Review: Gurrumul20 April 2018
Content warning: this review speaks of Aboriginal people who have passed away
I remember hearing Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu live for the first time like it was yesterday, despite it being around ten years ago. He was busking at a market with a few people stopped in front of him, mesmerised. Later, in 2014, I was extremely lucky to hear him again amongst hundreds of other admirers. He’d only sung one verse of a song before my whole family—my mum, dad, grandma, brother and I—started crying in our deck chairs on a grassy hill in the Darwin Amphitheatre. From arguably the most significant voice to come out of Australia thus far, that unique and undeniably powerful performance will be a vivid image in my mind forever. One that, similarly, I highly doubt anyone who has ever seen him perform live will ever forget.
My brother and I saw Gurrumul at Cinema Nova on Monday night. We went into the film quite sceptical. As with most documentaries that hone in on the careers of those whom have passed away, something didn’t feel right about sitting down to watch with our chips and lemonade in hand. This was made especially apparent on reflection that his death in the Royal Darwin Hospital came only a few days after giving his approval on the final version of the film last year. But all of this tension washed away within the first five minutes, the opening sequence already portraying Gurrumul as the poised, witty person we’d seen on the street and on stage alike, years before.
While the film unavoidably depicted Gurrumul’s experience being born blind, and the struggles that came along with this, the film was ultimately a celebration of his music. His iconic sound—a mesmerising mix of Yolngu language and western folk and classical melodies—floated from start to finish of the story of his incredible journey through the national and then international music scene. The film also paints a lovely picture of Gurrumul’s relationship with his manager and best friend Mark Grose. Grose and Gurrumul’s aunt, Susan Dhangal Gurruwiwi, act as the spokespeople of the movie. Their narration is interwoven with footage of Gurrumul’s captivating life both on and off tour to ensure all of these images ring true to his character and relationships. This film is a must see, not only because it is so visually and aurally beautiful, but because it delves into a world of culture that is important for all Australians to witness and appreciate.