Svengali (and 5 other films about the music industry)
Starting life as a series of Youtube sketches written, funded by and starring Shameless actor Jonny Owen, Svengali has gone from viral hit to full-length feature film, which opened in UK cinemas last month and will be available on Blu-Ray & DVD from Monday April 7th.
For those unfamiliar with the Youtube series, the film’s synopsis is a familiar small-town-boy-done-good kind of tale. Owen’s character, Dixie, leaves his hometown in Wales and heads for London intent on fulfilling his dream of becoming the manager of the world’s biggest band. The story is apparently based on Owen’s own real life experience; back in the 90s he was in a band called The Pocket Devils, and the character Dixie is inspired by their manager, Paul Dixon. In an interview with Wales Online last month he explained that “We were doing things like demanding to know why we weren’t on the front cover of the NME. Asking why is Damon Albarn there? And if he was honest he would have said ‘because Blur are really good and you’re scrabbling around in Merthyr,’ but he wouldn’t say that, he’d say in a brilliant way (adopts Dixie’s effusive Welsh caricature) ‘Well they loved the demo see, loved it, but they’re going to wait until the next one which will be even better.”
That gives you some idea of the effusive character the film is based around and thanks to Owen’s little black book of celebrity mates, the cast list is pretty impressive. There are supporting roles for Martin Freeman and Vicky McClure, with appearances from Katy Brand, Morwenna Banks, Matt Berry and even former Creation records boss Alan McGee.
Expanding the sketch format to feature film is a bit of a stretch in places and you can’t help thinking that talent like McClure’s is a bit wasted in the girlfriend role, but this is an enjoyable feel-good British flick in the vein of films like Twin Town and Human Traffic and, much like the latter of these, the soundtrack is pretty impressive, with tracks by everyone from Big Star and Dexys Midnight Runners to The Libertines and Jake Bugg, even featuring an early track by The Who, when they were still known as The High Numbers.
If this kind of film is your thing you can bag yourself a copy from next week, in the meantime we’ve picked out five more films about the music industry to keep you occupied…
24 Hour Party People
Another British film in a similar vein, Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People tells the story of the late Tony Wilson and Factory Records, the Manchester-based label that was at the heart of the ‘Madchester’ scene at the back end of the 1980s, home of bands like New Order and the Happy Mondays. Wilson’s unorthodox approach to running the label, exemplified by the scene in which he signs a contract in his own blood, results in the rise and eventual demise of the Factory imprint through a combination of dreadful business decisions and its ownership of the money pit that was the Hacienda. Steve Coogan stars as Wilson in this funny and nostalgia-packed film, something which the label boss described at the time as “the biggest prick in Manchester being played by the second-biggest prick in Manchester”. If you haven’t seen it and you’re a fan of the ‘baggy’ scene, this is well worth a look.
If there was ever a film that defines the concept of the ‘warts-and-all’ documentary, this is it. Ondi Timoner’s 2004 film charts the early careers of two rival Detroit bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Even if you are not a fan of either band, this documentary is absorbing to anyone with in interest in music, detailing as it does the parallels between the two bands’ careers, but the real star of the show here is Anton Newcombe, BJM’s highly unpredictable frontman, whose compulsive tendency to hit the self-destruct button eventually sees the band’s career fizzle out while The Dandy Warhols enjoy a period of success, despite an admission from their singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor that Newcombe is the more talented of the two. Essential viewing for any ‘rockumentary’ fan.
This Is Spinal Tap
We hope this needs no introduction, but Rob Reiner’s 1984 film set the template for ‘mockumentaries’ and remains a solid gold classic. The hapless rockers Spinal Tap exemplify how not to be in a successful rock band, with a soundtrack packed with comedy classics like ‘Big Bottom’ and ‘Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight’. As of the most often-quoted movies of all time, there is so much funny dialogue in this film it’s difficult to know where to start, but as one of the lines goes, ‘there’s such a fine line between genius and stupidity’ and this film definitely falls on the right side of it.
Cameron Crowe’s film about a 15 year old hired by Rolling Stone magazine to write about an up and coming band named Stillwater sees the teenager hurled into a world of groupies and excess, following the band around on tour and falling in love with one of a bunch of elite hangers-on calling themselves the Band-Aids. It’s a charming coming of age story that’s effortlessly cool and anyone who is a fan of late-70s rock will particularly enjoy this film, especially the impressive performances from Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson.
Metalica: Some Kind of Monster
Last but by no means least on our list is this documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, detailing the making of Metallica’s St. Anger. That might sound like an extremely special-interest kind of a film, but what makes this documentary so great is that far from being a straightforward documenting of the recording process, Some Kind of Monster details abandon that are very much in turmoil, battling with each other as well as alcohol addiction and other problems. Kind of like a Tantrums and Tiaras for people who read Kerrang!, if you’re a Metallica fan you will definitely enjoy it, but if you’re not, you might enjoy it even more.
One more to look out for...
John Niven's novel Kill Your Friends is currently in the process of being made into a film and it's definitely one to keep an eye out for. telling the story of Steven Stelfox, a record company A&R at the height of the early-90s Britpop scene, it's a tale of murderous debauchery that looks set to give Filth a run for its money. It's being directed by Owen harris and will star Nicholas Hoult and James Corden among others. Consider this fair warning...