Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Artist

The Artist posterSo, a year after seemingly winning every award going and grabbing every headline possible I finally made it to The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius’ love story both about and, seemingly to, silent cinema and cinema in general.

To be honest going in I wasn’t sure what to expect and I am glad I waited for the fuss to die down to watch the movie, but in the end, I was far from disappointed.

Several things struck me about the film which really serve to show how well constructed this picture is.

First is how it uses its own language to tell its story, in a way possibly more obvious than in many films, thanks to its archaic conceit of not only being a silent film (the headliner grabber) but also black and white and shot in 4:3 aspect ratio rather than any of the more modern styles.

jean dujardin and missi pyle, the artistWhat was especially striking about this was how Hazanavicius combined these styles with aspects of modern cinema to tell his story in a way that, while obviously using older aspects, kept the pacing of a modern movie in such a way that the story was easy to follow despite the now somewhat alien style.

This led onto the second aspect that struck me was the film’s use of visuals to make a point in a way that, to be honest, I’ve not seen used so effectively since Hitchcock.

Throughout the first half of The Artist we see reflections of Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin which culminate in a dramatic shift in the plot around the halfway mark.

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, The ArtistWhat this does is add another layer that was very much overlooked upon the film’s initial release, amid the discussion of it being silent, and it’s always nice to see a film use the full range of “the language of cinema” to tell its story.

The third aspect that really struck me was the performance given by Jean Dujardin.

From the start he was totally believable as a 20’s silent movie star, he had the look, the poise, the movement and the general character that I think we all associate with the big stars of that era on-screen, but, far from being a stereotype, the film went on to broaden this character and really allow Dujardin to show off his skill.

Jean Dujardin, The ArtistWhile all the performers did a great job of telling the story without a voice, it was Dujardin who stood head and shoulders above them as, with a look or a gesture, he seemed able to convey more than many actors get across in 90 minutes with colour, sound and (more recently) 3D behind them.

The debate around 3D is another thing I think this film may well be addressing, at least along its sidelines, as we are thrown into the world of a man who is too proud to move forward and, while I still have my doubts about 3D, this raises an interesting point; is it pride and arrogance that makes some so negative about 3D? But, to be honest, I feel this is a side point in the film.

Tap Dancing, The ArtistAway from making points about things The Artist tells a great story in the vein of Hollywood’s classic brand of melodrama with a bit of something for everyone from romance to psychological drama to the old favourite (more than one) bit with a dog – oh, and some tap dancing which, if the film hadn’t won me over before, it certainly did then.

So, I may be a year late to the party but I can certainly see what all the fuss was about and can only say this certainly deserved all the accolades with which it was showered (which, if you were living in a cave in awards season 2012, included Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor).

And I really hope the dog won something too, because he was great!

Now where’s my copy of Singin’ In The Rain…

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Metal Evolution

Metal Evolution blu-rayHaving first made their name with the feature-length documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, which charts a path through the hows, whys and wherefores of heavy metal music, Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen, aka Banger Films Inc, have gone on to produce this series of TV documentaries for VH1 which expand upon the film’s premise.

While the movie takes an overview of the entire genre and, specifically, Dunn’s interests, including some elements of the sociology and anthropology behind the fans and musicians, Metal Evolution takes a slightly more in-depth look at the history of the genre, and some of its sub-genres, in a similar but, generally, more open way.

Sam Dunn

Sam Dunn

Starting off with an exploration of pre-metal heaviness it gets going well with sound bites from the likes of Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf and Led Zeppelin as well as a look back at the links from classical, jazz, blues and early rock ‘n’ roll – leading to some brilliant comments from Motorhead’s Lemmy about Little Richard.

Once we get past the fairly well trodden path of the history of metal across the first three episodes things settle into exploring sub-genres with various levels of success.

While its clear that Dunn’s interests lay more in the world of thrash and NWOBHM, so these episodes see our ‘presenter’ getting clearly excited to be meeting his heroes and is, therefore, somewhat deferential in interviewing them.

