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I have never been a victim of religious conversion. But I still find the phenomenon intriguing. And this film is about conversion.
First, the historical facts.
Sydney-born Arthur Stace was an alcoholic, First World War vet, who wandered into an evangelist's soup kitchen on 6 August, 1930, and walked out as a Christian obsessed with the task of spreading the message of "eternity" to all who would listen. Or read.
Stace got himself a stack of chalk and started writing the word "Eternity" (in beautiful school room copperplate) on walls, sidewalks and windows around Sidney. The appearance of the godly graffiti baffled residents of Sidney for decades until the Stace's identity was discovered in the 1950s.
Now, the film. This is a short (just over an hour) opera describing Stace's life.
Now, normally, I love opera. Verdi, Wagner and me -- we are as thick as thieves. I even like Shoenberg, Berg and Adams. But the score of The Eternity Man left we yearning for something softer. Like the screech of bare nails over a blackboard. Be warned. The music is very atonal.
But the narrative is stunning. Staces wrestles with his alcoholism and his sexuality (drunk though he was, he helped his tipsy sister run a brothel, a job that gave him time to spy on the whores and their customers). Then he gets redemption. What to do? In a marvelous sequence, he hits on the graffiti idea. And his black and white nightmare is transformed into a natural, coloured landscape of trees, leaves and sky.
The film then follows Stace through the remaining 30 odd years of his life. Historical events such as the Second World War and the Vietnam war (in which Australia participated) are shown as grainy newsreels projected on building walls. As Stace, dressed in a sombre suit, walks by, armed with chalk.
If you like atonal music, this film is for you. But even if you don't, it is worth a viewing. You'll probably see it only at film festivals. (I caught it as a filler at the Vancouver International Film Festival.)
You might want to bring ear plugs.
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