“Flawed Is beautiful” DVD Review
I guess we all have bands or artists that we are convinced, in a fair world, would have been absolutely huge (Enuff Z’ Nuff, Jesse Malin, Butch Walker, Marvelous 3 to name just a few for us!). However, how many of us actually do anything about it? In many ways, www.thesoulofaclown.com was set up with the purpose of just giving some exposure to the music we love and that may not be picked up by the mainstream press. However, even our efforts pale in to insignificance when compared to the efforts of Adam Foley. Adam’s the director of “Flawed Is Beautiful”, a wonderful documentary on the scene known as ‘The New Wave of New Wave’ and, in particular, the bands These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H. Adam is a fan who was inspired by the bands and then, years and years later, still had a desire to try and ensure they received the credit they deserved. Having had the initial idea and realising that if he didn’t do it, then maybe no one would, he decided sod it and gave it a go. The fact that he has produced this documentary with no previous filming or editing experience is a huge credit to his passion and desire. It’s something that clearly shines through during the film and we are sure is appreciated by the bands.
In terms of the film itself, those of a certain age will probably read that scene name and the band names, with either a slight smile or a bit of a sneer. If we’re honest, probably only the original fans of the bands will approach it with real sense of joy. That’s a huge shame and we really would say from the outset, if you are any sort of music fan, you need to watch this film, as it’s just a joy and inspiration to watch. It appropriately opens to the blast of “The Sound Of Youth” by These Animal Men, the song title says it all as the montage of rock n roll scenes appear on the screen.
In general, the film tells the story of both bands from the beginning to their far too early, and in some ways tragic, demise. Although, maybe that is how it was meant to be, as the quote that gives the film it’s title states, “Nothing more beautiful than something flawed”. From the start, These Animal Men were all about the ‘defence of rock n roll’ and a response to how they saw other music at the time as ‘hell’. They just loved rock n roll like it used to exist in the sixties rather than the dance dross of the early nineties. The band’s down to earth approach is apparent both then and now and the film is full of loads of humorous quotes like Hooligan’s comment that ‘if someone was going to do something, it had to be someone snidely and a bit of a prick…. And that was me!’ From the outset, his band seemed to encapsulate and enjoy the full rock n roll dream, where the look and image was as important as the quality of the music (but not to it’s detriment).
It is clear from the outset that, whilst comparisons could be drawn, there were still fundamental differences between the two featured bands. S*M*A*S*H were rooted in a somewhat more grimy punk scene and style, right from their beginnings in various squats. They embraced the whole punk DIY ethic which extended from the initial printing of their own t-shirts and flyers, playing grotty London gigs and developing a loyal and passionate fan base through fanzines. The film features some really great footage of both bands. It’s particularly pleasing to see the way S*M*A*S*H made their record company come down to the local youth club, where they first used to play, for them to sign their first recording contract. The arrogance and strength of the band is embodied in the way they swig from the champagne bottle as the label executive shakes their hands.
The documentary also gives a timely reminder of how the music press used to work ‘back in the day’. It’s quite incredible how they even managed to generate the concept of a new scene, New Wave of New Wave. For a limited time at least, it would capture both the music press and mainstream papers attention. It’s questionable if there really was a ‘scene’ given in reality it just seemed to consist of these two bands, despite attempts, both at the time and posthumously, to inappropriately squeeze some more names in. Despite this, for a period, they managed to totally dominate the likes of NME and Melody Maker etc., even if it was just because they ‘weren’t boring, but exciting and ridiculous’. One of the things this documentary does show, is that they really were a necessary precursor to the whole Brit pop scene. This is partly due to the fact they actually generated some press and ‘interesting’ headlines, but also they reintroduced the idea of bands being ‘gangs’ with a particular ‘look’ and a common sense of purpose. The significance of the bands is also shown by the commentators that appear in the film. Along with all the band members, which in itself was probably a great achievement, we also get knowledgeable journalists. It’s not the usual rent a mouth ‘celebrity’ commentators or has been indie stars. Instead, we get knowledgeable people such as John Robb, Simon Price, Matt Everitt and Paul Moody. People who actually know what they are talking about and can give interesting and relevant insights.
Of course, the greatest insights come from the band members themselves. It’s great to hear their recollections about the time and their views then and also now, with the benefit of hindsight. S*M*A*S*H clearly have mixed feelings and they are honest in their views that the time was full of people who loved them, people who hated them and a mix of great and shit gigs. Whilst These Animal Men, in the early days at least, seemed to just love it, living a life of drinking every day and having fun, whilst performing raucous twenty minute gigs with fans who shared their own loves and interests.
Alongside all the stories and commentaries, the key thing this film does is remind us just how bloody good the music was. It’s full of studio and live tracks which fill your room with the sense of passion, desire and love of ‘proper’ rock n roll music. Again though, whilst the music may have shared a punky feel, the nature of the song material was quite different. S*M*A*S*H certainly took a far more ‘serious’ approach to the subject matter at least. The personal and emotive content of the lyrics were probably missed by many at the time, with their references to the loss of friends through drink and drugs. Also, how many people got beyond the shocking title of “Lady Love Your Cunt” to appreciate that it was a reflection on both prostitution and the judiciary, or that the title came from one of the band member’s mother and a reference to a publication by Germaine Greer. On the film, we get to hear it as a truly intense live song.