Kerry King of Slayer

Kerry King of Slayer

So, it is often the other episodes that are more interesting and show a side of metal, and its fans (of which I am one), that they often find hard to reconcile with the so-called ‘true metal’ image.

This first comes to the fore in the glam episode where we get a very skewed overview of the style that seems to have its own agenda largely regarding whether this is ‘proper’ metal and, while this can be a fun conversation to have in the pub, as an episode of a TV show it seems to give the genre somewhat short shrift – particularly considering the crossover appeal the style has had and, it is clear throughout, that Dunn still really isn’t that interested in Motley Crue, Poison and their ilk.

Lemmy

Lemmy

The same criticism can also be leveled at the grunge episode, however here not only does Dunn seem unsure as to why he is exploring the sub-genre, many of the musicians don’t seem to buy the theory that grunge is part of metal, most seeming to side with the idea that its part of punk or indie.

Despite this there are some illuminating points about how bands like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden were influenced by early metal and how grunge has evolved into the current crop of stadium rock of the likes of Nickleback, which adds a much broader scope towards the end of the episode.

The most successful episodes are the ones that tackle styles clearly within the over arching genre of metal but that Dunn doesn’t have such a close association with, either positive or negative.

So it is that the exploration of nu-metal, shock rock, power metal and prog metal are so me of the more illuminating episodes.

Ronnie James Dio

Ronnie James Dio

Of course, as with every documentary like these, there are moments where the musicians almost veer into self parody, either by taking their music so seriously and being so po-faced about it they fail to see the inherent absurdity of the things they are doing, or they are the genuine knucleheads the mainstream media like to portray heavy metallers as.

Between these however is a deep vein of fascinating discussion of just why so many people like this sort of music and why it has never quite, despite a few dalliances, totally made into the mainstream of pop culture with the late, great Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy and Alice Cooper all giving some great insights alongside some, frankly, ridiculous war stories.

In the end Metal Evolution is an imbalanced series that, as a fan of metal and music history in general, I did enjoy. Of course it would be easy to point out obvious omissions but, over all, I think it does capture something of the essence of what makes heavy metal what it is, though I’m not sure how much appeal it would have to anyone who isn’t already a dedicated fan.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Future Shock metal night – Stan Smith, Brutus Stonefist and Iron Cobra

Stan Smith

Stan Smith

Guernsey gig promoters The Future Shock presented a night of heavy metal on Saturday 26th January at The Fermain Tavern featuring three bands from the Channel Islands; Stan Smith, Brutus Stonefist and Iron Cobra.

Stan Smith made their much-anticipated return to our shores following a series of gigs last year which saw them build a dedicated fan base on the island and, alongside Brutus Stonefist and Iron Cobra it made for one of the most straight up heavy metal nights to take place in Guernsey in quite some time.

You can see my photos of the show on the BBC Introducing Facebook page.

My review was also published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 2nd Feburary 2013:

Future Shock metal night scan - 2:2:13

Review

For their first show of 2013 local promoters The Future Shock put on a night of some of the heaviest music in the Channel Islands featuring three all out heavy metal acts.

Dave of Iron Cobra

Dave of Iron Cobra

First to take to the stage were on-again, off-again southern metallers Iron Cobra. Following a successful run of return shows last summer it was good to this five piece back on stage once again.

Tonight’s set may not have been their slickest, as feedback and guitar noise drenched a good part of the start of their set but, once they seemed to balance things out on stage, they were back on fine form and put in a more serious show than many since their return – despite the ever irrepressible Bobby Battle.

Despite their personal misgivings for the song, Dead Man’s Hand remained a highlight along with A Parody of Actual Events, their song about zombies and, while most of the crowd remained distant, you could see they were warming up by the end.

