No Manifesto, a film about Manic Street Preachers
Ten years in the making, "No Manifesto" finally arrives : a film about Manic Street Preachers, and a film from another age. Primarily filmed in 2005-2007, around the time of the bands commercial and artistic nadir and subsequent rebirth, it captures a lost age that is still so recent in memory. Clearly a labour of love, and made on what appears to be a shoestring budget, it's almost the film the band deserve, and yet, not.
It is undoubtedly a film that was crying out to be made, as few British bands, if any, have had such a interesting and valid artistic identity, and few have created a body of work worthy of analysis : and this comes so near and yet so far. It's a fascinating insight, and unexpected, into a self-contained world that raises as many questions as it answers. And yet, it's not quite enough, even though it peels back the skin and reveals the inner life of these three (and once, four) Welshmen who should never have been a band, and yet were born to be a band. It's a fascinating story, but it doesn't quite tell itself. It's revelatory, and yet, doesn't quite tell the tale.
There are, firstly and obviously, drawbacks in this film : namely, the concert/live audio is not always precisely recorded, and sometimes it sounds it. In many respects, it appears to be soundcheck footage superimposed on live performances. It still sounds good, but it doesn't quite work in conjuntion with the live footage. The live footage is also frustratingly brief (four songs at most), taken mostly from a handful of shows across 2005 and 2007, and melded together in an approximate montage.
Secondly, it is, by definition a time capsule. The most recent footage shown was recorded in 2009 - and six years is a long time. A lot has changed, and the world has changed, and we have changed, and the band has changed since then. It is already a museum piece, as it ends in a string of US shows to support "Journal For Plague Lovers" - and the band have released three albums, two box sets, and a greatest hits package since then.
Thirdly, the fans. As an editorial decision, having key parts of the bands narrative told through commentary by third parties who are only really aware of the bands history through newsprint, and in some cases, were not either there physically, or not old enough to do anything but recount from past history, misses a vital insight that only the band themselves can give. It's not a criticism of the fans, but as an editorial decision, it doesn't quite work. I'd be far more interested in hearing the perspective from the band around these events, an insiders perspective ; but it's not here.
Finally, the tale told is haphazard : threads and themes are discussed, dropped, and returned to, or abandoned, seemingly at random. It makes a vague sense, but doesn't seem to cohere. What is "No Manifesto"? It's a tale, and a well told one, but it lacks the sense of narrative, the sense of design, that a great documentary has.