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Channel 4 likes to give us a difficult opera on Christmas Day afternoon. You can see how much I was looking forward to it by the fact that I did not get around to viewing it until mid-February. Other reviews emphasised two things: one, that the film is visually stunning and, two, that the music is atonal. I think I disagree with both of these judgements. Julien Temple is best known as the director of pop videos and, essentially, in The Eternity Man, you get an hour-long pop video. An old man wanders round Sydney intercut with stock footage of, for example, a giant squid. As for Jonathan Mills' music, it appears to be straightforwardly diatonic to me. Maybe, when people say it is atonal they just mean that it is not very tuneful.
Christa Hughes, who plays Myrtle, helpfully introduces the film and explains that it is based on the story of Arthur Stace a shell-shocked WWI veteran and alcoholic who, sometime in the 1930s, underwent a damascene conversion and spent the next 40 years wandering around Sydney chalking the word Eternity on the pavements. She says he died in 1967 so I was confused to see him still doing his chalking in an obviously 21st century Sydney. This would be quite good going for a WWI veteran. She also says that what is unique is that all the singing was recorded live on the streets of Sydney. I do not know what she means by this because, clearly, much of the singing is done in a studio against a back-projection and sometimes it is done as voice-over with the singer not opening his mouth.
In fact, for a work that is described as an opera, there is not a lot of singing. There is spoken dialogue and there are some orchestral interludes to accompany Stace's ramblings. Stace is sung by Grant Doyle in what I can only describe as a croaking monotone. The only other important singing role is Christa Hughes' Myrtle. Hughes has the voice of a foghorn but I think that is the requirement of the role as Trace's brothel-keeping sister.
The film's narrative is largely incoherent so it was useful to have Christa Hughes' introduction. Basically we see alcoholic Trace helping out in his sister's brothel. Then we see his religious conversion then the rest of the film is his wandering around Sydney, plus the giant squid of course. My favourite bit was the conversion in the Baptist soup kitchen with the chorus of alkies singing "give us the grub".
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