Descent into the Malestrom is a high energy journey into the success, and failings, of 70’s Aussie rock’n’roll band Radio Birdman.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
In 1974 in Sydney, a young American man named Deniz Tek formed the band Radio Birdman with Rob Younger. Following the recruitment of four other members, Radio Birdman went on to cause a stir in the Australian music scene, with their unconventional take on rock’n’roll and their determination to stay true to their original brand of music. Whilst the band had a short run of success, with the members of the band choosing to part ways in 1978, they became the influence for many mainstream Australian bands.
The genius of Descent into the Maelstrom lies in director Jonathan Sequeira’s complete understanding of the band. There are so many elements at play that are carefully hidden behind the guise of a historical documentary as Sequeira explores the band’s rise to fame. But this documentary offers so much more, and much like the music of Radio Birdman, it refuses to stick to traditional documentary conventions.
The first half of the documentary is littered with wild tales as retold by the band members, now well into their 60’s, and discusses their struggle to be taken seriously in the music scene. There is an incredible archive of footage and photos from Radio Birdman’s performances, which makes up the majority of the visual content for the documentary, but it’s the clever use of storyboard animations that help to fill the gaps in the footage that adds a little extra something, and makes the documentary slightly unusual.
The second half of the documentary takes on a quiet, reflective state as the band are picked up by a label and begin touring internationally in 1977. The more they tour, the more the cracks in the group become irreparable, and this is supported with a definite change in mood in the present-day interviews as the band members become more solemn and disgruntled about how Radio Birdman ended.
Descent into the Maelstrom does well in immersing the audience into this world of rock’n’roll, but there’s also a certain amount of assumed knowledge that is expected of the audience. Knowledge of the state of the Australian music scene at this time is helpful, as well as knowing a bit about the punk scene, both on an international scale, and on a more local, Australian scale. There’s a lot of reminiscing about forgotten bands and pubs that no longer exist, which can leave you missing the significance of these details if you’re just that bit too young.
Descent into the Maelstrom, much like Radio Birdman’s music and band ethos, is raw, gritty and unorthodox, but it’s the honest portrayal of the highs and lows of Radio Birdman’s short rise to fame, and subsequent conflict within the band, that makes this documentary so interesting.
Descent into the Maelstrom is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July)
Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment & Revelation Film Festival