Irish director Niall McCann documents the rise of Glasgow indie label Chemikal Underground and the 1997 road trip that sent several pivotal artists to perform in the remote town of Mauron, France.
Chemikal Underground was established in the mid-90’s by The Delgados – a band who had caught the attention of John Peel. The label went on to release albums and singles from the likes of Mogwai, RM Hubbert, and Arab Strap. ‘Lost in France‘ uses a combination of archive footage/photography, live performance shot for the film, and numerous interviews from the key individuals.
‘Lost in France‘ has more energy, humour, and honesty than a typical music doc. Whilst it does contain some interview to camera type pieces, it is not overly reliant on these. Furthermore, when people are interviewed the film cuts away to show footage or photographs of what is being discussed, keeping the interviewee audio over the top.
We are taken on a journey back to Mauron, and the bands play to a small crowd there. These live performance sections are pro-shot, and imaginative. We get slow-motion in part, beat editing that is often fast paced, and camera angles that capture the finer details of the band on stage with the physicality of each musician. I would, however, have liked to have seen a little more of this.
The documentary best captures the dynamics of the bands and friendships as they travel back to France on the back seats of a coach. Though the presence of the camera must’ve been unavoidably invasive, there are short segments of long conversations between Alex Kapranos, Stewart Henderson, Emma Pollock, Paul Savage, Stuart Braithwaite, and RM Hubbert.
These detail anecdotes, memories, and commentary on both the formative years of the label in Glasgow, and the famed trip to France. This is neatly cropped into montage alongside shots of passing scenery of rural France before heading into another section of the film focusing on a specific event or band.
Almost every time the film becomes a little too “interview to camera” in style, it cuts away and goes somewhere unexpected. The film goes part of the way into the head space of its subjects, but never with definitive clarity. We get some part drunken ramblings from Kapranos for instance. We also see the funny asides meant after the subjects think that the camera has stopped rolling.
One criticism would be that the latter half of ‘Lost in France‘ often dwells on the state of the music industry now. Due to the fast paced editing on the film, it is difficult to tell if this was intentional. It’s hard to really know if this is because of the film’s subjects or if it was an angle the director wanted to deliberately pursue. There are a lot of comments about ideas of success and record sales now, which are at odds with the ever-changing socio-political times that surround its release. The film is otherwise great at documenting the gig in 1997, and the key events that both preceded and followed.
As the film screening finishes the crowd in Glasgow’s ABC applaud most of the way through the rolling credits. There’s a 10 minute interval before supergroup ‘The Maurons‘ take to stage. The band consists of Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand), Braithwaite (Mogwai), RM Hubbert, Pollock and Savage (The Delgados).
The band take to the stage full of excitement and eagerness. Unfortunately, it’s only a short set of around twenty minutes. Emma Pollock and Alex Kapranos introduce the songs. It’s clear that there’s the who’s who of the Glasgow indie scene in attendance. “It’s nice to play a gig where I know nearly all of the audience” Kapranos laughs, “like in that song we just played [Franz Ferdinand – Jacqueline] there’s a lyric ‘Gregor was down again’… Gregor is here, I just spoke to him!”
There’s a definite warmth in the ABC as the ‘The Maurons‘ cover songs from fellow Scottish bands The Jesus and Mary Chain, and The Pastels. There’s a standing ovation after they play their final tune – ‘Owl in the Tree’, originally by art punks Trout. The crowd disperse then, either to the Chemikal Underground curated aftershow party, or out onto a rainy Sauchiehall Street.
It’s a massive event to perceive; a film screening in a large scale music venue followed by a rare ‘supergroup’ performance. There’s a fixed seating bank in the main stalls area of the venue, ahead of a small bar / stand space sloped at the back of the room. For several reasons, most arguably health and safety or crowd control, everyone remains seated or stood at the back during the show. The combo of film screening + live band is difficult to place, but unfortunately it meant that, for me, the show suffered a lack of atmosphere usually present at a gig.
Having just watched a film about music in small venues like The 13th Note, the colossal scale of the ABC resulted in a lack of intimacy in the experience. Though, I do realise this is a detail that has near inevitable implications for an event of this nature.
[rating=4] |Zach Roddis
Music, Documentary | UK, 2016 | 15 | 24th February 2017 (UK) | Curzon Artificial Eye Film | Niall McCann | Stuart Braithwaite, Stewart Henderson, Alex Kapranos, Paul Savage