The Monkeys has joined forces with Bombora Film & Music Co. and writer/director Paul Clarke to create a one-hour ABC documentary special that tells the story of how a group of comical and contrarian troublemakers and misfits became Australia’s most popular art collective of the 80s and 90s.
Mambo: Art Irritates Life documents how Mambo came to be – from the hitchhiking journey of the brand’s founder, Dare Jennings, to Sydney to set up a screen-printing studio for t-shirts and posters, which was called Phantom.
Phantom became a music recording label, releasing independent local acts at the centre of a riotous rock scene, largely ignored by the big record companies. It was in the early 1980s that Jennings realised he could combine the irreverent artworks produced by artist friends and musicians, with surf wear to release his first run of board shorts under the name Mambo. The board shorts were a hit and Mambo was born.
Clarke said the doco was great fun to write and direct in collaboration with The Monkeys.
“They have wonderfully silly ideas, including a printed t-shirt titles and end credits,” he said. “The artists at Mambo really related to them.”
“When you really get to think about it, there probably hasn’t been a good doco about the 80s in Australia featuring that sense of excitement generated by all the ratbags in art and music rattling the establishment cage, and really enjoying themselves, so hopefully that’s what we’ve made.”
The Monkeys’ co-founder and executive creative director, Scott Nowell, said Mambo came into being at a pivotal time in many of the crew members’ pubescent lives.
“Growing up on the Northern Beaches, I can remember my first pair of Mambo shorts and how quickly Mambo captured that larrikin voice, sticking it up the big surf brands, then taking on much bigger targets with humour and a violent lack of respect,” he said.
“Looking back, it’s hard to overstate how important that became to us as a nation.
“We went from Keating’s creative nation to little Johnny and the Cronulla riots. Over those decades the Mambo voice remained steadfastly politically incorrect and we have beer monsters, farting dogs and Australian Jesus entrenched forever in our culture as a result.”
The Monkeys’ senior creative, Scott Dettrick, a former Mambo art director and production designer on the documentary, was also instrumental in getting the film off the ground.
“He had been working as an art director at Mambo for 10 years and came to us with the idea to tell the story of Mambo’s impact on Australian popular culture,” Nowell said.
“The idea immediately connected, and not long after we met with writer/director Paul Clarke from Bombora Films and pitched him to produce a documentary outlining the social history of the 80s and 90s as told through the lens of Mambo, Australia’s modern art movement that we all wore on our backs.”
Mambo: Art Irritates Life is set to air on The ABC on Tuesday at 9:30pm.
Writer and director: Paul Clarke
Producer and script editor: Scott Nowell
Production company: Bombora Film & Music Co.
Executive producer: Jo-anne McGowan
Line producer: Katherine Hristoforidis
Editor: Antoinette Ford
Production designer: Scott Dettrick
Art director: Wayne Golding
Associate producer: Sonia Borg
Narrator: Celia Pacquola