HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS?

Reviewed by GREG KING

Documentary

Director: Eddie Martin.

Another warts-and-all documentary about another deeply troubled, self-obsessed and self-destructive artist wrestling with his personal demons and the high cost of fame. This local film charts the rise and fall and the highs and lows of Anthony Lister, a celebrated contemporary Australian street artist who was Brisbane’s answer to the notorious Banksy.

Lister pioneered the street art movement in Brisbane, and he was engaged to paint traffic control boxes to make them less ugly. His art work challenged conservative elements of Australian society, especially in his home town of Brisbane, where his colourful work reignited a heated debate about the difference between legitimate art and graffiti. He married his high school sweetheart Anika before moving to New York in 2003 for a series of shows and installation projects. His work is still constantly being exhibited around the world. While in New York he worked with his mentor, New Zealand artist Max Gimblett. But Lister also enjoyed the brief trappings of his celebrity and fame, with a hard-partying lifestyle of drug and drink.

As a child Lister himself lacked a father figure and male role model because his own father was often absent, and it is obvious from this film that he is travelling down the same path, which has led to the breakdown of his marriage and an estrangement with his young son Kye. Although Lister has tried to effect a reconciliation it has been a rocky road for him. The final part of this film acts as a love letter to his family, but it is the least enjoyable segment and the most saccharine element of the documentary.

There is no traditional narration here; rather Lister himself provides the narration through some candid interviews in which he admits his mistakes. This is a brutally honest, candid and personal documentary filled with a sense of regret for past mistakes and a sense of melancholy. Have You Seen The Listers? unfolds in largely chronological order which makes it easy to follow his journey over a fifteen-year period. But this is not so much a film about the creative process as it is about his personal journey.

The film is compiled from a mix of archival footage, television news reel footage and extensive home video footage shot by Lister himself which gives it an edgy quality. Thankfully he shot an amazing amount of footage of his life, giving the filmmakers incredible access to his personal history. Editor Johanna Scott had thousands of hours of footage to draw from and she has deftly whittled the material down to what we see on the screen. Even though the film only runs for 89 minutes it still seems a little too long and some parts of his story seem repetitive. Probably a one-hour documentary would have done justice and offered a more incisive insight into Lister’s troubled life.

The director is Eddie Martin, whose previous films like Lionel and All This Mayhem have followed people pursuing their passion and also dealing with their demons. Martin seems drawn towards stories of outcasts. He develops an empathy with his subjects which makes his films accessible. It is obvious he has great respect for Lister and his art, but this is not a hagiography. Martin doesn’t shy away from exploring the darker side of Lister’s life and his often-eccentric behaviour either. But at the end I was still left with many unanswered questions about what drove his creations.

★★☆

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