Gilbey on Film: the chequered history of rockumentaries

Why the White Stripes' live film is a blast from the past.

How quaint to think of people settling down in their cinema seats to watch the White Stripes' live documentary Under Great White Northern Lights, which was released last Friday.

I realise that the brief theatrical outing of such films is really just a promotional exercise to shift more copies of the DVD (and, in this case, the accompanying live album, too), as it was with the Blur film No Distance Left to Run at the start of the year. But there's always been something faintly absurd about watching concert movies in the cinema, aside from those rare occasions when the picture in question is such a corker that the old divisions between performer and audience are scarcely palpable -- as in the obvious but honourable cases of Jonathan Demme's Talking Heads film, Stop Making Sense, and D A Pennebaker's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. When I'm watching David Byrne grooving with a living-room lamp during "Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place)", or Angie Bowie striking poses around the dressing room of the Hammersmith Odeon, I'm in pop-movie heaven.

As someone who paid to sit through warmed-up gig-going leftovers such as Sign o' the Times and The Cure in Orange (the shame), I don't nurse a longing for the concert movie's comeback. My preferred species of musical cinema (outside the musical itself, that is) will always be those movies in which the band members make some sort of gesture toward acting -- think of the Dave Clark Five in John Boorman's first film, Catch Us If You Can, or Madness playing versions of themselves in the underrated Take It Or Leave It.

And that's not forgetting the film on which a thousand childhood dreams of the pop life were founded: Help!, which showed the Beatles all living in the same house. As if that wasn't cool enough, each band member entered their shared abode through his own separate front door. Bliss. Unless, of course, you happened to be the Arcade Fire, the Blue Aeroplanes or So Solid Crew. (Or, for that matter, The Fall. Can you really picture Mark E Smith giving anyone else a door key?)

That's the sort of film I would start a petition to resurrect. There have been sporadic examples over the past decade or two -- Spiceworld The Movie, the would-be trippy All Saints caper Honest, S Club 7's Seeing Double and and the maligned but seriously strange Pet Shop Boys film It Couldn't Happen Here, as well as 8 Mile and Get Rich or Die Tryin'. But I wonder if the wind hasn't been taken out of its sails by two competing sub-genres. One is the cringingly frank documentary (the finest examples of which remain Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster and DiG). The other is the fictionalised biopic, spawned by early 1970s Ken Russell movies: Velvet Goldmine begat 24-Hour Party People (both featured scenes of real figures -- Oscar Wilde in the former, Bez in the latter -- being delivered to Earth by flying saucer) and from those films sprang Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.

It's a shame the now-tarnished Britpop movement missed out on its opportunity for celluloid immortality. Suede might have suited something vaguely apocalyptic. Oasis would've been just right as the villagers in a Straw Dogs remake. And take a minute to envisage Menswear, Sleeper, Gene, Shed Seven and the like, all holed up in an isolated mansion while Luke Haines of the Auteurs roams the hallways swinging a machete. Who wouldn't have paid good money to see that?

Ryan Gilbey blogs for Cultural Capital every Tuesday. He is also the New Statesman's film critic.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Recess confidential: Labour's liquid party

Sniffing out the best stories from Westminster, including Showsec, soames, and Smith-side splits.

If you are celebrating in a brewery, don’t ask Labour to provide the drinks. Because of the party’s continuing failure to secure a security contractor for its Liverpool conference, it is still uncertain whether the gathering will take place at all. Since boycotting G4S, the usual supplier, over its links with Israeli prisons, Labour has struggled to find an alternative. Of the five firms approached, only one – Showsec – offered its services. But the company’s non-union-recognition policy is inhibiting an agreement. The GMB, the firm’s antagonist, has threatened to picket the conference if Showsec is awarded the contract. In lieu of a breakthrough, sources suggest two alternatives: the police (at a cost of £59.65 per constable per hour), or the suspension of the G4S boycott. “We’ll soon find out which the Corbynites dislike the least,” an MP jested. Another feared that the Tories’ attack lines will write themselves: “How can Labour be trusted with national security if it can’t organise its own?”

Farewell, then, to Respect. The left-wing party founded in 2004 and joined by George Galloway after his expulsion from Labour has officially deregistered itself.

“We support Corbyn’s Labour Party,” the former MP explained, urging his 522,000 Facebook followers to sign up. “The Labour Party does not belong to one man,” replied Jess Phillips MP, who also pointed out in the same tweet that Respect had “massively failed”. Galloway, who won 1.4 per cent of the vote in this year’s London mayoral election, insists that he is not seeking to return to Labour. But he would surely be welcomed by Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, whom he once described as his “closest friend”. “We have spoken almost daily for 30 years,” Galloway boasted.

After Young Labour’s national committee voted to endorse Corbyn, its members were aggrieved to learn that they would not be permitted to promote his candidacy unless Owen Smith was given equal treatment. The leader’s supporters curse more “dirty tricks” from the Smith-sympathetic party machine.

Word reaches your mole of a Smith-side split between the ex-shadow cabinet ministers Lisa Nandy and Lucy Powell. The former is said to be encouraging the challenger’s left-wing platform, while the latter believes that he should make a more centrist pitch. If, as expected, Smith is beaten by Corbyn, it’s not only the divisions between the leader and his opponents that will be worth watching.

Nicholas Soames, the Tory grandee, has been slimming down – so much so, that he was congratulated by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, on his weight loss. “Soon I’ll be able to give you my old suits!” Soames told the similarly rotund Watson. 

Kevin Maguire is away

I'm a mole, innit.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser