Soul Boys of the Western World Dir. George Hencken

[Sundance Selects; 2014]

Styles: documentary, music
Others: Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets

This is a film about Spandau Ballet, a band who had almost everything. They had two huge singles in the middle 80s, “True” and “Gold”, two slabs of inspirational sophisti-pop that will play at weddings until the last children of Thatcher and Reagan are humped into their graves. They had albums that went platinum, they had tours that sold out across the world, and they had a place amongst the legendary Live Aid line-up, all of which this new film, Soul Boys of the Western World, touches upon using the band’s own words. And now that they even have their own career-spanning documentary, you might be wondering what it is they don’t have. Well, it’s right there in the title — take the “soul” part under advisement.

The focus here is on Spandau’s success as a triumph of aspirational politics, with the band describing themselves as working class lads having a good time and making some music on the side. Constructed as it is entirely from archive footage, the film conveys that pretty well, depicting the whole of the 80s as one giant Club 18-30 holiday where the sun shines about 110% brighter if you’re young, fit, and can look good holding a bass guitar. If there’s anything of interest here, it’s these glimpses of a transformational era in Western culture, when, for a lucky few, the doors to wealth and excess were blown wide open by all those sexy neo-liberal economic reforms. But if you’re waiting for the other individually crafted Italian loafer to drop, then you’ll be waiting way past the credits. Hints of discord, not least the protracted legal wrangling over the royalties to their hits, are glossed over because, basically, this is Spandau product. It’s a victory lap, a successful reunion crowned by a glowing cinematic tribute. The fans want to reminisce, so what they want is footage of Spandau facing off against Duran Duran on Mike Read’s Pop Quiz, not glum Tony Hadley moaning about all the checks he wasn’t getting. Which is… fair enough, but it gets a bit nauseating. If all you have is a slick anecdote about flying out to Monaco for a gig, then what you have, rather than a film, is a puff piece.

Far from resurrecting Spandau as a great lost band, all Soul Boys does is satisfy the preconceived notions of both fans and non-fans. If you belong to the first category, you fiftysomething you, it’ll remind you of the time you slow-danced to all those “haHAha-ha-ah-ha’s” at your prom. And if you’re not a fan, you’ll be relieved to know that these fellas were as lame as the music they made. You will not feel the urge to hunt out 1984’s Silver (featuring Billboard 200 hit Only When You Leave) on vinyl afterwards. And — why do I find it hard to write the next line — if a music movie can’t even make you do that, then why bother in the first place? There’s one crucial thing that’s lacking here, and no amount of second-hand nostalgia can make up for it.

Most Read