Nick Cave Leads Noise-Rock Pioneers in “Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party”

The documentary opens Friday, Sept. 22, at the Hollywood Theatre.

Filmmaker Ian White made a lot of great decisions when constructing Mutiny in Heaven, his appropriately twitchy and uncompromising documentary about noise-rock pioneers The Birthday Party. The movie is blessedly free of modern fans and critics bloviating about the quintet’s influence and importance. And there’s little in the way of trying to psychoanalyze the motivation behind how the Australian group made their art. The only way to appreciate them is to dive headfirst into the muck with them.

Through copious amounts of archival footage, contemporary interviews with the group’s surviving members, and a soundtrack choked with The Birthday Party’s assaultive music, fans are put in the center of the maelstrom. Led by future elder statesman of rock Nick Cave and the scalding guitar work of Rowland S. Howard, the group burst out of the Australian punk scene like a blood blister, oozing their way to London where they became infamous for their violent live performances and herculean intake of narcotics. They held it together long enough to produce a handful of brilliant albums that fomented the future careers of groups like the Jesus Lizard and Plague Vendor.

Where White flinches is in his overuse of black-and-white animated sequences to bring key offstage moments like the firing of drummer Phill Calvert before the band relocated to Berlin in 1982 or Cave’s drug-induced stupor on a flight to visual life. It only serves to break the spell that the director casts through choices like letting live footage or the surreal video the group made for “Nick the Stripper” play out almost in full. The band, their music, and their seductive personalities already have us by the throat. Watching them flop around in cartoon form only serves to loosen their collective grip. Hollywood Theatre, Sept. 22-28.

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