GIVEAWAY: These Heathen Dreams, journal of a cultural Bolshevik, Christopher Barnett, DVD

In Adelaide and Melbourne in the 1970s and 80s, the hard talking, hard living poet Christopher Barnett was a force to be reckoned with — socially, artistically, politically. A charismatic public performer, this self-styled “cultural Bolshevik” — after his hero, Russian poet, playwright and propagandist Vladimir Mayakovsky — was a key collaborator with Nicholas Tsoutas and Peggy Wallach as a writer for the groundbreaking All Out Ensemble. Barnett left Adelaide for Melbourne and then in the mid-80s relocated to Nantes in France where he co-founded a highly regarded experimental company, Le Dernier Spectateur, working to enable performances by the disenfranchised.

Adelaide-based filmmaker Anne Tsoulis’ Heathen Dreams is an admirable introduction to Barnett, a significant if underrated figure in Australian cultural history. Tsoulis writes, “To understand what shaped the artist, we explore his formative years, raised in poverty in a dysfunctional Adelaide family to becoming the teenage poet and enfant terrible. We discover that, at an early age, his Communist ideals helped him to survive his own challenging circumstances.”

The 53-minute documentary includes footage of readings, reunions, a rare homecoming to suburban Adelaide after a 20-year absence and an exacting visit by road in a European winter to visit an unwell Thomas Harlan, radical documentary filmmaker and translator of Barnett’s The Blue Boat (1994).

You can read more about Barnett in Anne Marsh’s appreciation, “The greatest Australian poet you’ve never heard of,” published in The Conversation on the occasion of the launch of a book of his poetry, titled when they came/ for you: elegies/ of resistance, published by Wakefield Press in 2014 but not currently in print. A response to the book by Francesca Jurate Sasnaitis in The Sydney Review of Books will give you some indication of the performative pulse of Barnett’s poetry. KG


3 copies courtesy of Ronin Films.

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28 November 2017