Australasian Cinema > films > Dirt Music

Dirt Music

Dirt Music (Gregor Jordan, 2020) wr. Jack Thorne from novel by Tim Winton, prod. Finola Dwyer, Amanda Poser, Polly Staniford, & Angie Fielder, dp Sam Chiplin, music Craig Armstrong, costume Anna Borghesi; Kelly Macdonald, Garrett Hedlund, David Wenham, Aaron Pedersen, Dan Wyllie, Chris Haywood, George Mason, Ava Caryofyllis, Julia Stone, Jacob Clayton, Jessica Niven, Syd Brisbane; film shot in WA set in fictional seaside town of White Point; UK/Aust copro; shot mid-west WA, Kimberley, Dongara, Port Denison; WA Regional Film Fund; Toronto IFF Sept19; Aust general release 8Oct20

This film has a long prehistory. Tim Winton's novel was published in 2001 and Phil Noyce bought the rights in 2002, and I'm guessing someone has kept buying them every year since then. Russell Crowe and Heath Ledger were to be associated with this project at one time or another. It looks as though the film will finally appear in 2019, as it's shooting in 2018. See Don Groves' excellent 10 October 2018 article below.

Update. The premiere was at the Toronto IFF in September 2019. It was widely released in Australia today, 8 October 2020.

Georgie Jutland is restless. Living with her crayfisherman boyfriend, a local hero in their coastal village, and trying her best to be a stepmother to his young sons, she finds herself out of place. She catches outsider Lu Fox poaching from her partner’s territory and the two are powerfully drawn to one another. But Lu is haunted by a tragic accident from his past, which had irrevocable consequences. In order to take control he feels he must separate from everyone, even Georgie, journeying to the remotest island. This is a film about the odds of breaking with the past, a love story about people stifled by grief or regret, whose dreams are lost and whose hopes have dried up. It's a story about the possibility and power of love.

DIRT MUSIC is an epic romantic drama with a haunting love story at its heart, set against the powerful backdrop of Western Australia’s evocative landscape. Georgie (Macdonald), sometimes sailor, diver and nurse used to have guts. But somehow she has lost her way. Stranded in a remote fishing town on the West Australian coast, she’s living with a man she doesn’t love, Jim (Wenham), and his young sons whose dead mother she can never replace. But a reckless moment leads to a life-changing encounter with Lu (Hedlund), an enigmatic loner, one time musician and sometimes poacher, outcast from the community. The two are powerfully drawn to each other and embark on an inescapable, intense and sexually charged affair. Georgie will risk everything for this chance of love, but Lu is haunted by a tragic accident from his past. For him the prospect is too painful and he retreats into the wilderness to the remotest islands leaving little clue as to his whereabouts. With the unlikely help of Jim who is determined to right the wrongs of his own past, Georgie embarks on a journey to bring Lu back from his past and his grief, ultimately finding herself. Based on the acclaimed novel, DIRT MUSIC is a film about people whose hopes and dreams are lost, and the redemptive power of love.


Luke Buckmaster:
In Dirt Music – filmed across Western Australia in coastal locations such as the Dampier Peninsula and Esperance by cinematographer Sam Chaplin ... – grand things seem small. The film has a largely flavourless look, which in a sense matches the nondescript sensibility of Jordan’s direction and to a lesser extent Jack Thorne’s screenplay. The vibe is a Nicholas Sparks adaptation with an outback twist, though Jordan was obviously shooting for profundity and visual lyricism – the latter, like “visual poetry”, being a dangerous quality to aspire to. The Guardian.

Odie Henderson:
For those who like their romance movies filled with unnecessary mysteries, murdered dogs, poached lobsters and the ghosts of deceased little girls, Dirt Music will fit the bill. All others need not apply, not even if you’re into the kind of ... drama this movie shamelessly marinates in for an interminable 105 minutes. ...
... While I admit that contrivances and coincidences are often necessary in drama, the ones delivered by screenwriter Jack Thorne’s adaptation of the Tim Winton novel are preposterous. ...
... Bird haunts Lu’s memory, so she keeps popping up every time the movie needs to score unearned character development points for Lu. It’s distasteful at best, as we know nothing about her and she’s just a device. Normally, it’s the parents who get visitations from their dead children, but here it’s the uncle, which is simply not as compelling. I’d love to explain that point further, but it would require me revealing the spoiler circumstances of her death. ...
... Upstaging everyone is the gorgeous scenery of Western Australia. Cinematographer Sam Chiplin’s work is jaw-dropping even on the small laptop screen I viewed Dirt Music on, and the underwater shots by Rick Rifici are as equally graceful and majestic. It’s too bad the actors are stranded in front of nature’s majesty while being forced to go through these awful plot motions. Macdonald gives her all, and it’s rare that we get a film where someone other than an ingénue is given a much-needed romantic pursuit. But the clichés are so poorly handled that Georgie’s actions come off solely as that tired trope of a strong woman finding her strength while trying to fix a broken man who isn’t worth her time. Roger Ebert.