Meanwhile, These Animal Men released “Speed King” and were being featured on the news for their shocking encouragement of drug use. It’s really amusing to see the pompous reaction of the authorities at the time, and compare it to the tongue in cheek way the band tried to justify their stance. It’s a great example of how the mainstream media would build up a state of over the top panic and fuss, resulting in calls for the band to be banned. How did they always miss the fact that giving bands this level of hype actually gave them the attention and success they so badly desired!!
Some of the film’s content and stories are just priceless, such as the scenes of the bands appearing on Top Of The Pops, which in those days aired at peak time on a Friday night. It’s great to hear that the audience were terrified of S*M*A*S*H when they played and so had to be reshot pretending to enjoy it. It’s also remarkable to be reminded that These Animal Men’s debut also coincided with that by a band called Oasis….now whatever happened to them?!?!? Joking apart, it’s an early warning to how the fate of a band can change so easily and quickly. Although, the band themselves are quite reflective about it all and seem to accept that it was their destiny, as they were really a group of attention seekers rather than people with a career plan.
The two bands’ approach to their time in the limelight is also in total contrast. These Animal Men are full of tales of excess, as they accept an offer of £500 to miss their flight (and therefore the meeting with the new US label), before drinking a litre of rum on the plane and almost being refused entry to the States. When they do arrive, on a whim, they get Quentin Crisp’s number out of the New York phone directory and end up having tea with him. Whilst we also get clips from their gig at the Phoenix festival, which is just a totally glorious mess and includes the classic heckle “Taxi for These Animal Men”!!
For S*M*A*S*H, it doesn’t appear anywhere near as much fun. To this day, they are still clearly unhappy and frustrated by the recording process for their album. The sound of the album being nowhere near that which was achieved live. Whilst playing bigger venues and staying in nicer hotels, the joy already seems to be disappearing, not assisted by the growing drug issues in the band. By the time they get to the “Another Love (Song)” EP. They are clearly getting caught up in the worst aspects of the commercial music industry. The world of professional videos and staged photographs was definitely not one for them. The documentary graphically shows a band falling apart and not enjoying themselves. It comes as no surprise when you hear that they have a huge row which results in drummer, Rob, kicking his kit and storming out. The band had become a destructive mess and it would sadly see them losing contact for ten years.
His counterpart in These Animal Men, Steve, is the only one in the band who didn’t seem to share the joy of their fame. He remarks that he was not really part of the gang and it is very sad to hear him say that when he appeared on Top of the Pops, it was the loneliest part of his life. He obviously had a volatile relationship with the other band members and with some irony he actually ends up being replaced by Rob from S*M*A*S*H. Even those events don’t initially dampen the apparent rise of the band, as they go on to record the awesome follow up album, “Accidents And Emergency”, and even see the first single, made single of the week by radio 1!! What could go wrong……other than being unceremoniously dropped by their record company!
Once again the band members accept this with unbelievable good grace, with Hooligan declaring that they ‘didn’t want to be a success, it was meant to be fucked up and it was!’ In the end, the album is released with absolutely no support or press at all and that really is tragic. As a result, the film seems to suggest that the band just seemed to fall apart. Watching the film you just can’t help but feel this is totally wrong. Not that the band should split up, it’s just that you sense they were destined to end with a big and triumphant bang.
It is with some irony that you sense their demise was predominantly due to the phenomenal success of Brit pop, which would bring fame and fortune to bands who didn’t have the talent or energy of either of these bands. Despite all this, the real joy of this film is the sense of love and passion that emits from all those taking part. This obviously resonates from the director himself, the obvious fondness expressed by all the commentators and the authenticity of the clips of the bands from back in the day. Although, the really heart-warming feeling comes from the interviews with the bands now. It’s not a loved up, rose tinted spectacles approach that is adopted. It is clear that many of the band members have been through tough times and, indeed, even at the peak of their fame there were clearly many personal issues and problems. However, despite all of this, they all speak with an honesty and eloquence that you just can’t help admire and respect (two words that perhaps in their early days they might have never dreamed would be written about them!). The scenes of the reformed These Animal Men playing together again, after all these years, and after all they’ve been through, is a surprisingly emotional sight.
When you finish watching this documentary, we are convinced it will make you remember just why you love music and how important it can be to people’s lives, whether you’re in a band or a fan. The two bands may have had a relatively short career but this film makes you realise that the music they produced was brilliant and is just as relevant now as it was then. Indeed, given it was part of an often mocked ‘scene’, there’s a real irony that it has such a timeless feel. It really makes you wish that there were bands like this around now. It has left us hoping and praying that there could be a new wave of new wave of new wave!!!!
Our thoughts on this film are quite clear… it’s bloody brilliant and anyone who likes music should immediately go to the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/flawedisbeautiful/?ref=ts&fref=ts) and find out about pre ordering the DVD, you will not be disappointed.
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