Suggs: My Life Story: Madness, they call it gladness
by Kaleem Aftab
- British director Julien Temple’s new music documentary is a touching portrait of Madness frontman Suggs
A hagiographic portrayal of Graham “Suggs” McPherson based around a one-man show delivered by the Madness frontman, Julien Temple’s Suggs: My Life Story [+see also:
film profile] is a charming, fawning and affectionate portrait of the singer. It allows Suggs a carte blanche to tell his story in his own words on a stage in Hoxton Hall to an already captive audience, recounting how he felt when his cat died on the morning of his 50th birthday when he was hung over after a huge birthday celebration, before backtracking to his days as a tyke growing up in London and, for a brief period, Wales without knowing his father, and then flip-siding to the advent of the group that took the early 1980s by storm with their hits “Our House”, “House of Fun” and “It Must Be Love”.
From his films inspired by the Sex Pistols to his documentaries about musicians, such as Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten [+see also:
film profile] (2007) and Ray Davies – Imaginary Man (2010), and having also made so many iconic music videos, Temple has positioned himself as the great chronicler of the British music scene. Sometimes his friendships with his subjects can get in the way of his desire to investigate beyond surface pleasures. Temple has a history of working with Madness: his elaborate film The Liberty of Norton Folgate was made to accompany the band’s ninth studio album and incorporated concert footage shot at Hackney Empire as if it were being performed in Victorian England. Suggs: My Life Story is a simpler aesthetic proposition with much of the footage of Suggs performing his show that he’s been touring venues with since 2012, but Temple focuses on the smiles of his audience. Suggs indulges them by singing some songs, not all his own. This routine is intertwined with what are occasionally tacky dramatisations, the first of which sees Suggs recounting a story in the bathtub, but these dramatic moments morph into a more poignant personal journey showing the singer on his search for more information on the father he never knew, which takes him to Birmingham. More successful is Temple’s use of archive footage, a feature of many of his films. Here, he uses the visual material to romanticise the London scenes in the same tone as Suggs’ reminiscences. Suggs is a great raconteur of London life and his own place within it, although the rose-tinted view of past events is often charming, rather than revealing.
As with many on-stage “An Evening With…” events, this film is one for those fans not looking for an investigation or warts-and-all portrait of a subject, and will please those who are happy to hear some fun anecdotes and stories of the good old days, as well as those who are seeking to be entertained, rather than have things explained to them – and that this film does in 2 tone: glad and gladder.
Suggs: My Life Story was produced by Goldfinch Entertainment and Nitrate Films. It is getting a one-off release in the UK on 17 January, with a live Q&A streamed to cinemas across the country, courtesy of Rock & Roll Cinema.
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