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Bassendream: The Cinematic Equivalent of Dolewave

Not many films are set in Perth. In fact, Perth’s seeming absence from the “imagined community” of Australia is something Westralians seem perpetually aggrieved about. WA is the only state not mentioned in the Constitution’s preamble, and WA secession has been a serious enough political issue to warrant a referendum in 1933. Yet, director Tim Barretto’s debut microbudget feature film Bassendream is not only set in the northern riverside Perth suburb of Bassendean (“Basso” to locals), but it’s a film where that suburb is the main character. Made up of loosely interconnected vignettes, the film follows a day in the life of Bassendean locals on the last day of summer holidays, somewhere in the 1990s. It is both nostalgic and melancholic in its portrait of Australia on the eve of the digital revolution that has eroded many of the communal suburban rhythms and rituals that were once commonplace.   

Bassendream. Directed by Tim Barretto.

Shot on 16mm film, never before has that famous “dry heat” of Perth been so accurately captured on screen, and Bassendream’s many barren brown lawns and verges will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has spent a summer here. Effectively shot and edited with thoughtful period production design, the film’s use of non-professional actor/locals alongside its general DIY spirit calls to mind that distinctly Australasian music genre semi-jokingly dubbed “dolewave”. Dolewave has its roots in the 1980s with jangle-pop guitar band The Go-Betweens, and embraces a sound that eschews the perfection of digital production in favour of a tinny sound that resembles the acoustics of the small venues Australian bands often find themselves playing in. It has also been suggested that dolewave— both in production and lyrics—is a lament for a specific aspect of egalitarian Australiana that (if it ever existed in this country) certainly doesn’t after decades of neoliberalism, and the gentrification of former working-class suburbs like Bassendean. Dolewave therefore, helps us mourn an Australia we’ve lost. 

As it goes for Bassendream, in its loving attention to the quotidian and mundane temporalities of Australian working-class suburban life. Although suburbia is commonly derided as that most middle-class residential enclave where marriages slide into a resentful torpor and careers become monotonous (think American Beauty), Baretto captures Perth suburbia as it once was; a place that nevertheless fostered a form of community, particularly for the kids who grew up knowing everyone on the street.

Oftentimes elegiac but always with deep affection for his Bassendean of yesteryear, Baretto’s film is an ode to the magic of Perth suburbia, just prior to the ever-quickening pace of 24/7 news, communication, and working life that has flattened the singularity of time and place.