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Sunday, July 22, 2018


(James Phillips)

Not only a beautifully judged tribute to a talented musician, it’s also a welcome socio-cultural evocation of an era. (Review by Patrick Compton)

Durban director Michael Cross’s latest documentary is not only a beautifully judged tribute to a talented musician, it’s also a welcome socio-cultural evocation of an era (the 1980s and 90s) from a particular perspective that it has become politically fashionable to ignore, if not deride.

The fascinating subject of the movie, James Phillips (aka Bernoldus Niemand), evokes a time in South Africa’s history when white youth were struggling, in their own way, to respond to the chains of apartheid. Phillips duly thrust himself over the parapet with provocative élan and, through his music, helped to begin the liberation process for Afrikaner youth in particular.

It was, of course, a tragedy when he died at 36. Although he achieved a great deal, the body of his work was relatively small. At the time of his death, as this film eloquently shows, he was beginning to suggest that he had it within him to move from social protest music to explore new frontiers.

In one sense, not necessarily musical, Phillips was a South African version of England’s Nick Drake: hugely talented, complex, vulnerable and profoundly under-appreciated. This makes Cross’s achievement in reclaiming him for contemporary audiences all the greater.

The movie, which is brilliantly edited and thoroughly researched (some of the footage and stills from the period will amaze audiences), traces the life and times of Phillips with penetrating wit and searching empathy. Phillips became a cult figure through his changing personas with Corporal Punishment, Illegal Gathering and the Cherry Faced Lurchers. Although he was a marginal figure in the musical landscape, Cross’s film shows how vital an influence he was on others yet to come, specifically the electric charge that he gave to the Voëlvry movement.

As a companion piece to his Jiving and Dying: The Radio Rats Story, The Fun’s Not Over represents a vividly rendered slice of cultural, social and political history that would be in danger of being buried without Cross’s welcome intervention. It is, as music critic Richard Haslop opined in the Q&A after the film, “precisely the (truth-telling) movie that Searching For Sugar Man failed to be”.

The Fun’s Not Over forms part of the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) and will be screened again at Musgrave 3 on Wednesday, July 25, at 18h00. - Patrick Compton