A young man reconciles ancient tradition with the modern, urban world in this debut feature from Stephen Page, artistic director of Australia's renowned Bangarra Dance Theatre.
Review by Louise Keller:
While it is difficult to definitively understand the meaning behind this complex marriage of dance and chant with its diverse imagery and striking settings, one thing is certain: Stephen Page's Spear is a unique piece of cinema. Visually stimulating, thought provoking, evocative and challenging, there is little dialogue to progress the narrative and the sequences are often like a series of thoughts juxtaposed beside each other. As for the precise nature of the journey of the central character played by Hunger Page-Lochard, it is nebulous, like much of the film - which may fascinate, frustrate or manage to provide a mix of both.
Page, who is artistic director for the Sydney-based Bangarra Dance Theatre, has adapted his dance work for the screen using a mix of extraordinary land and cityscapes. The best way to approach this innovative work is to let it wash over you without analyzing it too much. The ideas and locations meld from one sequence to another: there is city night life; a bowling alley; a theatre dressing room; a jail, remote forests. A man hangs upside down, his body contorting as the white chalky paint on his body falls off like sand.
The choreography is loose and expressive, free and rhythmic; the men (Aboriginal and white) are mostly bare chested. There is a striking routine in front of car headlights. There are sequences in a train station, where a man wrapped in a blanket yells obscenities; intriguing scenes in a remote forest. Most remarkable of all is a scene set in what looks like a local hall, when a group of young men partake in a routine set to the old Charlie Drake 1961 novelty hit My Boomerang Won't Come Back. This will wake you up, if you have nodded off.
If Page's intention is to bring the plight of the Aboriginal man to the fore or indeed examine the history of the Aboriginal people, it is unclear. The recitative-like music, rhythmic free-form dance and visual adventures are what stands out. Much of the time it plays out like a series of sequences that are seemingly not connected to each other - except for some constants like the recurring theme of face and body paint with a white chalky substance. From interiors to exteriors, the action is both realistic and ethereal. With its themes of death, spirituality and survival, the film is bold and uncompromising. It may be too uncompromising for some.
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CAST: Bangarra Dance Theatre Company
PRODUCER: John Harvey
DIRECTOR: Stephen Page
SCRIPT: Justin Monjo, Stephen Page
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bonnie Elliott
EDITOR: Simon Njoo
MUSIC: David Page
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jacob Nash
RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Cinema Plus
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 10, 2016 (Cinema Nova Melbourne; Luna Outdoor Perth; NFSA Arc Cinema Canberra; Dendy Opera Quays & Newtown Sydney, Sawtell Cinema Sawtell; Majestic Cinemas Nambour)