Rock n Roll Outlaw Exhibition (review)

2020 marks 50 years since the release of Tony Richardson’s Ned Kelly, starring Mick Jagger. It would have been remiss for such a significant pop culture moment to go without some form of commemoration and thus the Burke Museum in Beechworth have put together a limited exhibition about the controversial feature film.

Lined up to be accompanied by a series of events including concerts and film screenings, the exhibition opened in December 2019, just before a mixture of the holiday season and the catastrophic bushfires impacted on the plans, and subsequently attendance. Now the smoke has cleared, the museum is scrubbed clean, the renovated Chinese exhibit in the museum is finished and the souvenirs have been restocked. What better time to take a look at this special exhibition.

The exhibition is featured in the main foyer of the museum and is rather concise. The layout runs along one wall and from there is spread across a display case and two desks. Featured items in the exhibition are Mick Jagger’s suit of Ned Kelly armour, a vinyl LP of the soundtrack, and a record player. It also includes interactive features where children can decorate paper cutouts of the Kelly helmet and people can “cast” their own Ned Kelly movie.

The vast majority of the exhibition consists of newspaper clippings, magazine articles, production stills and a looped video of some behind the scenes footage of the movie being filmed in Braidwood. Placards explain the background of each set of clippings and charts the story of the film’s troubled production and release. Though not overly detailed, it conveys the key information well. The sense one gets as they read is that this was an almost doomed production from the outset that soon descended into farce. It provides a good insight into the history of the film for the uninitiated.

The inclusion of a record player was an unusual choice. There are a range of albums that you can choose from to play on the turntable, yet none seem to be particularly connected to the subject of the exhibition (except that some of the albums are by Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings who featured on the soundtrack). In theory it was a way of connecting the visitor to the era of the film but it just looks out of place.

Realistically, the only other item in the exhibition that seems particularly suited to such a display is the suit of armour, which is usually in the Ned Kelly Vault (an adjunct of the Burke Museum). Other than that, there’s not really a lot in the exhibition that couldn’t be better achieved by a book (or a magazine). The interactive element of asking people to cast their own Ned Kelly movie is probably the most unique thing in the exhibition and is actually a really good idea. Hopefully the forms that have been filled in can be kept for future reference as it would be very interesting to go back to them in ten years or more and see what the people of 2020 had to say on the matter.

Ultimately the exhibition is not worth going to Beechworth specifically for if you’re not local, but it does work well in conjunction with the rest of the museum, which is always highly recommended. If it relied more on unique objects and less on reading old clippings this would have been a much better experience for the visitor. Still, we can be thankful that the Burke Museum were gracious enough to provide something to mark the anniversary, however small.

Rock n Roll Outlaw will be on display at the Burke Museum, Beechworth, until 13 April, 2020. It is included with entry to the museum.

If you would like to read more about the infamous Mick Jagger film you can read our piece in defence of it here.

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