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bigpond adelaide film festival


between the notes

jeremy eccles: bob connolly, sophie raymond, mrs carey’s concert


Mrs Carey’s Concert, Bob Connolly, Sophie Raymond Mrs Carey’s Concert, Bob Connolly, Sophie Raymond
BOB CONNOLLY’S DOCUMENTARIES HAVE AN EXTRAORDINARY QUALITY, LIKE ROUNDED WORKS OF FICTION. THE WONDERFUL PNG TRILOGY—FINDING THE CHARACTER THAT LINKED FIRST WHITE CONTACT WITH A TRIBAL WAR IN THE PRESENT; THE LAST MINUTE MACHINATIONS THAT DECIDED THE LEICHHARDT MAYORALTY IN RATS IN THE RANKS; THE BRITTLE EMOTIONS BEHIND ACADEMIC FACADES IN FACING THE MUSIC.

In Mrs Carey’s Concert—Connolly’s first documentary in a decade and made without the balancing force of his late wife and film-making partner, Robin Anderson—we’re once again suffused with musical emotions. But we also have good and bad leads, two last minute crises and a cathartic triumph. What’s amazing is that the world in which Connolly and new film-partner Sophie Raymond are operating is a private girls’ school as it spends 18 months working up to a massive concert in the Sydney Opera House—an ethos apparently quite beyond the predictability or manipulations of drama.

And yet Chinese immigrant Emily Sun makes both character and musical leaps over that period to progress from a kid vaguely at risk to a model of self-knowledge, as well as knocking off a damn fine performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto’s first movement at 12 weeks’ notice. We realise she couldn’t have done it without Head of Music Karen Carey’s subtle mind games. But would Emily have discovered that without this film?

Even more ethically tight-roped is Iris Shi—another Chinese-Australian girl at the ethnically diverse Methodist Ladies College—who must have adored having her leather-jacketed, gum-chewing badness given star billing. Her cool boasts of exploiting her teachers’ weaknesses are linked on screen to Mrs Carey’s one moment of self-doubt in a saga that’s intended to confirm the life-changing power of music. One has to wonder, though, whether Iris’s life was changed one iota by her minor musical role singing in the Slave’s Chorus from Aida?

To achieve such delineation, time was of the essence. Eighteen months filming allowed Connolly’s camera to become part of the MLC furniture, even in the cramped staff quarters where conferences and the cajoling of girls occur. But another 18 months was needed to turn 263 hours of random events into this coherent story: editing credits to Sophie Raymond and Ray Thomas. What story streams or high dramas were left out?

Certainly the wider school story was brushed aside—you’d think they did music all day and every day; not just 45 minutes a week. But multiple cameras at the concert meant we not only got a ‘Last Night of The Proms’ detail of the musicians we’d got to know enjoying their finest hour; we also saw the backstage dramas of Mrs Carey nearly losing a star wind player and actually losing her conducting score, and some grainy, Breughellian images of tired and tense teachers undergoing the finely balanced intensities of the concert.

There’s a naughty schoolboy just under Bob Connolly’s hide. One of film’s joys is the alert camera work that picks up the cheeky reactions of the girls, unseen by their teachers, and an episode with a sabotaged computer took me right back to the ‘invisible’ snowball left in the middle of my boys’ school Music Room—its existence denied by the whole class. Gender equality at last!

And how marvellous that everyone involved—from precious parents to mocked teachers—gave their assent to appear unvarnished in the film.

But, since the project emerged from Connolly’s recording of a previous Mrs Carey’s concert when another violinist was boosted up to concerto level, it certainly distinguished this version that Emily Sun’s back-story has enough human and musical twists to both underscore the constant battle between the technicalities of just playing the notes and finding emotion in both the score and herself, which carries this film into the realm of the ‘migrant overcoming the odds’ story.

Mrs Carey’s biennial triumph of the will is made bitter-sweet by her comment that her pupils will leave school and she’ll lose them: “we have to start all over again...”, a wistfulness underlined by the credits ending with the cacophony of recorders that began this musical progress. But that’s the teacher’s inevitable lot. And Mrs Carey won’t only have this film as succour in her retirement—she’ll also have the sound of Emily Sun’s career, which has already progressed to the Royal College of Music in London. Will she follow Iris Shi so keenly, though?


Mrs Carey’s Concert, directors Bob Connolly, Sophie Raymond, camera Bob Connnolly, editors Sophie Raymond, Ray Thomas, producers Helen Panckhurst, Bob Connolly, Music Films, 2011, 95mins; www.mrscareysconcert.com

Mrs Carey’s Concert premiered at the Bigpond Adelaide Film Festival and screens throughout Australia from April 28, except Brisbane from May 5

RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. 25

© Jeremy Eccles; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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