The last year or so has seen Brutus Stonefist play fewer gigs, but it’s meant, when they have appeared, it has been more of an event, and tonight fitted this bill.

Brutus Stonefist

Brutus Stonefist

For the first part of their set Brutus demonstrated the more groove infused style they have been developing in recent times with hints of the like of Pantera to their sound, alongside the more full on thrash aspect.

When they strike this combination, as they did here, is when Brutus Stonefist are at their best and the crowd certainly responded to this tonight as they packed the dancefloor in front of the stage.

As the set went on the band headed back into their more hardcore infused sounds and this kept the crowd going before the inevitable calls for Slayer began and, rather than brushing them off, Brutus launched into their cover of Mandatory Suicide.

Tonight’s set from Brutus Stonefist showed a band who seem to have matured somewhat as there was distinctly less in-joke-y banter and a more direct approach of just playing some full on heavy metal.

Jersey’s Stan Smith have built up quite a following in Guernsey since their first gig here a little over a year ago and their followers were certainly ready for tonight as they were lined up at front and soon moshing as the band launched into a set of their own take on heavy metal.

Danny of Stan Smith

Danny of Stan Smith

With a style clearly influenced by the 90s metal of the likes of Machine Head and Pantera with a hint of the likes of White Zombie, Stan Smith demonstrated why they have become one of, if not the, top metal bands in the islands.

A real highlight of their set came with their call and response crowd pleaser where they invited The Future Shock’s Jack Fletcher on stage to help with the vocals and created a real moment of the night.

While a few of the crowd did seem to have sloped off by the end of their set (something that seems to happen with night’s like this for reasons I’ve yet to work out) Stan Smith left the crowd wanting more and left me with the feeling, more than ever, that these guys are the real deal.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

BBC Introducing Guernsey – January 2013: SugarSlam and China Aster

China Aster in the studio

China Aster in the studio

From January 2013 onward BBC Introducing Guernsey has moved to the last Saturday of every month and I started off the new year and the new time with a packed show highlighted by China Aster in session and some exclusive tracks, and an interview, with SugarSlam

You can listen to the show until the evening of Saturday 2nd February here.

And here is the track list from the show:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SugarSlam – Fameless

Grunge rockers SugarSlam are on the verge of releasing their second full-length album, Fameless, on Saturday 2nd February 2013.

Ahead of that I reviewed the album, which is an excellent slice of sing-along heavy, pop-rock grunge (in the vein of Foo Fighters rather than Nickleback):

SugarSlam - Fameless scan - 26:1:13

The album is now available to download here.

Ahead of next weekend’s gig, here is a little video taster of the band:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Manic Street Preachers – Generation Terrorists

Generation Terrorists album coverA little over 20 years ago a quartet of young men exploded out of South Wales to take not only the UK, but also Japan and a few other parts of the world, by storm with an album that seemed to bundle up the previous decade and a half of music into one package.

The Manic Street Preachers are a band who, since then, have had their ups and downs and I think I first encountered them at the wrong time. While I very much like A Design For Life and If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, and they both come off generally good albums, their career after this, in my eyes at least, was on something of a decline.

So it was with something of a gamble that I first properly delved into Generation Terrorists with its 20th anniversary “Legacy Edition”.

Manic Street PreachersFrom the off I wondered why I had wasted 20 years on not giving this album a proper listen. Combining elements of the first wave of British punk with the sheen of 80s rock the opening salvo of Slash ‘N’ Burn and Nat West – Barclays – Midlands – Lloyds frankly lay waste to much other music coming out of the UK at the time and more than stand up now.

As well as the shiny punk (for want of a better description) there are tracks like Motorcycle Emptiness, an undeniable classic track, that combine the Manic’s typically socially aware lyrics with a slower tune that makes for something verging on mainstream radio friendly (not counting BBC Radio 1) and feels like a custom built hit record.

