“ Genre: Indie & Britpop / Artist: The Smiths / DVD Release Date: 2007 „
What a poor DVD this is. It was made in 2007 but I only got round to watching it recently. I shouldn't have bothered. It was very short at only 52 minutes and we don't hear anything at all from either Morrissey or Marr! Grrr...
The 'story' (if you can call it that) is told by the bassist and drummer but to be honest, it was Morrissey and Marr who made the band what they were. You may find this hard to believe but you don't even hear or see anything of The Smiths music in this DVD! I saw a DVD quite familiar to this about Nirvana. It was just shots of Aberdeen (where Cobain was from) and generic 'moody' music. You or I could have made something more interesting, I am sure! : /
If you are a Smiths fan and have read about them in books, in magazines or online then you will already know much of what is discussed in this DVD. There are certainly no eye-openers here. It's a little depressing, in fact, as we hear of the bassist's previous heroin addiction although I do admire him for discussing this openly as it raises awareness.
If you are looking for an indie disco night - then do yourself a favour and take your wilted daffodils and quiff elsewhere!
Hang the DJ.
Inside the Smiths is a documentary film all about Fred Dibnah and the amazing world of steam. Only joking. This is a 52 minute (bit mean with the running time) trawl through the short lived life of eighties Manchester pop icons The Smiths and was directed in 2007 by Stephen Petricco. A great documentary film about The Smiths always feels like it is there for the taking but sadly this one joins the ever expanding must try harder pile jostling for space in the corner. The film is the story of The Smiths told strictly from the perspective of their drummer Mike Joyce and bass player Andy Rourke. So not a sausage from Morrissey or Johnny Marr in this film, even in archive footage. They have no use of Smiths songs or footage either just to make the documentary feel even more like it has one hand tied behind its back. You get generic jingle jangle guitar music instead. Inside the Smiths doesn't look as cheap as the recent documentary film about The Queen Is Dead but it doesn't evoke memories of Stanley Kubrick either. They make a vague and not entirely successful attempt to mimic the willfully obscure style Derek Jarman used for that smattering of Smiths promo films he made in the eighties but it never really works terribly well. Mike Joyce famously won one million pounds in the High Court from Morrissey and Johnny Marr in 1997 after he sued them for an equal (retrospective) share of performance and recording royalties. Morrissey and Johnny Marr had taken the lion's share of the money because they wrote the songs and essentially were The Smiths as far as the contracts went. They felt that (rightly or wrongly) they were entitled as they had to work much longer hours in the studio and were the creative brains of the organisation.
The Smiths could have got by without Rourke or Joyce but not without Morrissey or Marr. When Marr did leave The Smiths they auditioned guitarists for a few weeks and tried to carry on without him and then realised it was completely preposterous to even contemplate such a course of action. Johnny Marrs do not just amble in off the street. As Joyce and Rourke are now persona non grata with Morrissey and Marr after the legal feuding you might expect Inside the Smiths to be a somewhat bitter affair with Joyce in particular settling a few old scores but you don't get any of that here. If anything, Joyce is benign and nostalgic talking about The Smiths. It's as if he can't believe it all really happened and would drop everything in a second to do it all again. He is respectful to Morrissey and openly wishes that he could meet up with Jonny Marr and become friends again like they were for so many years before the relationship soured in the midst of legal wrangles over money (it is slightly ironic now that one of Marr's patented Smiths instrumentals was titled Money Changes Everything). The most salient other weakness of this film is that there is nothing new here that you don't already know. Neither Rourke or Joyce ever reveal anything that you feel like you haven't heard before. For example, at one point, Joyce recalls auditioning for The Smiths and goes on and on about how he was "tripping" at the time because he had consumed a large portion of magic mushrooms. He saw Saturn 5 rockets flying around the room as he played the drums. If you've read Johnny Rogan's book Morrissey & Marr (and anyone who buys this film most likely has) then you will have already heard this story. Joyce is a better talker than Rourke although both come across as slightly sad haunted people who don't have much to do now apart from talk about The Smiths.
One of the most interesting parts of the film is when Rourke talks about his heroin addiction in the eighties. It's quite a moving segment. Rourke was kicked out of The Smiths but then they sort of had a change of heart and brought him back into the fold so they could look after him. The interesting thing about The Smiths is that all of them remain strangely vague and difficult to get any sort of picture of. Morrissey was by far the most famous but no one has ever really worked out who Morrissey is (he probably doesn't know himself) and Johnny Marr has remained relatively ephemeral too by not doing a huge amount of interviews. Of course Marr was far less famous than Morrissey because he was the guitarist and not the lead singer so Joyce and Rourke as the drummer and bass player were even more off the radar. Even after watching this film they remain tabula rasas. Just a couple of people who were in The Smiths for a few years a very long time ago. I really wanted Joyce to be more illuminating on the dynamic between the group and the personal relationships. He says they were like a gang at first but that Morrissey was very distant and strange. They respected this because he was a "genius" and a "delicate flower" who needed space. You sort of want him to at least say one catty thing just to liven up the film. Both Joyce and Rourke seem to yearn for the friendship they once had with Johnny Marr. Rourke says that he would sometimes spend 20 hours a day with Marr going from party to music studio to party when they were friends and had just joined The Smiths.
One thing I was disappointed about here too was that neither Joyce or Rourke have anything especially profound or insightful to say about the music of The Smiths. They were just there and that's about it. They obviously never gave it much thought. Rourke says that it was all about making the Johnny Marr riff stand taller but never really elaborates on what they would do in the studio to accomplish this or what his own particular method was. There are a few "celebrity" talking heads thrown into the documentary with varying degrees of success to give their two pence on The Smiths. The Kaiser Chiefs (no one cares what the Kaiser Chiefs have to say about anything), Mark E Smith (sounding like an old boxer who took too many punches), and (ahem) Preston from Big Brother. Preston was in a really really really terrible group called The Ordinary Boys (or something) who took their name from a Morrissey song. How this qualifies him to talk about The Smiths in a documentary film is something of a mystery. If I was making a documentary film about Ingmar Bergman I wouldn't ask Paul W Anderson to take part. By far the most perceptive and interesting of the talking heads is Matt Osman, the bass player with Suede. He says that one of the interesting things about The Smiths was that - despite their flowery image - they actually had a punk drummer. The film could have done with more of Osman although it's somewhat symbolic of the documentary that they only managed to get him and not Brett Anderson. Strangely though, there is no mention of the fact that Mike Joyce auditioned to be in Suede when they first formed in the late eighties/early nineties. You'd think they might have at least mentioned this or asked him about it.
There are a few bonus features with the film that don't amount to an awful lot. The irritating director Stephen Petricco interviewing Rourke and Joyce, Rourke and Joyce visiting the United States to meet Smiths fans, and an appearance by the "fifth Smith" Craig Gannon (I wondered when he was going to show up). Inside the Smiths is a strange and unsatisfying documentary that provides nothing new for fans and would most likely bewilder those that are new to The Smiths with its absence of music or archive. At the time of writing this is available for the ludicrous price of £12.