The four-day Sydney Underground Film Festival celebrates left-of-centre cinema, cult classics, overlooked gems and the just plain weird. This year’s program has something for everyone bored of formulaic Hollywood fare, from disturbing documentary and edgy short film to absurdist comedy. Broadsheet picks the highlights from this year’s selection.
God Bless America
Depressed after finding he is terminally ill and being fired from his job in farcical circumstances, Frank (Mad Men‘s Joel Murray) decides a cross-country crime spree is the answer to his woes. Linking up with a warped schoolgirl Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), the unlikely pair takes on reality TV, conservative shock jocks and people who talk during movies. Gleefully over the top and unashamedly B-list, God Bless America nonetheless has more to say about US culture than many more ‘serious’ films.
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
Co-directed by Mandy Stein, an old pro in the rock genre (after well-received documentaries on CBGBs and the Ramones), this frantic biopic dives headlong into the world of legendary hardcore band Bad Brains. While the dynamic between band members is almost as volatile as their music, the real highlights here are priceless archival footage and passionate recollections of the jazz-trained group from a wealth of musicians they influenced, including Henry Rollins, who reflects that his “life started that night” during a typically raucous Bad Brains show.
Jason Patric, playing way against type, and the legendary Isabella Rossellini star in this elliptical black and white film noir, which takes the form of a loose (very loose) retelling of Ulysses with the journey set inside a haunted, sprawling house of mirrors. Dreamlike is often a word associated with pleasant and even bland art, but Canadian director Guy Maddin evokes a mood more reminiscent of the dark, unsettling side of dreams, where anything can happen and nothing quite makes sense.
Freaks, Geeks and Almost X-Rated Peeks
A variety program presented by Jay Katz and Miss Death, whose Cult Sinema Monday was a Sydney institution and whose love of kitsch, unintentionally funny and just plain bizarre cinematic ephemera continues through their Mu-Meson film nights. Hysterical public service announcements and hilariously outdated commercials are particular favourites of theirs, while this selection – which is accompanied by live commentary from the pair – also promises promotional films made by “people who should have never picked up a camera”.
Originally appeared in: Broadsheet