REVIEW

Slim & I celebrates country music star Slim Dusty and his wife Joy McKean

Slim & I (PG, 106 minutes)

3 stars

Like many - if not most - Australian journalists, I interviewed Slim Dusty once. A colleague, when she heard I was talking to the veteran Australian country music star, beseeched me to ask him for an autographed photo for her father.

Keith Urban in Slim & I. Picture: Supplied

Keith Urban in Slim & I. Picture: Supplied

Dusty - born David Kirkpatrick - was was laid-back and affable, responding readily and well to my questions, most of which I'm sure he'd heard many times before. When I passed on my colleague's request, he didn't skip a beat, simply asking for the details. The signed photo arrived a few days later.

I tell this story because it goes some way to illustrating why the country music singer-songwriter became so enduringly popular. He was affable, publicity savvy, accommodating and had a ring of authenticity about him that people all over Australia responded to, whether they were avid fans or, like me, occasional, casual listeners who didn't recognise much beyond Duncan, Pub With No Beer, Lights on the Hill and When the Rain Tumbles Down in July.

Dusty, who died in 2003 at the age of 76 was the subject of an earlier film, The Slim Dusty Movie (1984), a combination of documentary and docudrama.

The new film, Slim & I, directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog), is a documentary that draws on excerpts from that film as well as other archival footage, recordings, and home movies from the Kirkpatrick family as well as interviews with now-adult children Anne and David, among others.

The title, Slim & I, is significant: the "I" refers to his wife, Joy McKean, who wrote many of his songs, organised his tours and business affairs, and was an essential part of his life.

McKean was, and is, far from unknown - a successful performer in her own right and acknowledged as a crucial part of Dusty's success. There is, however, a sense this film is attempting to ensure she is given her due and remembered alongside her husband, as well as keeping his memory alive. It's surprising the film didn't appear until now.

Anne Kirkpatrick being interviewed in Slim & I. Picture: Supplied

Anne Kirkpatrick being interviewed in Slim & I. Picture: Supplied

Slim & I functions both as a biography of the pair and an account of their important place in and influence on Australian country music. As such, it is probably best suited to their fans and aficionadosof the genre, although it certainly aims for broad appeal quite effectively.

Music commentators such as Glenn A. Baker and fellow country musicians including Keith Urban, Kasey Chambers and Chad Morgan are interviewed. They speak glowingly of Dusty and his wife's talents, energy and commitment as well as their performing and songwriting influence.

There are plenty of song excerpts including some played by the interviewees as homage and to illustrate points they are making. All this verges on hagiography occasionally but there's genuinely interesting material, especially about Australia's musical and cultural history. Touring live shows were a major source of entertainment in the pre-television era and that is well captured here.

Slim Dusty's willingness to work hard, to travel to where his audiences were - including to remote Aboriginal communities - and his ability to evolve with the times and changing tastes were, as we are shown, a big part of his survival in a fickle business.

There's a certain feeling that the Kirkpatrick family exerted a lot of control. The occasional dark moments, like McKean's childhood battle with polio and son David being sent to boarding school when very young - are passed over fairly quickly.

It's not difficult to get the feeling McKean's determination to walk again translated into fierce ambition to succeed in the music business,

McKean refers vaguely to her husband's "shenanigans" when they were courting and his bouts of bad temper.

She also talks of his interest in a couple of young, blonde women who were on part of one tour, a situation she dealt with quickly and decisively.

From this and a few other hints it's hard to avoid the feeling the relationships of Dusty, McKean and their children were complicated, despite the strong family front displayed.

Still, there was no need for or expectation of a hatchet job and this is more than the puff piece it could have been.

This story Celebrating a great country duo first appeared on The Canberra Times.