Directed, written and shot by Mat de Koning
Produced by Mat de Koning, Brooke Silcox and Dave Kavanagh
There is some magic afoot in the WA film making community lately, and they’re really doing us proud. We are producing some incredible films, and Meal Tickets is no exception. It is not just a fantastic, hilarious documentary, but a phenomenal piece of cinema, full of rich storytelling, with plot lines that Spinal Tap would envy, serving as a perfect time capsule of both Western Australian lore and its musical history. The intertwining tales of the Screwtop Detonators and Will Stoker are raw as a rash at times, visceral as heck, and the most important WA music film since Fridey at the Hydey. Meal Tickets doesn’t so much invite you in as forcibly nestle on your lap and squeeze you tight.
The Screwtop Detonators (STD’s, of course) were a prominent fixture in the Perth music scene at a certain point in time, loaded with promise and fueled by fun. After their praises were sung by Tommy Ramone, they set about on a tour of the US, with stars in their eyes, youth on their side, and a hapless roadie in the shape of Will Ferrier (later of Will Stoker and the Embers). Will proves to be utterly hopeless as a roadie, a sullen, brooding brat who doesn’t fit with the warm mateship and camaraderie of the STD’s and abandons the tour abruptly, leaving behind a sorrowful parting note about his own dreams of stardom under a motel room door.
A bunch of bad life choices by the band ensue, while Will’s star begins to rise as he fervently pursues fame and fortune, with a fixation on those goals proving to render him rather unlikable. Nevertheless, the engagement with the characters makes the audience feel like the STD’s are having a garage party in your home and nobody is quite sure who invited these assholes.
Over a decade of work by Mat de Koning has produced something that became a life force of its own. Hollywood couldn’t write better characters, or work with better subjects. There’s Ben, the driven backbone of the band, whose sole motivation is to play solid rock and roll. Mitch, the broken Romeo whose heart rules his head. Lee, the gorgeous greaser. Charlie, who is pivotal and so watchable he earns every spotlight he gets. Every audience member is left feeling as if they know the boys intimately, and that is entirely due to de Koning’s relationship with the band, forged in fire at Kalamunda High School (also fertile breeding ground for WA bands from The Panics to Snowman). Where sometimes being too close to the subject can be problematic, in this case, it is a hard core virtue.
De Koning followed these guys since high school as their buddy, their friend, their confessor and ultimately, the author of their combined cinematic biographies. Their comfort with him and his camera is obvious, and leads us to places we normally would not be privy to, and is it ever a sweet blessing. Voyeuristic? Absolutely, but also sympathetic to the boys’ cause. To misquote a great rock and roll film, it is honest and unmerciful.
There is a surprising amount of depth here, which blindsides you in a music doco. What’s more important – artistic integrity or the pursuit of fame and glory? The answer lies with the viewer, but the journey there is both fascinating and well worth taking.
Ultimately, Meal Tickets is about growing up and growing old together, and the friends we make on the way there. The love between these guys is positively palpable, their ability to express themselves freely nothing short of glorious, and their lives together utterly watchable. They are the worst/best kind of role models for musicians everywhere, and the film serves as a cautionary tale for the ego demons in all of us.
Meal Tickets is hectic, heady and hysterical. It’s a fascinating study of the music industry, mateship, and ambition, which is well worth your time and your dollars. Here’s hoping that distributors see the worth in this bad boy, because it deserves to go far. WA cinema has come a long way, baby, and this particular peculiarity in the Perth landscape is some sweet, blessed relief from wintertime blues.
See it at Revelation Perth International Film Festival, July 18.