Sunday, 24 January 2010

Vicarious Viewings

There is, for myself at least, a certain thrill when I recognise a location used in a film as somewhere I have visited, or visit somewhere that has been used as a location for a film. Both the visit, and subsequent viewings of the film are enhanced by the experience. Playing the giant piano in FAO Schwarz, like Tom Hanks in Big, was a highlight of a trip to New York (when I got back from that trip, I also compared the photos I'd taken on the Staten Island Ferry to the opening shot from Working Girl). A trip to Prague was enlivened by me committing an arrestable offence (twice!) in the place where, in the first Mission:Impossible film, Tom Cruise and Kristin Scott Thomas are exiting what is supposed to the US Embassy (it's actually a restaurant). Sticking with central Europe, a trip on the ferris wheel from The Third Man is a must on any visit to Vienna (it also makes it into Before Sunrise and a Bond film). Closer to home, a walk through Waterloo Station can't help but make me think of London to Brighton or The Bourne Ultimatum.

All of these moments have one thing in common: I have visited them after the film has been shot, as if I am paying homage to the film. There are other films where I have recognised a location as somewhere I know; here, I have been there before the film was shot.

Last night, I experienced something new: seeing a film on a big screen that included footage shot when I was actually present. This was a new thrill, but not one that was entirely unexpected.

The film was No Distance Left to Run, a documentary telling the story Blur against the backdrop of their gloriously triumphant 2009 reunion tour. At the gigs last summer there were signs at the entrance telling people that filming would be taking place and by entering we were giving our consent for any footage featuring ourselves to be used in some way. I presumed that some video would find its way into some sort of bonus section of a live DVD of one of the gigs. To have been at event that was not only, by some distance, the best gig I've ever seen, but also when some footage for a film that had a (admittedly small) cinema release was, for someone like myself, pretty special.

It will be hard, but I will try to get some critical distance on the film. A mix of archive footage and gorgeous HD, it is funny, sad, dark (Damon Albarn mentions that heroin "muddied" the lives of certain people around the time of the Blur album, a reference, one presumes, to the problems of his then girlfriend, Justine Frischmann) but with a happy ending. One complaint I heard as I left the cinema was that it didn't really deal with the final two gigs of the reunion that took place in Hyde Park. Though moments from them are shown, there is a good narrative reason for this: the crowd singing the "Oh My Baby" line from Tender back at the band at their Glastonbury performance is hard to top as a moment of triumph.

As the tour did, the film rights the record that Blur were the definitive band of the Brit Pop era. Or to put it a little less elegantly, as I did at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall on June 24th last year, "Who the fuck are Oasis?". The 2003 documentary Live Forever, in which Albarn appeared, seemed to have its feet firmly in the Oasis camp (even going so far as to interview a laughable Oasis tribute band). No Distance Left To Run reminds us of the band Blur were. Nobody else had the songs in the numbers they did, nobody else had the intelligence to move away from Brit Pop at exactly the right time (what are Ocean Colour Scene doing now? Are Oasis still going as some sort of Liam Gallagher and friends band?) and find other influences. The reunion didn't feel like it was for the money, it felt more like catharsis for the band.

This has turned away from a review of the film or a meditation on having some vicarious thrill from being where a film was shot into an appreciation of Blur, so I perhaps better wrap it up. The DVD of the film is out on February 15th, and well worth a look for fans of Blur, historians of the 90s, and people wondering why it's a bad idea to invite Will Self to your comeback gigs. It also shows just how well David Walliams captured Graham Coxon in his impersonation in the Blur episode of Rock Profile. Decent music documentaries are rare, and this is one.