Ahead of her first feature film premiering at the Adelaide Film Festival this week, Madeleine Parry speaks with CityMag about 'The Angels: Kickin’ Down the Door' and making a screen career in South Australia.
Director Madeleine Parry on Adelaide as a story-making city
Madeleine Parry is framed by large green creepers in the background of her Zoom screen on the day we speak. She has a thin sheen of sweat on her face – a product of the humidity in Bali, where she’s taking a holiday.
The time off is well-earned; a moment to wind down after two years spent completing a mammoth rockumentary project.
“I’ve done a lot of TV – half hours, one hour – but this was huge,” Madeleine says.
The Angels: Kickin’ Down The Door
Premiering at the 2022 Adelaide Film Festival
19 October 2022 + 29 October 2022
Odeon Star Semaphore, SA 5019
More info here
Her latest project, The Angels: Kickin’ Down the Door, is a 100-minute feature about the Taperoo rock five-piece’s path from pub gigs to international cult stardom. At their peak, The Angels – who inspired the likes of Pearl Jam and Guns N’ Roses – inadvertently sparked a riot at the Sydney Opera House during a New Year’s Eve live show attended by 20,000 punters.
The film premieres at the Adelaide Film Festival’s opening night this week, and also features the filmmaking talents of cinematographer Liam Somerville, who added a splash of glitchy, punk animation, and editor Emma McGavisk.
Madeleine credits Liam with “giving the film its aesthetic”, and says Emma, who parsed “every frame of archival footage” looked like she’d seen a ghost by the end of the film. “Her eyes were double the size from hours and hours of home footage,” Madeleine says.
Much like The Angels – a household name for songs such as ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ and ‘Take A Long Line’ – Madeleine has recently begun to build her own global reputation.
In 2016, she released a Louis Theroux-esque documentary series on the ABC, Maddie Parry: Tough Jobs, and she was the director of Hannah Gadsby’s Emmy-award-winning 2018 stand-up special, Nanette, which was released via Netflix.
Madeleine received a phone call two years ago from Peter Hanlon, a former SA Film Corp chair. Peter had a pitch: a documentary on an iconic Adelaide band. Peter revealed he had long been close friends with The Angels’ rhythm guitarist, John Brewster.
He sent Madeleine a one-page treatment of what the documentary could be with her at the helm, flush with his own insights into the band’s inner workings.
“And what that hinted at was a very complicated dynamic between the young men in the band in those early ages, and very distinct personalities,” Madeleine says.
“Discovering they were brothers who had a complicated relationship, and there was betrayal and forgiveness, and these kinds of very universal themes, [that’s what] I’m very interested in.”
Peter tells CityMag he headhunted Madeleine for her storytelling expertise. He also wanted a director with the imaginative chops to create something that could be more than a “typical rock documentary”.
“They’re always the same, to be perfectly honest,” Peter explains.
“I wanted someone who could actually delve into the story of the band and the characters in the band and the trials and tribulations and actually tell a dramatic story.”
Madeleine says she wasn’t a fan of The Angels prior to the pitch, but she was intrigued by the mystique of leader singer Doc Neeson. To the public he was a revered and well-loved musician, Madeleine says, but as she “dug a little deeper” and spoke to more intimate sources, it was difficult to get a picture of who he truly was.
To start the project, the trio collected archival material of The Angels from 1978 onwards. This included interviews and hours and hours of live gigs, but there were gaps. To fill the holes, Liam used photo puppets – digitally crafted animations made from organic photographs (think Angela Anaconda) – to “create scenes of what happened,” Madeleine says.
Liam adds there wasn’t a video camera around in those early days, plus there was the odd elusive character, “that managed to consistently dodge the camera their whole life,” he says.
“I was told early on that we don’t want to make an ordinary rock documentary and that it was my job to make it visually unique. Essentially, to make it weird.”
This excited Liam, who says it allowed him to work with local artists from a wide range of artistic crafts, such as AI animation, motion capture, 2.5D animation, 3D, and watercolour “rotoscope” — animated sequences created by tracing over live-action footage.
Liam’s more experimental tendencies, which fans of Capital Waste will be familiar with, have also come through in the film. There’s some “trademark VHS glitch nonsense,” he says.
The result is a close approximation of an early live Angels show, as the filmmaking team expects such an experience might’ve felt.
For Madeleine, making the film was a valuable experience in drawing insightful material out of her interview subjects.
“I really value that the people we interviewed were vulnerable and open with us when asked about dreams and disappointments,” she says. “And the audience gets the opportunity to have an inside look at The Angels.”
Now the film is out, Madeleine has four future projects in the works, all happening under her recently established production company, Mess Productions. She founded the company with Peter during the process of making The Angels: Kickin’ Down the Door.
Peter says he brings the business nous, while Madeleine brings 15-plus years of filmmaking expertise.
“It is a bit of an odd couple – as I said, she’s younger, I’m older; she’s got the film background, I’ve got the business background,” he says. “But we seem to gel and work with each other really well.
“Ultimately though, Mess is all about Maddie.”
Madeleine plans to move away from documentaries and into scripted territory, but will still aim to create international-grade cinema rooted in truth.
“The main thing for me is to be based back in Adelaide, so I can really invest in the writing and the development,” Madeleine says.
“It’s sometimes where I think there are conversations about Australia short-changing itself – because we don’t spend as much time developing and writing and getting our scripts undeniably strong before moving forward. That’s my plan for the next short term.”
Before we jump off Zoom, we ask Madeleine for a recommendation – her favourite Angels song.
“I actually really like ‘Fashion and Fame‘,” she laughs.
“Whenever that came on in the edit, the editor, Emma McGavisk, and I would certainly dance.”