I’ve seen it at last, after having to wait nearly two decades for it to get made. It certainly has its faults, but it does at least have ‘dirt music’ in it, in the book's sense (tho there are also a couple of very ordinary songs that are tediously performed behind some transitional scenes). It’s very beautiful - the exteriors - the cinematography is excellent. ... The plot is a bit silly. The little girl, Bird, is given far too much importance, and keeps turning up just to make it into one kind of movie instead of another. And the ending is unbelievable. ... So, for that matter, is the principal relationship - it’s not established. The acting is ordinary, tho Wenham does make a bit of an effort for once. At least he narrows his eyes. Garrett Hedland suffers appropriately (as a revenant does, in the DiCaprio sense). I’m glad I’ve finally seen it, and I’m glad it’s over, and I’ll never see it again.
Tim Winton and Lucky Oceans produced a 'soundtrack' CD in 2001, which was sold at the time with copies of the book. The music they chose was supposed to represent this idea from the book: 'Anything you could play on a verandah. You know, without electricity. Dirt music.' The first track (for example) is by Keb Mo.

Don Groves:
Universal mounted a substantial marketing campaign for Jordan’s romantic drama based on the Tim Winton novel ...
Starring Kelly Macdonald, Garrett Hedlund and David Wenham, Dirt Music grossed $188,000 on 201 screens and $300,000 including previews, more than a year after its world premiere in Toronto.
Exhibitors were disappointed. “I would definitely have expected more from a high profile Aussie film based on a best seller,” Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace GM Alex Temesvari tells IF.
Majestic Cinemas’ CEO Kieren Dell says: “Dirt Music has been struggling; I think it has been hard to translate to the screen and get the interest that other Tim Winton adaptations had.”
However Village Cinemas national programming manager Geoff Chard observes: “It’s not a rush-out kind of film so hopefully audiences will discover it in time. IF.

Wikipedia article on the book

Don Groves, 'David Wenham and Julia Stone join Gregor Jordan’s Dirt Music', IF, 10 October 2018:
David Wenham, Aaron Pedersen, Chris Haywood and singer-songwriter Julia Stone have joined Garrett Hedlund and Kelly Macdonald in Dirt Music, Gregor Jordan’s adaptation of the Tim Winton novel.
Now shooting in Bardi Jawi country in the Kimberley, Western Australia, it’s described as a gritty, sexy drama overlaid with a haunting love story.
As IF reported, Macdonald is playing Georgie, a sometime sailor, diver and nurse who is stranded in a remote fishing town with Jim (Wenham), a man she doesn’t love, and his young sons, whose dead mother she can never replace.
A reckless moment leads Georgie to an intense, sexually charged affair with Lu Fox (Hedlund), an enigmatic loner, musician and poacher who is traumatised by a tragic accident from his past.
When Lu retreats into the wilderness, Georgie embarks on a journey to bring him back with the unlikely help of Jim, who is determined to right wrongs from his own past.
In her film debut Stone, one half of the sibling duo Angus & Julia Stone, plays Sal, with George Mason as Darkie, both members of the Fox family. Chris Haywood is Georgie’s father Warwick, with Dan Wyllie as Rusty and Aaron Pedersen as Beaver, who both live in the town.
The screenplay is by Englishman Jack Thorne, whose credits include Wonder and the miniseries His Dark Materials, National Treasure and The Last Panthers.
The producers are Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey of the UK’s Wildgaze Films and Aquarius Films’ Angie Fielder and Polly Staniford. Dwyer and Posey were Oscar-nominated for Brooklyn and An Education. Their credits include Ritesh Batra’s Our Souls at Night, a Netflix commission which starred Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, and Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest.
The heads of department include production designer Michael Carlin (Colette, The Duchess), DOP Sam Chiplin (The Cry, Safe Harbour), costume designer Anna Borghesi (Hotel Mumbai) and editor Pia Di Ciaula (A Very British Scandal, Belle). The casting directors are Lucy Bevan (An Education, Beauty and the Beast) and Kirsty McGregor (Lion).
Film4 developed the project with Wildgaze Films and is co-financing with Screen Australia, the West Australian Regional Film Fund, Screenwest and Ingenious Media. Cornerstone Film’s Alison Thompson and Mark Gooder are handling the international rights, starting at the American Film Market.
Focus Features acquired the international rights in Australia and New Zealand where Universal Pictures will distribute.
Fielder and Staniford said: “We are thrilled to be collaborating with Wildgaze Films in bringing Jack Thorne’s stunning adaptation of this much-loved Australian love story to the big screen. Winton is an Australian literary legend with a dedicated fan base and Dirt Music is a globally acclaimed book. With accomplished director Gregor Jordan at the helm, along with our brilliantly talented cast and creative team, we feel the alchemy is there for a fantastic movie.”
Daniel Battsek, director of Film4, added: “We’re so happy to see Dirt Music reach the start line. It’s been a wonderful process developing this unique film with Wildgaze, who together with Gregor and Aquarius have assembled a formidable cast and crew to tackle Jack Thorne’s pitch-perfect adaptation of this classic novel.”
Hedlund, whose credits include Mudbound, Pan, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, recently starred in Triple Frontier, a Netflix movie about five friends who re-unite to take down a South American drug lord, directed by J.C. Chandor.
Macdonald starred in Goodbye Christopher Robin, T2 Trainspotting, Boardwalk Empire, and in the upcoming BBC One/Netflix thriller Giri/Haji.

References and Links

Tucak, Layla 2002, 'Noyce to put Music on film', The Australian, 11 May: 3.

And see above.

Garry Gillard | New: 7 February, 2017 | Now: 28 October, 2021