Snowtown: Live

Zoe Barron

Against a backdrop of unreleased footage from the film, Snowtown: Live presents visceral elements of image and sound combined.
Snowtown: Live

You've likely heard of Snowtown - the small, South Australian town renown for the group of people tortured and killed between 1992 and 1997. Although all but one of crimes were committed in the outer suburbs of Adelaide, it was an empty bank vault in Snowtown itself where eight of the bodies were found, stored in black plastic barrels. The twelve month trial, relentlessly publicised, was the longest in the state's history.

Justin Kurzel, who grew up about ten minutes from where most of the murders took place, made a movie about the tragedy. The 2011 film doesn't flinch from the violence and horror of the murders themselves, but it's really more interested in exploring the mundane culture of disadvantage and boredom that can percolate such brutal incidences, and it's this culture with which Kurzel is intimately familiar. Likewise his brother, Jed Kurzel, who scored the film, and who managed to construct a soundtrack that elicited the sinister elements of the film while never being overt.

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Three years on we have Snowtown: Live the soundtrack performed live by Jed Kurzel and band, against a backdrop of edited pieces of unreleased footage. Unexpectedly, there is no narrative element to the piece. Instead, it is more an exploration of sound and image in raw combination, which is, in a very pure way, what constitutes a soundtrack. The images themselves - taken from 80 reels of raw footage, viewed, selected and cut together by Kurzel in collaboration with Marcel Weber - are both intensely beautiful and deeply disturbing - always a riveting combination if pulled off well. The music magically matches the footage, teasing out elements of beauty that would otherwise have been washed out or become jarring if set in another context. 

The gentlest moment of the soundtrack is reserved for a slow-motion burnout. At first, it is hard to tell what is happening - there are people on the footpaths and a slow white smoke wafts from the rear tyres of an approaching car. The cloud of smoke grows, gradually engulfs the bystanders as the car nears, and then you see a tattooed arm gesturing from the window, the skid marks finally revealed. This belligerent, mundane act is turned unsettlingly beautiful by context and music.

Music that articulates images, images that articulate music - this is the essence of a good soundtrack. In this format, Snowtown: Live allows its audience to immerse themselves in the visceral, pure, artistic elements of image and sound. It's a bit like crawling into the warm ribcage of the film, amongst its guts and juices, while never seeing the beast as a whole. Not for everyone, perhaps, but quite an experience.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars

Snowtown: Live


Composer: Jed Kurzel
Keyboard, mandolin, guitars: Jed Kurzel
Percussion: Cec Condon
Guitar, keyboard: Sam Worrad
Guitar, Mandolin: Darren Nuttall
Visuals: Marcel Weber

Odeon Theatre, Watchorn St, Hobart
Dark Mofo
www.darkmofo.net.au
11-22 June

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Zoe Barron is a writer, editor and student nurse living in Fremantle, WA.