Newest Review: ... line about planning a mass murder was in a flippant throwaway context anyway and not very serious. The video for This Charming Man is v... more
Shoplifters Of The World
The Complete Picture - The Smiths (DVD)
Member Name: Jake Speed
The Complete Picture - The Smiths (DVD)
Advantages: Interesting and fun
Disadvantages: Rather short
The Smiths: The Complete Picture is a shortish (50 minutes or so) 2002 DVD collection of 1980s appearances by the short lived but iconic group on Top of the Pops with a smattering of music videos (mostly some very strange and willfully obscure Derek Jarman directed films). It's far from the "complete picture" of course and Smiths fans are rather sniffy about this DVD for its randomness and cobbled together feel but I've always found it quite good fun and interesting anyway. There are fourteen Smiths songs presented here either in lip synching television performances or through music videos. The Smiths saw themselves as traditionalists and hated music videos so Jarman's arty films were made without their presence or input and they only feature flickeringly and enigmatically in grainy archive footage within them. The two films here that do feel like traditional music videos though are the ones for This Charming Man and Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before. The latter has a bespectacled and sometimes genuinely reflective looking Morrissey wandering and bicycling around the shuttered terraces and red-brick portico of his old Manchester haunts in biting October sleet. He's followed on his bike by a group of fans wearing Smiths t-shirts. The young fans answered an advert in a Smiths fanzine to take part and although they appear to all be on the verge of pneumonia it looks a good time was had by all. I think "I started Something I Couldn't Finish" was originally the A-side and used for this video after Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before's line about planning a mass murder was deemed as being too sensitive in the wake of Hungerford. I'm glad they switched for this DVD again though because Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before is sooooo much better and works wonderfully with the film. Morrissey's line about planning a mass murder was in a flippant throwaway context anyway and not very serious.
The video for This Charming Man is very simple and just has the group performing in a pretty flower strewn studio - Morrissey swinging gladioli around like a lasso. It's a great song and a nice film. This wasn't the first Smiths single but it was right at the start of their career and helped put them on the map with its catchy guitar riffs and distinctive Morrissey lyrics which are ambiguous and seeped in 1960s kitchen sink New Wave. "Punctured bicycle, on a hillside desolate, will nature make a man of me yet?" Derek Jarman's specially commissioned 15-minute film (which was screened at the Edinburgh Festival and shown with the Alex Cox picture Sid & Nancy in cinemas) includes The Queen Is Dead and morphs into There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and Panic. Three great songs, the second of which is arguably the greatest Smiths song ever, chosen to highlight the range and greatness of The Smiths. Jarman uses multiple fast cuts to evoke chaotic disorder and disorientation and evokes the spirit of the songs well at times here - especially Panic with its haunting chants and intimations of a crumbling society that is being turned into mush by the blandness of mainstream popular culture. The film is interesting if unavoidably self-indulgent and pretentious. Smiths fans will be glad to own the film but I'm not sure how many times they would actually watch it again after the initial mildly curious viewing.
Girlfriend In A Coma is represented by a wonderful video directed by Tim Broad that works because of its simplicity as much as anything. It intercuts footage of Morrissey singing (just his head really) with a backdrop of clips from the 1964 British drama film The Leather Boys (all about the rocker subculture in London with a gay motorcyclist and Rita Tushingham). A very beautiful song and an equally charming video. It's symbolic in a way that Morrissey is alone here without Johnny Marr because the group would not be together for much longer and the unlikely but majestic partnership between the two very different men was drawing to a premature close. Shoplifters Of The World Unite is performed by The Smiths on the spangled neon lit super space age set of Top of the Pops in the distant far off futuristic 1980s. They don't quite seem to be a natural fit for Top of the Pops and Morrissey is fully aware of this, refusing to take it seriously at all and looking rather amused that he is even there. He doesn't even bother with a microphone to pretend he is singing live and generally just camps it up, pulling faces and making gestures to the camera and the audience. He can't dance to save his life but he has a strange eccentric charisma and presence that makes you just always focus on him rather than Johnny Marr or the others. Morrissey is wearing a denim jacket, jeans and a Smiths t-shirt here and actually doesn't look that dated all things considering. Johnny Marr is frequently the one who looks ridiculous here on the DVD through the passage of time.
Morrissey's general air of seeming to find Top of the Pops ridiculous is continued with the breezy Sheila Take A Bow. He just stands there in a blue shirt pulling faces and striking camp poses! Not quite sure what is going on with Johnny Marr's outfit here again. He seems to be wearing a beret for heaven's sake. Morrissey seems a bit more into Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now than some of the other songs, famously wearing a hearing aid for this performance. Why Morrissey used to wear a hearing aid sometimes I couldn't actually tell you at this precise moment. I believe his hearing was fine. He looks somewhat incongruous in these red lit vaguely industrial surroundings though. It's like he's singing on the set of Red Dwarf or something. Johnny Marr's leather jacket and sunglasses probably don't really fit in with The Smiths and the mood of the song here. It's not his finest wardrobe hour and he's posing a bit too much for my liking. The melodramatic song though is always rather nice and nowhere near as depressing as its reputation and title would suggest. It's a self-deprecating song and the music is lovely and the juxtaposition of performing a song called Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now in front of a load of bopping teenagers juggling balloons is amusing anyway.
What Difference Does It Make? finds Morrissey in a blue shirt swirling around with his hands in the air looking like he is having fun actually. Maybe he enjoyed this one and one got bored with Top of the Pops later on. Great guitar sound by Johnny Marr on this tune. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side is again performed without microphone on TOTP in theatrical fashion by Morrissey. Actually The Smiths look very content and cool here, Morrissey very willowy and ethereal and dressed all in black. It's a lovely song really. How Soon Is Now? - one of the greatest of all Smiths songs - has another arty obtuse Jarman video. All industrial and avant garde with snippets of The Smiths performing (including a nice bit where Johnny Marr seems to be teaching an intrigued Morrissey a few guitar chords). Jarman jump cuts and repeats images in his usual abstract style. It's quite effective and I like the girl in the video. Finally there is another Jarman video for Ask. I'm tempted to say now that if you've seen on Derek Jarman Smiths video you've seen them all. This was filmed in Wapping without The Smiths and is no great deviation from the style he has employed for the other films.
The Smiths: The Complete Picture is fun if you are a fan who hasn't seen all of this stuff but the short running time and cobbled together feel of the DVD are obvious drawbacks. At the time of writing you can either borrow this from Lady Bracknell's extensive and lavish Smiths/Morrissey library or buy it for about £6.
Summary: Eccentric but enjoyable collection
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