languages than my own.

When it comes to music, I rely on what my ears tell my brain. And my brain tells me that while it loves music from many eras and styles, it doesn’t like much of the noise masquerading as modern music.

Gurrumul’s music merges the Western musical canon with the traditional songs and chants that were being sung and danced to long before European settlement. For me, the musical highlight of Williams’ film is a performance towards its end of a composition in which both styles work together to complement each other. It sent me away feeling good about a film that affectionately and comprehensively remembers a man whose life in permanent darkness must have been excruciatingly depressing yet who lived it to the fullest despite that.

I’m grateful to Paul Williams and the memory of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu for what their co-operation has given me. I hope you will feel that way as well.

At Palace Electric and Dendy

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