CITY PRESS REVIEW: The Fun’s Not Over – The James Phillips Story
Director: Michael Cross
I was one of those angry and confused young white moffies who was galvanised by a song that would help define the rest of my life. Hou My Vas Korporaal (Hold Me Tight, Corporal) was a devastating spoof track released in 1984 off the album Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand? (Who is Bernoldus Nobody?), although I only discovered it a few years later, just before the Voëlvry alternative Afrikaans music movement began.
The song, in which a wide-eyed young Afrikaans man seeks comfort from the horror of being conscripted, helped me resolve to defy my call-up papers and refuse to serve in the killing machine that was the apartheid military. Instead, I ran away to Joburg and took a job as a waiter at a restaurant called Crackers in Yeoville.
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Lo and behold, one of my first customers was James Phillips, AKA Bernoldus Niemand. When I took my first newspaper job at Vrye Weekblad, he was a cover star, a local Bob Dylan, a growling folk rocker with a masterful lyrical talent.
Despite his fame among Afrikaners, you’ve probably not heard of Phillips, but a new documentary on his life is a perfect starting point if you’re interested in the impact of this pastor’s son from Springs who helped birth alternative Afrikaans music and whose track Shot Down became the title of the famous anti-apartheid film by Andrew Worsdale.
The Fun’s Not Over – named after another Phillips track – soars when it allows Phillips to sing and gives space to his powerful tracks like Brain Damage and Africa is Dying, performed with bands with names like Corporal Punishment and The Cherry Faced Lurchers. That, and where Phillips talks in the interviews.
The film sometimes undermines itself in its boring use of pioneering white men’s talking heads. Sure, the issues relate to white men and the scene was shaped by us, and Phillips always pointed to his whiteness, but perhaps his impact was larger and his spirit bigger than the times – which the film doesn’t always allow to soar.
But this is a chapter of history, a labour of love and a powerful document that shows that Afrikaner self-love was at the heart of Phillips’ dream of being free.
The Fun’s Not Over – The James Phillips Story is screening at the Encounters South African International Documentary Festival taking place from 31 May to 10 June in Cape Town and Joburg. For tickets, go to encounters.co.za
(Photo: John Hogg)