Richey Edwards and Nicky WireAs the record continues, across 18 tracks, this feels like a mammoth record for a first album from a young band essentially growing out of the punk movement, albeit in their own isolated way, and, having checked out the documentary on the DVD included in this package, this was an act of extreme hubris from the band that, thankfully for them, paid off.

Across the rest of this special edition we get a second disc of demo recordings from their various early recording sessions from South Wales to London via their first indie label record deal, which is certainly something for the completists, as well as the aforementioned DVD which features a newly made documentary exploring the band’s early career up to the start of the process for their second album.

The DVD also, inevitably, features all of the promos relating to the tracks on the album, including a few alternative and new versions probably less generally seen, and a series of contemporary performances and interviews from BBC TV and radio.

Manic Street Preachers live 1992But back to the album itself and, with a style merging so many elements, from the British sleaze-glam of The Quireboys and The Dogs D’Amour to the first wave punk of Sex Pistols and The Clash via the polished glamish pop-rock of The Cult, Generation Terrorists is a truly excellent album that stands up today in such a way that its clear why it launched what became a stadium filling career for the band and, while I still don’t get their later records, this is an undeniable masterpiece.

It would be nice to hear something this fresh and full of energy hitting the mainstream in British rock music today.

This one seems the appropriate video to put on a review with that quote at the start.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Vale Earth Fair Unplugged

Astrid Scrible

Astrid Scrible

Upon arriving at The Fermain Tavern for the first Vale Earth Fair Unplugged night it was clear things were a little different. Not only was the stage set up with drums and some, smaller, amplifiers, but The John Wesley Stone were busy putting together their ‘busking’ kit stage right of the dancefloor and another make shift stage had been set up stage left, in front of the tech area.

With eight acts on the bill it was soon clear that the set up was to allow virtually continuous music from 8 o’clock until midnight and that got going with Dominique Ogier, AKA Astrid Scribble.

It’s been more than six years since I last saw Dominique perform, then part of semi-acoustic trio Said In Silver, so it was nice to see how she’s developed over that time during which she has been working on her own material and has spent some time away from the island.

Starting the night in low-key style, as seems fitting for an unplugged show, Dominique mixed covers with original songs with her own unique voice which, while mostly light and airy, hinted at a deeper power behind at times though in this context that was, appropriately, never fully explored.

The different lay out of the Tav for the evening did seem to leave the audience at a slight disconnection to Dominique and the night’s other early acts, but they still seemed appreciative as she set the tone for the night well.

Andy Sauvage

Andy Sauvage

Second up, on the Tav’s ‘main stage’ for want of a better description, was Lifejacket’s Andy Sauvage. With an acoustic set familiar to many Andy did what we’ve all come to expect tonight, with a few originals (including an acoustic rendition of Lifejacket’s Brains which, by Andy’s own admission wasn’t entirely successful) and some covers of indie rock tunes of the past couple of decades.

The Tav’s larger size and the still distant audience seemed to work to Andy’s disadvantage though as some of his usual irreverence was somewhat lost in the gulf in front of the stage, despite this though, Andy played a good set and left the audience smiling with what has become his traditional ending song.

With a brief interlude from the evening’s compere Graham Duerden, who was doing his best Jools Holland impression, the audience shifted their attention back to the smaller stage for Jack McGahy.

The act most reminiscent of the current crop of pop-folk-indie-acoustic troubadours, Jack played a set of songs that evoked the very up to date sound of acoustic music with covers of the likes of Jamie T alongside some originals that fitted seamlessly together and showed that Jack could be one to watch going forward.

The John Wesley Stone

The John Wesley Stone

The first of the evening’s ‘acoustic’ bands were up next and, despite an electric guitar being played clean, The John Wesley Stone really did capture the stripped down hillbilly country vibe tonight.

Always a band worth a watch tonight they played with their usual energy with Shacks and Lynchburg playing the perfect double team on acoustic and electric guitar respectively while Jess Nashville added her own fiddle and guitar sounds to give it a real country twang and Hillbill headed off around the dancfloor with his bull-fiddle.

