(Planet Me)
Friday, May 31, 2013

How best to celebrate the return of one of the most lauded bands of British music? Why – get someone who has never made a documentary before and give them a video camera, and who managed to miss the band's first incarnation live – and give him free reign. “Made Of Stone”, a Shane Meadows film, is the sound of an open goal missed from three feet away. There are fascinating glimpses of the band, but huge chunks of missing narrative.

The reason you might be interested, that is, the bands music – is here, in fractions : two or three rehearsal versions, two or three live songs from small clubs – some in black & white for added authenticity -, a final brain-rotting vision of “Fools Gold” (not, for some reason, “I Am The Resurrection”). It sounds amazing, but there isn't enough of it, and is merely a tantalising glimpse of the not-yet-finished inevitable concert DVD. On the other hand, there are moments of Shane Meadows being lost in a car, explaining the morning after why he switched the camera off during an offstage row thus missing a moment of drama, a vaguely formless structures that neglects the core story, which is how two kids who played in a sandpit became strangers that loathed each other for 15 years and then became friends again. But none of that matters now. Look a chalkboard with a list of songs!

So much is missing. As if this film had had several key plot points removed.

Why the band split is never explained. What the band did in the 17 years they were absent is never explained. How the band reunited is never explained. There are no interviews with them apart from tiny fragments of general chitchat over ancient super 8 / VHS footage. No exploration of the difficulties of rekindling a friendship after a betrayal, the nature of identity, how you define yourself over time, how the band and its members may have evolved, how no matter what happens next you are always defined by who you were for five years, over two decades ago. No exploration of the band work, nor of the business of being in a band. Scant detail on the nature of forming a band in Britain in the 80's, or the cultural impact of the time. There's plenty of footage of the band rehearsing – and they have never sounded better, but it could be the post-euphoria mixing. The other musicians that passed through the bands ranks in the later years – Robbie Maddix on drums, Nigel Ippinson on keyboards, Aziz Ibrahim on guitar – are never seen or mentioned by name : (the footage of the live shows from that era focuses only on the holy trilogy of Brown/Squire/Mani). Sure there is a wealth of footage taken from stodgy – Brixton 1995, Atlanta 1995, Glasgow Green, Roskilde, Spike Island 1990, Manchester 1985-89, Alexandra Palace 1989, Blackpool 1989, London 1985, and numerous other shows in a clever use of the minor amount of actual footage that does exist. But huge chunks of the story are simply black holes. If this film were scripted, it would need a rewrite as there are plotholes everywhere.

And the man knows better. Explaining how excited he is that the band are playing their first show in 22 years, then frankly, which fucking band did I see in Wolvehampton in 1995? He forgets that they toured the world that year, and there's footage from those dates in this film.

Simply speaking this is one man trying to explain he loves a certain band, and failing. Sure, the footage of Warrington Parr Hall secret warmup gig clearly shows the degree of devotion some fans have, and the interviews with queuing fans, and the sadly tearful faces of those locked outside recording the sound of a street in a Northern Town with their iPhones is touching and desperate. But then again, as soon as the band come off stage, a half-naked Reni simply says “I'm off to see my bookie”, and disappears coldly after his first live appearance on drums in 22 years. And, of course, hearing some inarticulate sweating person try to explain something that is beyond their capacity isn't touching, more as simply boring. Surely they had something better in the 497.5 hours of unused footage?

As the film draws to a close, we have a 13 minute version of “Fools Gold”. Whilst the band play with satisfying interplay – at one point they all turn full circle into each other and, full of furrowed brows and slight glances, merge in to a few bars of “Driving South” before dropping effortlessly back into the song – the visuals are often an unpleasant reminder of the darker edge of the huge fanbase being drunk, inarticulate, with pointless cutaways to a drunk man falling asleep against an ice cream truck, climbing a catering van, a topless fan punching the air or spilling his lager. Might as well be Newcastle on a Saturday night. Men in yellow jackets arrest people. There's no sense of an ending or any form of closure. The film just ends. Oh, how I wish I could love this and praise it, but this film does not deserve that. There is a great film in here. But this is not the one.

Sadly, my Cineworld screening was more than unsatisfactory. For a 7.00pm screening, the film started at 8.21pm. Cineworld inserted adverts into the live stream, and delivered the film itself on a delay, so come the end of the film, the credits are cut short whilst backstage footage is shown, and the Shane Meadows Q&A is cut to 'live', but clearly mid-sentence and missing the start. Well done. Idiots.

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