Film Review: The Eternity Man

Bottom line: A bawdy but tedious experiment in documentary opera.

Sydney Film Festival

Punk documentarian Julien Temple goes way out on a limb with "The Eternity Man," a strident mash-up of noir opera and documentary which should please fans of neither. It recounts the true-life story of Arthur Stace (Grant Doyle), an alcoholic war veteran who found God after a stint of homelessness and gained a degree of local notoriety by repeatedly chalking the word "Eternity" on Sydney's footpaths over 40 years.

The colorful evocation of the city's 20th century bohemian underbelly might be of passing interest to Sydneysiders. But the shadowy title character is a footnote and not interesting enough to sustain the necessary histrionics of an opera. The film may find traction as a festival curiosity.

Temple ("The Great Rock and Roll Swindle," "Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten") stages the opera, featuring a libretto by poet Dorothy Porter, on the streets of a seedy-looking Sydney. The Brit director has a keen eye for the distinctive architecture of the place, from the art deco corner pubs to the iconic Harbour Bridge. His painterly compositions are quite sumptuous, and the large-scale projection of newsreels as a backdrop to Stace's progress through the decades is an effective device.

But the evangelical Stace skulks about mostly at night and the only person he interacts with is his shrill brothel-madam sister, Myrtle (Christa Hughes,) producing a flatlining narrative. When Myrtle screeches about "mirth and muck" in an introductory aria interspersed with images of kinky sex, it's easy to see what attracted Temple's interest. It's just not enough to hold ours.

Production companies: Goalpost Pictures, Essential Viewing Group, Illumination Films. Cast: Grant Doyle, Christa Hughes. Director: Julien Temple. Screenwriters: Julien Temple, Dorothy Porter. Producers: Rosemary Blight, John Wyver and Alex Fleetwood. Director of photography: Mark Wareham. Production designer: Felicity Abbott. Music: Jonathan Mills. Costume designer: Wendy Cork. Editor: Rodrigo Balart. Sales: ABC International and Sunday Night Movies.
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