As their set went on more people made their way on the Tavern’s dancefloor, if not to actually dance then to get closer to the show. For the Wesley’s it was a slightly mellower set than some they have delivered but still had their sense of flair to it and even the announcement that this was Lynchburg’s last gig with the band didn’t but a damper on things as they rounded off the set with the rockabilly drive of Caffeine, Benzedrine, Nicotine, one of my personal favourites of their extensive back catalog.

The Phantom Cosmonaut was up next and, for obvious reasons, I won’t go into depth on his performance other than to say I had a lot of fun, so it’s onto Ray & The Guns.

Ray & The Guns

Ray & The Guns

Despite it being an acoustic night it did as if Ray & The Guns might have missed the memo, so to speak, as they came armed full force with electric guitar and bass, but, none-the-less, to fit in they did play a slightly toned down set of the their usual rock ‘n’ roll.

Despite its slightly slower nature tonight it still got a few dancing and it was nice to hear the band through a big PA and on the bigger stage of the Tav.

The final act on the smaller stage tonight was Robert J. Hunter and, to be honest, I’m not sure what more I can say about Rob.

Tonight he kept a small crowd gathered around the stage while he played through a set of his impressive modern-blues songs and debuted a few new tunes that fit right in alongside his now more well established numbers.

Robert J. Hunter

Robert J. Hunter

Rob has grown over the past year or so into a consummate performer, seemingly playing almost non-stop somewhere or other, and this had lead to him becoming the sort of person who, it seems, is incapable of putting on a bad show and tonight fit that bill entirely.

While, following Ray & The Guns, he didn’t grab me as he sometimes has alongside other acoustic acts, his performance was still top drawer and he is certainly amassing a following.

Rentoclean

Rentoclean

The first Vale Earth Fair Unplugged night was rounded off by Rentoclean – having become one of the most talked about bands of 2012 I was looking forward to a more acoustic set from them tonight, however, I can only say that I was disappointed as, while they all technically play well as ever, their decision to seemingly dump their set list and have an extended jam session quickly became tiresome for me though did some get some moving to their unarguably funky reggae sounds.

For a first time for this sort of event, despite a few off moments, I think it was largely a success and I hope this isn’t the last such show the Vale Earth Fair (or anyone else) decides to put on as it really showed a new way to use the Tav and added a different element to just a regular gig.

You can see my photos of the show over on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Also the guys from Guernsey Gigs were on hand with their video cameras and got a couple of little movies:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top 5 Movies of 2012

Seeing as the guys over at 24LPS have all done their top fives of the year (hear them on their YouTube Channel), I thought I’d add my thoughts to the debate.

Anyone who knows me will know that picking my favourites of anything is a big challenge but I have done my best to whittle down the new films I’ve seen in 2012 into something of a top 5.

As ever I’m being slightly unconventional as what I have come up with is, in fact my three favourite films of the year, in no particular order, as well as two others that have struck a chord with me.

So here we go with my not quite top 5 films of 2012:

Rodriquez 2Searching For Sugar Man – This music documentary gave an interesting twist to the convention of telling the story of a band or musician by focusing on an artist most viewers, myself included, would never have heard of rather than someone well known.

This gave it a double impact of being both a fascinating story of discovery, rediscovery and the power of music on society and a chance for me to hear some great sounding new music I had never heard before and hope to explore further.

ParaNorman ZombiesParanorman – Every now and again a movie comes along that, while ostensibly a children’s film, hits the right balance of humour, plot and subject matter to genuinely cross over as a film perfectly suited to both children and adults.

