IFI Stranger Than Fiction 2012: Very Extremely Dangerous

Those who took refuge from the burning sun on a sweltering Saturday afternoon and attended the IFI Stranger Than Fiction 2012 documentary festival were treated to Reluctant Revolutionary. Director Sean McAllister’s film focuses on Yemen and Kais, a 35 year-old local tour guide, who travels from being a cynic to a participant in the revolution that eventually leads to the toppling of Ali Abdullah Saleh, dictator for 33 years.

This was followed by the early evening screening of Very Extremely Dangerous –  a provoking and disturbing portrait of a once-failed rock star now into his 70s hamming himself up as a hell raiser. Director Paul Duane recently brought us a fascinating study of another troubled figure in Barbaric Genius. This time his documentary’s subject is Jerry McGill, who, after recording a track for Sun Records in 1959, pursued a life of crime and drug abuse ending up in prison for shooting a crack dealer. The man was obviously no Osmond.


Duane’s film tracks him down after he has been diagnosed with lung cancer and follows his attempt to find redemption in music as McGill goes back into the studio to record and gets back up on stage to perform. If this were a conventional documentary all that would have worked out just fine and dandy and we could of all gone home smiling after the film ended happily ever after. But it’s not and it doesn’t.

While there’s no denying McGill’s charisma his ongoing selfish tantrums and aggressive behaviour (particularly toward his partner) drive a wedge between him and both the director and audience. All the more surprising then that Very Extremely Dangerous makes for an utterly riveting 85 minutes despite its subject’s self-serving indulgences.
Duane has skillfully crafted a documentary that is an enthralling portrait of a difficult and often infuriating subject who is a ragbag of hoggish traits and bellicose attitude, and, as Duane told the audience in an enlightening post-screening Q&A, is a man who is difficult to be around, a man who creates drama and tension wherever he is. Duane admitted that being around him ‘as a filmmaker it’s great; as a human being it’s difficult.’
An inciting film that will challenge audiences, Very Extremely Dangerous is a lightning bolt of a documentary.
Saturday came to an end with the screening of Anton CorbijnInside Out, an intimate portrait of the influential Dutch artist who has taken iconic photographs of iconic figures throughout his career from David Bowie through Nelson Mandela to Kylie from Neighbours. 

Director Klaartje Quirijns gets us as close as she can to to Corbijn. She was given tremendous access to him filming him at work and at home and was thus able to to create this personal exploration of his life. The film was introduced by Steven Averill, the Irish designer who first worked with Corbijn on the cover of U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire recalling how they spent 3 days travelling around Ireland looking at ‘lots of castles’. Referring to Corbijn as a ‘fantastically creative person’, the pair have worked together since on most of U2’s albums.

The documentary features the likes of U2, Depeche Mode, Arcade Fire, Metallica and Lou Reed all singing the praises of  Corbijn, who would appear to have the gift of making his subjects aspire to be the image he captures of them. Most interesting though are the moments throughout the film when Corbijn hints at what makes him tick. A deeply private man, there are one or two revealing scenes – one in a church and one when he is with his mother – that provide a brief glimpse of who the man behind the camera really is  – but nothing more than a brief glimpse. To misquote u2’s ‘Stay’, we get So Close! Faraway.
Steven Galvin

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