Overlong docu won't win its subject many new fans, but the converted will sing along with glee.

An affectionate portrait of Australian troubadour Chad Morgan, overlong docu “I’m Not Dead Yet” won’t win its subject many new fans, but the converted will sing along with glee. Pic’s awkward amalgam of styles makes for a rickety structure, but as he sings his bawdy, unsophisticated ballads on tour, the veteran country singer makes clear the commitment and charm that have allowed him to survive through the decades. Skedded to appear on local government network ABC later this year, pic will need a hefty trim before international pubcasters join in. Morgan’s fans will provide healthy ancillary income.

Aging but still energetic, the occasionally cantankerous, dentally challenged Morgan makes for a likable if emotionally elusive subject in this hybrid of biographical portrait and road movie. With a face only a mother could love, the singer/guitarist shot to Australian fame when he dazzled a radio talent show with his comedic prowess in 1952. Six decades later, accompanied by his “roadie” wife, Joanie, Morgan requires a crutch but still works regional Australia’s pub-and-club circuit.

Pic makes an early bid for street cred by introducing indie rocker Tex Perkins as an inquisitive counterpoint to Morgan, but while Perkins makes a beguiling narrator, as an interviewer he’s clumsy and out of his comfort zone. By contrast, potentially ill-fitting dramatizations of Morgan’s Queensland childhood, featuring talented kiddie thesp Harry Tompsett sporting comical, Morgan-styled false teeth, boosts the proceedings with unexpected but welcome laughs.

Largely a passive participant, helmer Janine Hosking doesn’t dig especially deep into Morgan’s story. Years of alcoholic excess and Morgan’s deeply felt indigenous connections (highlighted by a couple of recent, uncharacteristically serious ballads) feel glossed over in comparison with the time spent exploring the “mystery” of an attractive woman who inspired his signature song “The Sheik of Shabby Creek.” Ditty’s yowling canine chorus has dominated Morgan’s 60-year career and amused many, but seeing admiring auds and inspired musicians duplicate this shtick gets very tired, very quickly.

HD lensing is tube-friendly, but the childhood dramatizations, shot on a 5D camera, have a glossy luster.

I'm Not Dead Yet

Australia

Production

A Screen Australia presentation of an iKandy Films production. Produced by Janine Hosking, Stephen Hopes. Directed, written, edited by Janine Hosking.

Crew

Camera (B&W/color, HD), John Biggins; music, Roy Payne, Chad Morgan; art director, Sam Asher; costume designer, Sian Dodwell; sound, Glenn Fitzpatrick, Richard Zanotto, Stephen Hopes. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, June 5, 2011. (In Sydney Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Chad Morgan, Joanie Morgan, Tex Perkins, Trevor Day, Dave Dawson, Greedy Smith, Reg Mombassa, John Williamson, Harry Tompsett, Tayzin Fahey-Leigh, Alexandra Rice, Amy Nixon.
Narrator: Tex Perkins.
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