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Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque, You Little Stripper Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque, You Little Stripper
photo Alex Davies
SEARCHING FOR A SUITABLE NAME FOR A NEW WAREHOUSE ARTS VENUE, CO-FOUNDER LUCAS ABELA DECIDED TO COMMEMORATE ONE OF THE SEEDIER MOMENTS OF SYDNEY’S HISTORY: THE ‘ALLEGED’ SHOOTING IN THE 1980S OF WARREN LANFRANCHI BY POLICE OFFICER ROGER ROGERSON IN A CHIPPENDALE BACKLANE.

The elaborate full titling—Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque—took a little practice to get rolling off the tongue, but in retrospect it seems impossible to imagine it being called anything else: the reference infused the place with the spirit of the underworld and the underground. It seems equally impossible to imagine the Sydney arts scene in the mid 2000s without it. But like all good things, especially illegal performance venues, it came to an end (after an impressive five years) and filmmaker Richard Baron was there to document its death throes.

In the final phase of Lanfranchi’s there was a significant increase in performance events, as opposed to the music (admittedly often performative) that had been more prominent in the earlier days of the venue. Grainy footage captures the raucous freedom of performance nights such as Cab Sav; the incredibly popular Wonka live cinema experience, developed in the venue; and the antics of people doing strange things with electricity that is DorkBot. The debauchery reaches its zenith with the Marrickville Jelly Wrestling Federation—people slip-sliding all over each other in various states of costume and nakedness, performing acts of frenzied exhibitionism. Having experienced quite a lot of ‘serious’ (ie clothed) experimental music at Lanfranchi’s, I was slightly saddened that this aspect of the venue was not so well represented in the film, but in fairness, it is a document of the last 60 days of the venue when perhaps the mayhem was reaching its peak.

However it’s not all good times. Baron’s camera is there when the residents are being harassed by the landlord’s heavy, who comes each morning to disconnect the electricity in an attempt to speed up the eviction when they are still legally entitled to be there. One of the residents is subsequently electrocuted (fortunately not fatally) trying to reconnect power and the camera shows us his blackened hand and singed eyebrows. The camera is also secretly left on during heated discussions with council representatives and police giving us audio snippets and groin shots. But rather than labouring the negatives of the experience, they are included as just part of the whole package.

Baron conducts informative interviews with residents such as Phoebe Torzillo, Pia van Gelder and Tega Brain who each offer glimpses into the different micro-cultures that clustered around the venue. Not surprisingly Lanfranchi’s co-founder Lucas Abela is highlighted, with some gruesome footage of the glass playing/smashing performance that he developed in the space after finding an old window pane lying in the corner—an act he has subsequently toured worldwide. Alex Davies, another co-founder and resident to the bitter end, is given less personal screen time, but offers much to the film through his video and photographic documentation, succinctly capturing the essence of many of the events.

Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque, Lanfranchi's residents Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque, Lanfranchi's residents
photo Simone Schelker
Initially I was concerned that the documentary might suffer from amnesia about venues and activities which preceded, or ran concurrently with Lanfranchi’s. (In an opening interview Abela insists that there were galleries but no venues before Lanfranchi’s—perhaps technically true, but many of the galleries had strong histories as performance venues as well.) However as the documentary unfolds, Baron pieces together anecdotal histories digging up the Evil Brotherhood of Mutants (a posse of Clan Analogue members) who occupied the same space in the 90s. He also works in references to some of the many other artist-run spaces around town past and present: Imperial Slacks, Space 3, Hibernian House, China Heights to name a few. (The accompanying website also provides a comprehensive list of artist-run spaces.)

The film also takes steps towards analysing the complicated interplay of the underground and mainstream art scenes. A topic in several of the interviews is whether to work within or without the system, or whether you can balance a bit of both. That Lanfranchi’s’ demise roughly coincided with the opening of CarriageWorks is an irony also not lost on the filmmaker. However he cleverly allows CarriageWorks’ then CEO Sue Hunt to make his point for him, as she speaks of how the complex will be “a place for creativity and innovation,” and then discusses how “thrilled” she is to include Channel 10’s “contemporary dance piece” So You Think You Can Dance.

This self-funded film project took almost three years to complete. In contrast to much of the outrageous work undertaken at Lanfranchi’s, Richard Baron’s approach is stylistically straightforward, letting the footage, both his own and that accumulated from a range of sources, speak for itself. Underscored by the vivifying soundtrack drawn from many of the artists involved in the space, the film conveys a tangible sense of the moment. Grounding this, the considered editing of interviews ensures that the film is not just the documentation of good times past, but also offers some analysis of the broader Sydney arts culture. Of course there are new (and ongoing) spaces that continue to nurture Sydney’s underground/underworld, and each have their own flavour…but the sheer seediness and reckless abandon of Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque so far remains unrivalled.


Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque – The Documentary, Richard Baron, Bitterman Films, www.lanfranchismemorialdiscotheque.com/

Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque – The Documentary won the Director’s Choice Award at the 2010 Sydney Underground Film Festival, Best Documentary at the 2010 Melbourne Underground Film Festival

This article was orginally published online, Nov 8, 2010.

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 22

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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