The idea this film should somehow fit within the genre of “documentary” is incredibly naive. And yet, oddly enough, I’ve had conversations in the last week with people who have seen the film, and I’ve read a number of dismissive reviews from people, who all seem to have missed the point. It’s not a documentary, it’s not even an “essay of argument”. It couldn’t possibly be when the film-maker is, himself, a member of “The Bra Boys”
I mean I understand the concern that because the film “looks” like a documentary, many unsuspecting viewers will assume an inherent truth in what is being presented. I think it’s incredibly patronising, however, to presume the audience for this film couldn’t put two and two together. That said, the film has attracted the attention of a number of celebrities, and Russell Crowe (also one of the executive producers) has provided the film’s narration. In scenes reminiscent of the debate about whether or not the media should have taken an interest in the writings of “Chopper Read”, Sydney police have urged celebrities against getting caught up in “The Bra Boys Hype”.
And why has this occured? Perhaps there’s something about our culture, or about humanity more generally, that wants to assume the best in people. The film provides some genuine insight into the fairly difficult upbring of the Aberton Boys, as they were mostly raised by their maternal grandmother, since their mother was a heroin addict with four sons to three different fathers.
The film also seeks to present “The Bra Boys” in a positive light by highlighting the historical context in which the group emerged. With bans on surfing, a group of local surfers dressed in unusual costumes, leading Jai Aberton to declare the Australian quintessentialism of their response as an example of where “Aussie surf culture has always had larrikinism to it”.
Of course, this could have been one of those “tell all” films, where the insider becomes the outsider and delivers uncomfortable personal truths. But it’s not. The film also doesn’t provide much in the way of personal reflection. Why blame one individual – the standover character, Anthony Henz – for all of the “trouble” associated with the group? Where’s the sense of personal responsibility? Would this film have bee more insightful had it been made when they were older, armed (hopefully) with a greater sense of self-awareness.
But like a Michael Moore film, or even the recent Al Gore movie, it’s important to remember this is not a documentary. Unlike those two film-makers, however, there’s an obvious self-interest in the reasons for this films existence.
As a film, it’s also far too long and gets boring in parts.