Shrek often gets lauded as being a high point of this, but, to be honest I never understood why as it always to me to just hit a few obvious references. Paranorman on the other hand genuinely references both film and other pop culture as well as well as hitting the marks of what must be real scares for kids and laughs for everyone while dealing with some issues rarely tackled in family films.

the dark knight rises - baneThe Dark Knight Rises – Ok, so I think anyone who reads this blog or has listened to any of my reviews will know I’m something of a mark for Batman, so it’s probably not that surprising that The Dark Knight Rises has made my list.

While it has come in for its fair share of flack as a film rounding of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy I think it does an excellent job and sits firmly within its own well constructed heightened reality universe.

As well as telling a story that has totally sucked me in on several occasions, it also squares off the trilogy in a way that, while open, completes a story, in a manner much like a comic book, but in a way that suits film.

And I still don’t see what people’s issue was with Bane’s voice.

Looper Joseph Gordon-LevittLooper – In a year that featured the release of possibly the most anticipated sci-fi movie I can recall, Prometheus, it was nice to find this time travel which took a more serious approach to sci-fi and combined it with a thrilling action/adventure type story to create what the best sci-fi across any media is – something thought provoking and entertaining.

Certainly it was a good year for Joseph Gordon-Levitt and, for me, this was its high point as he put in a great performance at once channeling Bruce Willis but also being something very much his own.

This combined with some nice twists and turns and some fun playing with classic time travel concepts created a movie that certainly should become a genre classic.

Q and Bond - SkyfallSkyfall – Amidst some of the biggest hype and marketing I remember seeing (it even got to me who does my best to avoid a lot of it) Bond was back in 2012, and in spectacular style. Sure the film certainly did well at the box office and was generally well reviewed, but, I think somewhat thankfully, I didn’t rush to see it but gave it a few weeks before heading into a quieter cinema to watch it.

Now, I’ve always been a Bond fan, but, in recent years, have become somewhat distanced from the archetypal movie super-spy. First there were the later Brosnan films that became a bit like the later Moore movies with gimmicks aplenty but little plot and even less worth. Then we got the Craig reboot-ish films and, while Casino Royale was an enjoyable film, for me it went too far in the direction of trying to make Bond a real world creature and, frankly, the less said about Quantum of Solace the better.

So Skyfall has, somewhat, reset things again and hit every mark that made the classic Bond films, Goldfinger, GoldenEye, Dr No and their ilk so great all at once, whilst keeping an element of the more modern Bond introduced in Casino Royale to create one of the most complete Bond films ever.

With a genuine sense of jeopardy and a modern twist on many of the classic hallmarks of the series Skyfall may well be my favourite Bond film, and, just maybe, is my film of the year, though as I said, I always find it hard to pick one.

* * *

As well as these five, for various reasons, I’d also like to mention Dredd, End of Watch, Brave, The Avengers and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, all of which I enjoyed on different levels and I thought were noteworthy films in one way or another and I’ve still not seen The Hobbit or Berberian Sound Studio…

Note: At the point of compiling this I hadn’t seen Life of Pi, another movie released in 2012 though I saw it in 2013, and if I had this would certainly be a top 6!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Life Of Pi

life of pi posterDespite everything in the media and the fact that its an adaptation of a famous novel I headed into Life Of Pi with little fore-knowledge of what I was about to watch – beyond the fact it featured a boy, a boat and a Bengal tiger – and I am very glad I had few expectations going in.

What I got from the film was a story that was, at once, epic yet personal and really delved into the heart of humanity in a way I’ve not seen in a major motion picture in a long time, if ever, while also being visually stunning and having all the excitement of any big movie.

The main thing that struck me, and frankly effected me quite deeply, about Life Of Pi was its story and the issues it raises.

