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22 May 2007 @ 10:45 pm

In the past couple of weeks I've been to the Curzon Soho twice to see rock documentaries, which deserve a bit of comparison, if only to work things out in my head. [I've hyperlinked the cinema, incidentally, because it is truly the best cinema in London.]

First up, 30 Century Man went into detail about the career of Scott Walker, and his descent from boy band hero with the Walker Brothers and solo stardom and own TV show and staggering adulation to drug addiction and creative paralysis and back to critical acclaim and a new audience.

Next, earlier this evening, the Joe Strummer film, not surprisingly charting his career to his death five years ago.

Both boasted astonishing cast lists of contributors. I won't list them all, and indeed the Joe Strummer one went as far as to leave the viewer to work out who was who, presumably concluding that Strummer, being so vehemently opposed to egotism, would have frowned on such primadonnaism. The irony was, though, that the policy was almost counterproductive, as the audience in the cinema gave a collective hum of recognition when the famous contributors appeared - ha, that's Bono, who needs no introduction. Where the Scott film scored highly was that it was not just a series of reminiscences - they got various pop music luminaries to listen to a favourite track and the camera followed their reactions. Really nice and quite illuminating.

One thing that was lovely in both films was the visual element. Again, 30 Century faired better, but both brought visual elements to life - Joe Strummer's cartoons and hand-scrawled lyric sheets became animated; Scott Walker's album sleeves grew tentacles and strange lines across the screen, and newspaper cuttings were given extra dimensions. Ace.

I found myself thinking this evening about the amount of footage that exists of these blokes, especially Strummer. Home movies, backstage footage, TV interviews, sitting in the back of a cab, etc. A documentary of my life - not that I'm presumptuous enough to think that someone would actually want to make one - would have absolutely fuck all film. There would be no tortured editor saying 'Man we had to wade through hours of footage, and it was a nightmare to choose what to leave out.' 

Tempting though it is to say oh but I'm not famous, there's much more to it than that. I just wonder about the nature of one's life being filmed, preparing for nostalgia, preparing to get pored over at some point in the future. I saw a film a couple of years ago about a guy's life, in which he filmed the whole damn (boring) thing. It was called Tarnation and hell it was self-indulgent and, more importantly, just too much insight, especially into someone who himself wasn't that interesting, but, as it happened, had suffered a lot in his life. Coming back to Strummer and Walker, so much mundane footage gets into these documentaries, and their inclusion justifies itself once it's there, in the way that sometimes an artwork isn't an artwork til it gets into a gallery, at which point it acquires fantastic new meaning. OK so it is about fame and about how if I saw Scott Walker (or Bowie, or Bjork, or whoever) in mundane surroundings I'd be flabbergasted, and that would be footage - at least in my head - worthy of a rerun. 

I digress (for a change).

Overall, although I love the mythology surrounding both, I found myself much more drawn to Scott Walker. Whereas Strummer's acolytes went on about how pure and what-you-see-is-what-you-get Joe Strummer was, Scott Walker was described as someone altogether more mysterious. Right at the beginning of the film, David Bowie (David fucking Bowie!!) says something like 'Who knows anything about the real Scott Walker?' Although Scott was really a product of the 60s, and Joe Strummer much more my era (well, at least my formative years) the former resonates much more with me and with the artists I like.