Film Reviews and Discussion.
Dir: Mat Whitecross
Fool’s Gold? Or What The World Is Waiting For? Spike Island revisited as a Stone Roses themed love note frames a coming of age tale of romance, music and friendship.
It is hard to think now, but a feeling still lingered back in the late 80s and early 90s that music could change things. That it mattered more than anything. Apathy, saturation and post-modern irony has since dispelled such a heady notion. The latter was signalled by the arrival of Britpop in the mid 90s, which brought an explosion of talented UK guitar bands armed with both a healthy reverie to yesteryear and a sneering but erudite cynicism. Britpop spread from the confines of the underground and went mainstream, culminating in chart topping albums and magazine covers. A few years earlier, things were very not quite so widely appreciated. During the time of the Stone Roses first coming, the rock landscape was dominated by those bands who were theatrically pompous and Spinal Tap indebted – as though punk never happened. Aside from a few renegades in the shape of REM, The Smiths, Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, there was not a lot to be excited about. The most adventurous and inspiring music of the time was coming to light in the form of Acid House, with its shuffling beats and spacey grooves. For rock music, American bands, like Guns N’ Roses, reigned supreme along with a number of other poodle rockers.
In a small way, in the late 80s, the Stone Roses were creating a revolution of their own. Albeit confined, predominately, to the United Kingdom. Their music caught a prevailing mood and a shaggy glamour, which showcased a spirit more in thrall to street urchin than detached and out-of-touch rock superstar. Internationally, it would take grunge and the release of both Nevermind by Nirvana and Ten by Pearl Jam in 1991 to really blow away the rock/metal/braggadocio/mullets that were fixtures at that time.
Chronicling a bunch of school friends who are mischievous and indolent by day, but passionate, committed and dedicated to their music outside of school, the motley crew consists of Dodge, Tits, Zippy and Little Gaz. They have a band, and their band, Shadow Castre, aim to emulate the music of the Roses and achieve a following similar to those of their heroes. The events are tracked in the lead-up to the (in)famous Spike Island gig (notoriously, a prevailing wind blew the sound across the water, rendering the concert muted/inaudible for many), a Woodstock-of-sorts for the baggy generation. Can this bunch of scallies secure tickets to see the band that inspire them?
In a happy coincidence, it is interesting to note that this film achieved a green light for production before the Stone Roses announced their successful reformation. The timing, therefore, could not be better. Shane Meadows will soon release his own film, but one that documents the reunion and the tour that followed. There is certainly space for this fictional piece, and it is a romantic trip back to 1990, to the period of tie-dye t-shirts, bowl cuts and baggy.
It is fair to say that this is a warm-hearted but minor film, playing strongest to those who have either a nostalgia linked with the time, or a passion for the music of the era. There are dramatic compulsions that have all the hallmarks of a soap opera, and some of the histrionics are familiar to the point of cliche. At times, it is hard not to think that this is a retro-version of Hollyoaks bloated up to the big screen. Familiar topics are handled in the form of family, friends, disappointment, love, and the exploration of the ties that bind. Some story strands feel forced and unnecessary, such as the son/militant father conflict. Having said that, all the actors play their part with a commendable verve and spirit, and the film makers have faithfully restored the vernacular and regalia of the era.
There is a sparky punch to this film that is endearing, and a rambunctious energy that captures the fleeting period of teenage youth to young adulthood. It is far from perfect, but it is a giddy picture of romance, be it with love or music, family or friends. The fast cuts and edits zip through as though this is a broadcast for BBC3, and it will appeal to anyone with the call for something watchable and likeable, but not too demanding. As much as anything else, it is interesting to see recent history documented, evoking the pre-mobile age. There is a well-captured reference to the naivety in the youthful perception of local characters and villains, with the once unthinkable realisation of their insignificant stature in the wider world.
It is disappointing that this is not a runaway success. Those hoping for a ‘This Is England’ for the early 90s will be disappointed. This film is too happy to play things safe and sit on the traditions of the genre, resolving matters in a most predictable way.
Like the Spike Island gig itself, hopes were raised, it promised much and aside from odd flashes of realisation, the result was a disappointing damp squib.
Like this, try this: The Doors (1991) – A similarly imperfect document of the times and a band. This time the band is the Doors and the decade is the 1960s.
There was no trailer available for Spike Island at time of print.