Jonathan Alley: Love In Bright Landscapes

A Bright Love: Love In Bright Landscapes

February 2, 2009 marked ten years since the death of David McComb, one of Australia’s most prolific lyricists (most notably with The Triffids), whose life and influence have had a renewed interest in recent years. With reformations, tribute shows, books, a concert documentary and reissues in the works, one film is retelling the story of his life.

‘Love In Bright Landscapes’ tells the story of David – from his birth in Perth to death in Melbourne and everything in between. Currently in production, the film is being made by Melbourne’s Tornado Alley films, with director Jonathan Alley at the helm.

It was a film Jonathan came to make by chance. While sitting in a pub one night, he read an article about David in a magazine. He explains:

“[I] was expecting it to be a sort of by-the-by article about why they were an important band and why David was an important songwriter. But in it I found so much more than I expected. I found a story. Without a story there’s no point in making a documentary. David’s life had a beginning, middle and sadly it had an end. There’s much more to the story than those three basic elements. There’s a lot of ambiguity in his songs… I think it’s very hard to sort of place what inspired him to write in such light and shade and with that ambiguity and whether it was actually based on things that were in his life or not.”

He continues: “He is an individual who is at once fascinating because his material is so kind mysterious but, what also appealed to me was in reading the article there is so much about him that I didn’t know that I wanted to know… Primarily the reason for making the film is that there’s so much visual material in the songs. I think the songs can give any film maker a unique opportunity for visual expression. Whether that be very literal forms of visual expression in terms of using devices like the landscape or much more metaphorical sort abstract notions that come from sort of half imagined dreams and fragments of thoughts and so fourth that he uses.”

With his interest piqued, Jonathan decided that a film would be the best way to tell his story.

“The central thesis of the film is that McComb is those very rare artists with whom you can have a continually evolving relationship with the work. I think that’s a very, very rare thing with music and art in generally…McComb is in a very rare collection of people who are able to do that still. I mean he’s been dead for ten years, some of the songs are nearly 30 years old and they are still playing little tricks on me…It’s a very, very rare thing.”

He continues: “They are constantly tricky evolving beings those songs and of course, his major contribution was that he made while he was here. Image wise, melody wise, theme wise they’re incredibly captivating ever provocative pieces of work. Where does that come from? How was he able to just summon up this ability to write about anything, and so immediately kind of frame the song? Like if you put on a piece of his music, you immediately know the setting, like you know if there are characters or where those characters are, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and the music that he’s put to these images he creates is perfect, perfectly evokes the setting in whatever kind of area.”

The film features footage of David and interviews with friends, family and band members. While The Triffids played a large part in David’s life as a musician, Jonathan stress they are just one element.

“Obviously The Triffids take up an enormous and very important element in that, that’s of course undeniable. But, they’re a chapter, a very big and important chapter, but, a chapter nonetheless. There’s a lot of interesting stuff before The Triffids and a hell of a lot of interesting stuff after The Triffids and things that are happening in his life while The Triffids were in existence but, indeed nothing to do with The Triffids themselves,” he explains.

The film started production early in 2008, with a release planned for 2010. Jonathan explains they have come along way in the last 12 months but, still have a fair way to go.

“We’ve had to be quite entrepreneurial as independent film makers have to be. It’s a mixture of oily rags, your own initiative, good luck and talking to the funding bodies if you don’t pretty established features behind you which we don’t. So what we’re essentially looking to do with the film is to complete a 90 minute which will play at festivals. It’ll also be released internationally and nationally on DVD and sold to free-to-air and pay-tv in Australia and internationally as well.”

Jonathan’s passion for this project runs deep. As he explains, it has been quite a rollercoaster of an experience.

“It’s a lot of late nights. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of really inspirational conversations, it’s a lot of swings and roundabouts ands ducking and weaving. It’s constantly refining the work that you do, it’s a constant learning process and it’s also really about asking yourself a pretty big question which is ‘How committed and how passionate are you?’ at the end of the day to actually getting this done. I feel that we’re so far along now; we’re so deeply into it that we’re here for the long haul. We will make this film. It’s not something that’s going to be written off as a good idea that didn’t quite go anywhere anytime soon.”

He continues: “There’s a lot of key stakeholders on board, both in the world of the film industry here in Australia but [also], key people in David’s life that are a very important part of the story. We’ve had incredible co-operation really from David’s immediate family, his friends and of course the people from The Triffids and people who knew him when he was very young. We owe a great deal of thanks to them and I’m not going to be the one letting them down. I’m going to finish this, whatever it takes.

A fundraiser held last year helped fund a recent trip to Perth. During that time they travelled to Jerdacuttup to visit the McComb family property on which The Triffids 1986 album In The Pines was recorded. They also spoke with people at 78 Records, Dada Records, Zenith Music and had the honour of speaking with family and close friends of David.

“We talked to many of David’s original friends from his youth, before he even started making music, who are all still around. We met his parents for the first time. We’d had some contact with them previously but we’d never met them before and that was an honour. I think they’re still very proud of the music David made and after all these years – its ten years on since he’s gone – and I think now they are realising that after a pretty tragic time they still have time left to appreciate some of the great art he made. You get through losing someone, you never get over that but, at the same time I think with the passing of years, they are appreciating their music. I think that’s great. We met John McComb, his brother who flew down from Indonesia where he works, for the Perth shows with The Triffids. We interviewed him and he had some great perspectives about David’s life and read for us. He read some diary readings or some letters, similar to how he does in The Secret in the Shape of a Song.”

He continues: “I don’t want to give too much away but, there are some really great things we captured in Peth that will end up in the final version of the film. I think for me, WA and Perth are sort of an extra character in David’s story, [influencing] so much of the writing either implicitly or explicitly. If it’s not about specific things, it’s about mood. I think you need to go to Perth to understand that but, I think we definitely did.”

Love In Bright Landscapes Official Website…

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Copyright (C) 2009 Christina Ballico.

 

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