Friday, August 2, 2013
'The Sapphires:' 'Good Morning Vietnam' Meets 'Rabbit-Proof Fence'
"The Sapphires," which is being released on DVD today, tells the tale of four Australian aborigines whose quest for stardom in 1968 literally takes them off the reservation. Irish wildman Chris O'Dowd of the Britcom "The IT Crowd" plays their wild Irishman companion.
One reason that "The Sapphires" catches and maintains the audience's attention is that it is true. A special feature on the DVD/Blu-ray set emphasizes this by including an interview with the real-life Sapphires.
Another element that sets "The Sapphires" apart is that it simultaneously tells two stories that independently provide the basis for entertaining movies.
The film starts with three aboriginal sisters named Gail, Julie, and Cynthia entering a talent contest in a local bar in the backwoods town near the reservation where they live under a restriction that the Australian government imposes on dark-skinned aborigines. An apparently racial-based incident during the contest results in the sisters teaming up with O'Dowd's Dave Lovelace, a musician who is barely maintaining his employment at the bar after washing out (pun intended) as a cruise ship entertainer.
The sisters soon convince Dave to participate in their effort to land an advertised gig entertaining American troops in Vietnam. That campaign for full employment (Google it) involves recruiting the girl's light-skinned cousin Kay, whose skin tone motivated the Australian government to literally snatch her from a hospital bed several years ago and relocate her as part of a program to integrate light-skinned aborigines into mainstream Australian society, to join the band.
A scene in which the sisters and Kay are reunited soon after the contest and a disturbing flashback in which a teen-aged Kay temporarily returns to the reservation illustrate the success of the social engineering effort.
These portions of "The Sapphires" that depict the segregation are very reminiscent of the exceptional 2002 film "Rabbit-Proof Fence" that tells a similar tale.
Shifting the action to Vietnam roughly 30 minutes into the film evokes thoughts of the 1987 Robin Williams film biopic in which everyone's favorite Orkan plays a DJ who takes a job broadcasting on Armed Forces Radio. Like Williams' character, O'Dowd and the girls soon learn the realities of life in a war zone. The heavy dose of '60s soul and r & b music and the numerous scenes that depict life during that wartime are also common elements of both films.
The filmmakers tell both tales that are not too ticklish to tell (Google it) well and teach us something in the process.
Anyone with questions or comments about "The Sapphires" or the even more awesome O'Dowd are welcome to email me.