BFI London Film Festival 2012: ‘Spike Island’ is a pleasant diversion down memory lane
Written by Chris Coghill
Directed by Mat Whitecross
Are you ‘mad’ for it? Up for getting on ‘one’, boshing a few pills, caning a few spliffs and tripping the light fantastic? That’s the nostalgic premise of Spike Island, the new film of Mat Whitecross (previously known for the admired Ian Dury bio-pic Sex & Drugs & Rock N Roll) and writer Chris Coghill’s revisit to the second summer of love of 1990, in their minds the apotheosis of the Madchester Indie music movement in the UK which saw The Stone Roses play their biggest ever gig a mere twelve months after their self titled, alchemical guitar rock album first blazed a trail to underline a Thatcherite decade of fiscal greed, social self interest and industrial decay. In terms of full disclosure I’m probably the ideal candidate for this faintly charming and rushing debut, given that I’m of the chemical generation who grew up with this album as one of the core soundtracks to my misspent adolescence, so while the film isn’t particularly original in its rose-tinted meander through a bygone musical age it at least has an eternally seminal soundtrack, with some keen details and observations on growing to maturity amidst a youth sub-culture whose influence and legacy remains potent and proficient to this day.
Inspired by their musical Mancunian elders a quartet of local lads have formed their own band and recorded a demo track, desperate to break into the big-time and supersede their educational barriers the film centres on the escapades of Tits, Dodge, Zippy and Little Gaz – the ambitious members of Shadowcaster – as their respective home situations and burgeoning love lives complicate their shared goal to attend the Spike Island gig, meet their idols and enjoy the times of their irascible lives, at the defining gig of the new decade.
This coming of age story is a down to earth, Made Of Stone graphite drama that ambles along with a certain cheeky, cocky charm. The minutiae is well observed, from the coffee stained copies of the NME festering in the crews scattered bedrooms, from the M-head haircuts and kicker trainers, baggy jeans and Stone Island jumpers, it is clearly a memoir from the casualties of the era with a fond regard for the brotherhood and heady, ecstasy charged idealism of the day. The social dramas of the principals although clearly telegraphed is agreeably managed, the domestic drama relived by a series of musical montages that capture the glory of youth and their immortal soundtrack, of lives centred on the cosmic importance of the scene and the ancillary importance of clubbing culture, with a fetishistic glance at vinyl and TDK90 mix tapes, of B and C class drug use being an unremarkable piece of the teenage fabric in this pre-digital, proto-adult age.
The UK seems to release a couple of these nostalgic pieces ever year, but for every achievement of a 24 Hour Party People chart assaulting status there are the come-downs, usually some Nick Love derived incompetent facckin fiasco, but Spike Island is a pleasant diversion down memory lane, confident enough to reference the legendary gigs hagiographic aura with some realistic recollections of terrible sound quality and adreline charged disappointment – I know a few people who were there who are less than charitable in their recollections – a positive corollary to the kids growing maturity and suspicion of authority, their idols plucked from a adoring perch. Hopefully this could be a resurrection of a suite of musical memoirs, for the moment for Stone Roses fans this could indeed be the one.