Stories of Me
This documentary portrait manages to be the sort of love letter that Paul Kelly himself would write – meaning there’s a lot more in it than first glimpse might suggest. And though there’s plenty to unpack it’s instantly accessible, interesting, exciting even. Kelly isn’t all that much of an enigma but by the same token he’s never been a headline-grabber or a photo-op kind of guy.
His interest is in the work. And the word. And that’s the main aim of this documentary feature – to look at Kelly the writer – Kelly the performer is simply something that happens; a way of bringing the words from the page to the stage.
Paul Kelly, then, is a great Australian hunter/gatherer, taking from his own life to make stories – that’s the message we get from this film. But it’s an important message, lovingly explored.
And the darker corners are looking into, this is no hagiography. Kelly’s near 20-year use of heroin wasn’t so much well-hidden as it was well-managed. And he was one of the lucky ones – he got out.
Elsewhere, he appears as the very right kind of stubborn; his call when to make and break the bands, his call when to collaborate, his call when to record and tour – but he’s always doing the work. That’s what shines through; the work is the life.
Ex-wives, ex-band members, old friends and family – they’re all on board, alongside other songwriters, ex-collaborators and the current musical friends…and it’s not so much that a bad word isn’t spoken but it all feels so honest, heartfelt, so well examined.
The portrait of Paul Kelly is that of a writer, a fiction writer, short-story teller, poet – the medium just happens to be song. And through rehearsal and performance footage, through stories and evocation we’re reminded of the dozens of great songs, Adelaide, To Her Door, From St Kilda To Kings Cross, How To Make Gravy, Leaps And Bounds, You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed, Treaty, From Big Things Little Things Grow…each one a new kind of perfect.
Alongside the Shihad movie and Searching For Sugar Man this is the best music doco I’ve seen this year. This one feels the most rewarding because it’s not about the big back-story of the battler or of a subtle manipulation of the story of a musical footnote; it’s about an honest man and an honest man’s work. And it’s a reminder that one of the great songwriters – a songwriter’s songwriter – is a humble, honest, hardworking man; so uninterested in being any kind of star. So thoroughly interested in turning up and doing the work.
As he says toward the end of the film – and it’s a feeling that permeates from the opening credits – he’s just after one song. One more song…that’s always (been) the goal.