Thursday, 28 June 2012

Submarine and the search for the perfect Indie movie

A couple of weeks ago I watched the film Submarine on DVD. It was a year to the day that I first saw it in the cinema, and the film has gone on to topple the mighty Amelie as my all time favourite film. It centres on 15 year old Oliver Tate, An awkward, daydream-y, over thinking fifteen year old and his duffle coated attempts to conquer love, survive school and curtail the break up of his parents’ marriage.

The film could have been made for me; it has all my favourite elements of film making: It’s a coming of age movie, it’s better than the novel (a rare thing indeed), it’s based around the time of my child hood (I would have been nine whilst the main character is fifteen, but only Shane Meadow’s excellent This is England has aesthetically recreated the British 1980’s with such aplomb), and it deals with love, depression and death in an honest yet funny way. It also appeals to the indie kid in me, which in the world of cinema is very rare thing indeed.

Since the days of Rock ‘n’ Roll, cinema has seen appealing to a music scene as a key to making money. From Rock Around the Clock, The Wild One, Rebel without a Cause through to all of Elvis Presley’s films (a touch and go movie career is there ever was one), the kids in quiffs have been spoiled by the big screen. Most music movements are covered by the movies. Pop kids have everything from the Beatles in A Hard Days Night to Spice world. Mods have Quadrophenia; Punks have Sid and Nancy and The Great Rock and Roll Swindle as well as Rude Boy. Dance heads have Human Traffic. Longhairs have Woodstock and Almost Famous; Skinheads have the fore-mentioned This is England and the slightly dodgier Romper Stomper and American History X. And, well, it can’t be too hard to find a DVD to buy a Goth for Christmas, can it?

What then for the boys and girls in cardigans? Due to most going through a huge Woody Allen and obscure European cinema stage, Indie kids seem to find films that appeal to them are not connected with music. This is also due to the fact that when film makers actually try to connect to fans of Indie music it always goes a bit wrong. If you know anyone who own more than two Belle and Sebastian records in their collection, I will guarantee they will have seen Gregory’s Girl. On paper, Bill Forsyth’s 1981 coming of age comedy has no connection with your average Indie fan. The music is horrid-all 80’s Casio keyboard, the hair cuts are amongst the worst in celluloid history and it’s even quite sexist. Maybe the appeal is in John Gordon Sinclair’s titular Gregory, An awkward teenager who day dreams his way through life and love with a knowing smile and an unshakable conviction to being himself. Maybe it’s simply due to the film being very sweet, charming, funny and true. Perhaps we crave the innocence and wonky romance of the loner in school the same way we do with the education based songs of the Smiths and Belle and Sebastian or even in the words of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield.

An Indie fan baulks at being made a target audience, though they may have spotted certain traits of their fandom in the film version of High Fidelity (the making of compilation tapes, the making of top ten lists etc.) but will find the music fan in Garden State (“the Shins will change your life!”) a little hard to swallow. It’s the lack of being genuine that is the down fall for most made-for-Indie-fan films. Take Michael Winterbottom’s 2004 film 9 Songs for example. This film could have been designed for the bedroom based male Indie fan. It contains live footage of bands such as Primal Scream, Super Furry Animals and Dandy Warhol’s and lots and lots of sex. Yet somehow it falls flat. It’s impossible and to relate to the characters, the music seems to be randomly thrown in, and as for the sex-If the government showed this movie in sex education classes, the levels of teenage pregnancy would dip, such is the lacking of heart and general grubbiness of the ‘love’ scenes.

One of the worst offenders is 500 Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009). Where this actually quite watch-able and sweet film falls down on itself is trying to play the Indie snob card. If film makers try to play up to the flicking through vinyl at the record shop, Joy Division t-shirt, ‘Wow, I love the Smiths too!’ clichés, they should really do their homework. The viewer is led to believe that when a boy who loves the music of the Smiths loses the love of his life, he gets drunk and sings Clash songs on karaoke. Of course, we know in real life he would play ‘I know it’s over’ (the Rank version obviously) again and again. Not that I’m speaking from experience. Or anything. Interestingly, both 500 Days of Summer and Gregory’s Girl share a wise-beyond-her-years little sister character. They steal the show in both films.

That said, the film (as well as the almost too cute Juno), may have introduced people to some good records via the soundtrack CD. That’s almost always a good thing. The people who the film is aimed at, however, own them already.

So, what have we learned? If you’re going to make a film you want indie kids to watch, make it a coming of age movie, preferably based in a school with a wise little sister. And don’t try and out Indie train spotter us with the soundtrack. It never works.

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