The Film: The Sapphires – Australia
There has been a lot of talk in the last few years as films have been pulling more and more from preexisting sources including headlines and history, about creative license when it comes to films based on real events.
Most of the sources I’ve heard from Hollywood say the history cannot stand on its own, that entertainment cannot sustain accurate depictions of events.
I understand there is a difference between a fictionalization and documentary but forcing changes to the actual account to meet the same mandated story-beats which occur in every mainstream film essentially eliminates all variants that made the story unique and worth telling in the first place.
Laurel Robinson, Beverly Briggs, Naomi Mayers, and Lois Peeler were a all-female Australian aboriginal singing group. In the movie the women are represented by characters named Cynthia, Gail, Julie and Kay.
Co-writer Tony Briggs’ mother, Laurel Robinson and his aunt Lois Peeler, were two of the original Sapphires members to perform in Vietnam. But their story is not told with anything but a kernel of reality. Briggs said he “found it liberating as a writer to expand the number of characters” as it made the dynamics of the story richer — which sounds to me like he didn’t know how to write about the interior workings of female characters in the time period.
What he did co-write with Keith Thompson is a story about an Irish guy failing at life who becomes teaches an all-female Australian aboriginal singing group soul music and becomes their manager. The true story is that Robinson and Peeler were introduced to soul music in Vietnam when they sang backing vocals for a New Zealand Maori band they had previously performed with in Melbourne. Now that’s interesting!
The original play by Tony Briggs that the film is based on is set at the time of increasing calls for Aboriginal rights and before the credits roll it says each of the singers worked and made pathways for those rights. I don’t think the story needed to be a different genre to have dealt with the topic in a more satisfying way. Now, perhaps what the film was communicating is that the struggle for racial equality in America really did have an impact on Aboriginals in Australia — but it certainly felt more like the writer’s musings than a deep cultural connection.
And therein lies the problem. It’s not the unique story it should be. Although Tony Briggs is very much responsible for the content — the distinct cultural perspective just wasn’t there. It felt too much like That Thing You Do!
Somewhere in the process this story decided to speak to a Western audience. Struggles must be surmountable, love must overcome all impediments, and characters should express themselves with a knowledge beyond their moment in history so anything to be learned can be masticated for you. Director Wayne Blair doesn’t offer much in the way of subtly which is my subtly way of saying he doesn’t offer any. The film tells you exactly how to feel each moment and emotionally, the notes are singular. There isn’t much satisfaction to be had here in terms of telling the story of actual Sapphires.
Compare this film to another Australian story like The Dish. There are very mainstream moments in the film which is based on true events, uses fictional characters, and alters historical details for dramatic effect but it has something very unique to offer. The distinction between the films lies not only in a cultural presentation but in the style of filmmaking and promotion. The Sapphires has been presented as being a real story whereas The Dish has a cheeky way of acknowledging it is a fictitious perspective on actual events.
The most interesting part of The Sapphires is the love story — and it’s completely fictitious. I mean completely. The manager played by the lovable Chris O’Dowd never existed but his relationship with Gail, played wonderfully by Deborah Mailman, makes this film watchable and I’ll tell you why.
There are two reasons which interlock to the point where you cannot have one without the other. The first is O’Dowd and Mailman have chemistry. It’s clear from their first scene and the fierce cuteness of their relationship just keeps growing. But more importantly — it’s so wonderful to see a woman of a different body shape with a strong, rough, personality be the romantic lead. And for the guy to be attracted to her because of that rough strength. In this, the writers and director have managed to shove aside some average romance tropes and reflect reality.
To my opening paragraph: There are problems with presenting history as entertainment and most of the time the reason the deviation from reality becomes so liberating is that you’re telling your own story. We would all be better off if filmmakers decided that instead of modifying history to meet certain tropes of entertainment they had the freedom to create original and diverse narratives.
If you can lower your expectations and simply enjoy a small film that doesn’t require much to watch and rewards with a few really good moments, grab a snack and get watching.
The Food: Lamington Popcorn
A lamington is a dessert of Australian origin. It consists of squares of sponge cake coated first in a layer of traditionally chocolate icing, then in desiccated coconut.
It was named after Lord Lamington who served as Governor of Queensland and are often sold as fund raisers for youth groups. Apparently they’re also popular in Cleveland, Ohio.
From what I can tell they’re supposed to taste of cake and frosting with just the coconut flake on the outside so I resisted putting coconut powder in the chocolate. If you so desire you may be a rebel and add the extra layer of coconut.
Also, I chose not to create a sticky base and bake this recipe into a crunchy popcorn. I felt like the texture and warmth would be more similar to the taste of the moist cake and I wanted the clarity of the two main ingredients to shine instead of the additional candy taste of a coating.
I think it turned out wonderfully although it may require a spoon to eat.
- 1/4 cup corn kernels
- 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
Make the popcorn according to your favorite method. Remove the unpopped kernels and place the popcorn in a metal bowl.
On medium heat put the chocolate in the pan to melt. When it does, add the butter and stir with a heat-resistant rubber spatula. When the butter is incorporated add the vanilla and stir. Pour the chocolate over the popcorn and add the coconut, mix together and enjoy!