This is another one of the music documentaries from the Allison and Tiffany Anders music section of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. It tells the story of Lawrence, frontman of the iconic 1980s indie band Felt and then in the 1990s of Denim. More recently he has led Go-Kart Mozart. If you are old like me or have read books about indie music of yore you will know that Lawrence was long famous as a somewhat eccentric character. In the 1980s he was known for the extremely OCD rules governing his home, which went so far as not allowing his flatmate's friends to use the toilet there (as the flatmate's friends included Bobby Gillespie this was perhaps not such a crazy idea). This film does not go over this old ground, eschewing a biographical approach in favour of presenting a portrait of Lawrence as he is now ("now" being the eight years or so the film took to make, something it largely obscures).
This was a film I had been looking forward to seeing for ages and I was excited that it was finally coming to Dublin. But five minutes or so into the film I was starting to think it was perhaps one of the most depressing things ever committed to celluloid. Lawrence is still making music but he is someone whose moment has very much passed. If there was ever a real possibility that he was going to hit the big time, that possibility is now gone. That would not necessarily be a problem, as many people plug away in relative obscurity, following their music and happy enough to make music for whoever ends up liking it. But Lawrence still comes across as a driven character feeling that his day is yet to come, that any day now he will see himself on a revived Top of the Pops and find himself being driven around in a limo while screaming fans run down the street after him. That this is not going to happen seemed at first to mark him out as some kind of delusional saddo.
The other disturbing thing about the film initially is shock at what a wreck Lawrence has become. He has notably aged far worse than other contemporaries of his who show up in the film. When he was younger he was a rather stylish character. While now he is still someone who takes a certain interest in his appearance, his look is now one of a crazy eccentric rather than anyone who is ever going to grace the pages of The Chap. And his living conditions seemed to have declined somewhat. I doubt he was ever inhabiting penthouses, but the first flat we see him in looks extremely dingy. I suspected that Bobby Gillespie would have no problem using the toilet there.
The reason for Lawrence's decline is touched on obliquely rather than directly stated. Basically, as well as suffering from mental health issues, he has for many years now been in thrall to heroin and methadone. It seems that he fell into a dark place after the record company dropped Denim in 1997 or thereabouts. He has been living in relative poverty since then, though he is lucky that he is in the UK and can get access to council accommodation and be prescribed opiates rather than become a homeless junkie (though obviously it would be wrong to think that the UK is some kind of utopia where people with drøg addictions are looked after; there are plenty of homeless junkies in that country).
Once that penny drops the film becomes a lot less depressing. For one thing, I found myself becoming habituated to Lawrence's droll sense of humour. I particularly liked when he mentioned some people he had fallen in with, saying that he met them while he was living in Pete Astor's loft (too cumbersome to explain if you do not get it straight off). But I think more generally I started finding Lawrence almost inspirational. He has his vision of pop stardom and he keeps working to achieve it. Maybe he is delusional and has no realistic chance of achieving his goal, but he keeps at it, not letting poverty or opiate addiction stop his pursuit of his muse. I think anyone who has engaged in largely pointless artistic endeavour will see something of themselves in Lawrence's refusal to give up.
Paul Kelly, the film's director was there for questions and answers after film. He proved to be an engaging and likeable character. He said that Lawrence would have come along to the film's screening except that travelling outside the UK would have required him to take off his hat, something he never does in public (I think for reasons of baldness, another terrible cross he has to bear).
London Film Festival 2011 Diary: Day 11 (Death image source)
Foxtrot Echo Lima Tango (old Lawrence image source)
Chapter one of a recent example of my own largely pointless artistic endeavours
The Anders' JDIFF music programme
An inuit panda production