Witnesses: Dorothy Hewett, Martin Sharp, George Gittoes, Colin Anderson, Ruth Ridley, others.
The Australian documentary “Eternity” proves that it’s possible to make an engrossing film by exploring the meanings and effects of a single word — eternity. A biographical account of an eccentric credited for being the father of graffiti, pic is perfect material for festivals, TV and other markets that exhibit short-form features.
Docu unravels as a puzzle: For 40 years, the word eternity mysteriously appeared on Sydney’s streets and sidewalks. Written in yellow chalk, in elegant copperplate script, it always followed the same pattern, appearing overnight in the most unusual spots. In 1956, after 20 years, the author’s identity was revealed. Renamed by the media “Mr. Eternity,” Arthur Stace became an instant celebrity, but he continued his routine task until he died in 1967, at the age of 83.
A dozen witnesses reconstruct Stace’s terrible life as an uneducated petty criminal with a severe drinking problem. Deeply depressed and “out of kilter” by his own admission, Stace dramatically changed his life in 1930, when he decided to go to church for salvation.
Ruth Ridley claims that writing the word was a religious mission for her father. Other witnesses hold that it’s not only the word, but also the manner and places where it was written that made his simple sermon so inspirational. Says writer Dorothy Hewett:”It was like one of those archetypal messages that come from outer space.”
Reportedly, Stace didn’t enjoy his fame, always stressing that his message was far more important than himself. And though committed to his calling, Stace wasn’t perceived as fanatic or obsessive.
Writer/director Lawrence Johnston, whose 1990 “Night Out” was well-received in Cannes, endows his film with the right balance of matter-of-fact reportage and the humor one expects of an eccentric chronicle. He adroitly broadens pic’s scope to provide relevant observations on the role of urban myths in modern life and the function of religious transformation for loners and misfits.
Dion Beebe’s crisp b&w lensing and Annette Davey’s sharp editing make this original film visually engrossing.