Life of Pi follows the life of a boy from French-India on an extraordinary journey from his home in India to Canada following the closure of his family’s zoo.

life of piIn his young life in India, Pi explores various religions, starting with Hinduism before moving onto Catholicism and Islam. This sets up a theme for the film that I think is one of its most integral messages; that faith is something to be explored and discovered and that all faith is a very personal thing – there’s a whole essay to be written on this subject and its representation in the film to be honest, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

What also happens as the film moves on that struck me, particularly in the medium of the major ‘family film’, is the exploration of true animalism.

life of pi 2For a majority of the movie Pi is adrift in a lifeboat with some of the zoo’s animals and we see a real animalistic side of them which, while shot in a stunningly un-bloody way, still gets across the danger of these beasts which is certainly against the image usually presented in family films.

As the film progresses we, along with Pi, are left to make a choice and here another theme arises to do with the nature of storytelling, but to say too much about this would only lead to spoilers, but really was an interesting twist.

Visually the film is absolutely stunning and, along with Dredd, are the only films I’ve thought might be worth seeing in 3D.

Life of Pi 3The most striking thing was the way the film marries the realism of the animals and the ocean landscapes with a heightened visual sense integral to the story as it develops.

Through a mix of real and computer generated effects we get a very real sense of the fear and danger of being trapped with a Bengal tiger but we also get to experience the wonder of flying fish, dolphins and a blue whale.

Really though, despite the films amazing visuals, it was the story and the experience of Pi and the message he transmits that really got to me and made this film what it is as it explores elemental facets of human nature combined with issues of faith and reason in a way usually absent from the mainstream.

Now I just feel like I need to find my own Richard Parker…

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Searching For Sugar Man

Searching For Sugar Man posterI’ve probably said it before (and I’ll probably say it again) but there are two clear sorts of music documentaries and they are very subjective.

The first is the fairly standard one where you go in as a fan of the band and know, at least, sections of their story (for me this includes last year’s Marley as well as likes of Oil City Confidential and The Filth And The Fury, though these last two being directed by Julien Temple puts them into a different place for me, but that’s a blog for another day).

The other sort of music documentary is the sort where you know nothing about the music or the artists involved going in, but are watching because you have heard about the film. For me the latter was the case for Searching For Sugar Man.

Stephen SegermanThe film starts on a coastal road near Cape Town in South Africa with former jeweler, sometime soldier, and now record store owner Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman listening to an album called Cold Fact by a man called Rodriquez and explaining how his nickname was inspired by the album and how this was as big as Bridge Over Troubled Water or The White Album in South Africa throughout the 70s.

From there we get a fascinating story of Sugar and, latterly, journalist Craig Bartholomew Strydom’s search for Rodriquez – a man rumoured to have died on stage one of several horrific ways.

RodriguezMost of this story takes place across the 1990s and brings to mind the fact that this is very much a pre-internet tale – today a quick Google search for even the most obscure artists will normally come back with at least a basic biography and discography, but, back then, all these two men had were the record sleeves for the two albums they knew existed.

As well as the idea of the pre-wiki world the story told by Searching For Sugar Man is one that really highlights the power that art (and specifically music) can have over people’s lives.

Cold FactI will save the details of Rodriquez himself that are revealed, for fear of spoilers, but it becomes clear that both Segerman and Strydom’s lives were drastically changed by their quest which is based purely on a passion for an album released in 1970 which was triggered by a series of chance events.

As well as the personal effect many of the talking heads that appear, predominantly white South Africans, are adamant that without music like that of Rodriquez which came to them despite a heavily censored media, many wouldn’t have stood up to their government and, in their own ways at various levels, help over throw the apartheid system.

Rodriquez 2Away from the politics and the personal stories this is, of course, a film about music and that comes across with some excellent little snippets of Rodriquez’ work with some music video-like sequences giving us some great views of Detroit (you’ll find out why if you watch the film) that evoke both a personal view of the city and the larger decaying industrial landscape it has become famous for.

I may not have seen many documentaries over the past 12 months but I have to say this is up there with the most interesting stories I’ve seen told in a music documentary in a long time and, while not as stylistically flamboyant as the aforementioned Temple’s work, still has a certain flair of its own and does what I think all good music documentaries should do – it made me want to listen to the music.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,