Creation Stories


Alan McGee is ignored in his own office.

(2021) Music Biography (RLJE) Ewen Bremner, Leo Flanagan, Richard Jobson, Rori Hawthorn, Tess Rowe, Ciaran Lawless, Jack Paterson, Gerry Knotts, James Hicks, Irvine Welsh, Mickey Gooch Jr., Tom Dunlea, Suki Waterhouse, Elysia Welch, Seána Kerslake, Theren Raufman, Michael Socha, Thomas Turgoose, Paul Gallagher, Thomas Grant, Mel Raido, Siobhan Redmond. Directed by Nick Moran

 

In the late-1980s through mid-1990s, alternative rock was more or less dominated by the United Kingdom. With apologies to Seattle grunge and hip-hop (which was in its formative era back then), American indie music tended to follow trends set in England months and years earlier. It is startling for some American music fans who are interested in the era to discover that several different sub-genres were essentially brought into the limelight by one man and his record label; Scotsman Alan McGee and Creation Records.

As a young boy in Glasgow, McGee (Flanagan) lip-synched and played air guitar to Bowie while his abusive father (Jobson) despaired of his son ever making anything of himself. With the support of his mother (Redmond) and sister (Hawthorn), he managed to survive with ego intact and after seeing the Sex Pistols on TV, determined to move to London and start a punk band. Unfortunately, his timing was bad and he arrived just as the punk era was more or less fading out.

But the now twenty-something McGee (Bremner), while not himself talented as a musician, knew talent when he heard it. He found the Jesus and Mary Chain and became their manager, using the profits from that relationship to pour into a record label that he named Creation, named after a 60s band that he admired. The band was a seat-of-the-pants operation early on but McGee had an uncanny knack of discovering bands and trends – like acid house (Primal Scream), shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine) and indie pop (Teenage Fan Club) before they became huge. But his most notable discovery was Oasis, the band that spearheaded the Britpop craze of the Nineties, and was for a time the biggest band in the world.

But as all rock docs let us know, the success was fueled by excess as McGee became hooked on ecstasy, cocaine and eventually, heroin. After his drug usage got to a point (he famously claims that he doesn’t remember anything about 1993 except signing Oasis) that he had a breakdown, he managed to clean up, but the cost to his personal life was high.

Having been a rock critic during the heyday of Creation, I can testify to the influential status of the label. While they weren’t the only influential label of their time, there really hasn’t been a label like them before or since. Moran’s somewhat fictionalized account of McGee’s life captures the era well, using montages, archival footage and New Music Express headlines. For someone who was in tune with what was going on across the pond, it brought up a lot of memories.

For those who were less in the loop, it might all be a bit confusing – the introduction of since-disgraced British DJ Jimmy Saville late in the movie might not resonate with those who aren’t aware of the reasons McGee despised him so deeply, for example. Bremner plays McGee in a somewhat over-the-top manner which ordinarily might be off-putting, yet is perfect for the task at hand. McGee was (and is) larger than life and it is a tough assignment to get his personality just right and in many ways Bremner’s portrayal doesn’t do McGee justice, but to be fair, nobody could.

Moran’s directorial style seems heavily influenced by Danny Boyle in his Trainspotting days (Boyle is a producer here, not coincidentally) and yes, the hyperactive style that Boyle made famous back then works wonderfully here. There’s a lot of cheeky humor here, some of it of the meme-worthy variety, that seems in tandem with McGee’s personality. It may grate at times, but I found it amusing anyway.

If there is a problem here, it’s just that it feels so much like every other rock biography out there, with enough reverence to be nearly hagiographic, but enough irreverence to make it rock and roll. Moran also uses the hoary old conceit of telling most of the story as a flashback, using an interview that McGee does with a fictional but comely interviewer (Waterhouse) in Los Angeles as a springboard for his anecdotes.

McGee is not as well-known over here in the States as he should be, but thankfully, the music he helped bring to the world speaks for itself and there is plenty of it on the soundtrack. Even so, the movie is definitely all about McGee and his personality which permeates the film. This is isn’t a movie whose innovation will match the music that it chronicles, but it is serviceable enough a story and the music is good enough to carry the movie through.

REASONS TO SEE: A cheeky sense of humor. A great soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: Seems a bit too much like most rock biographies.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a shit ton of profanity, drug use, some violence and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film made it’s world premiere at the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival, which is also where McGee was from and where much of the early portion of the movie is set.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC Plus, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/2/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews; Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Kill Your Friends
FINAL RATING: 7/10
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Seobok: Project Clone

I Am Woman


Hear her roar.

(2019) Music Biography (Quiver)Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Evan Peters, Danielle Macdonald, Matty Gardarople, Jordan Roskopoulos, Molly Broadstock, Gus Murray, Dusty Sorg, Rita Rani Ahuja, Michael-Anthony Taylor, Scout Bowman, Liam Douglas, Coco Greenstone, Gregg Arthur, Nicola Frew, Shakila Zab, Katerina Tsompanis, Frank Violi, Maddison-Cleo Musumeci. Directed by Unjoo Moon

It is hard to overstate the importance of Helen Reddy to pop culture. Most people know her through her iconic “I Am Woman,” essentially the unofficial anthem of the women’s movement, but in the mid to late 70s she had a string of hits that made her one of the most popular performers in the world.

It wasn’t always that way. When Reddy (Cobham-Hervey) won a singing contest in her native Australia, the prize was a recording contract for Mercury Records. She arrived in New York City with her three-year-old daughter in tow, only to discover that the misogynist executives at Mercury had no intention of honoring the contract. One must wonder how many heads rolled after Reddy achieved her international superstardom.,

She decided to give it a go in the US and moved in a roach-infested apartment, paying the rent (barely) with cocktail lounge singing gigs. She was befriended by fellow Aussie and influential rock critic Lillian Roxon (Macdonald) who championed her career. At a rent party, she met Jeff Wald (Peters), an aspiring talent manager. She eventually married him, and the expectation was that he would manage her career and get her that elusive record contract, but he needed to establish himself first.

Frustrated by his lack of support, she finally forced him to work harder to get her signed which finally happened. After a couple of minor hits, “I Am Woman” came out in 1974 and swept the charts, winning her a Grammy (where she famously thanked God, because “she makes all things possible”) and began a string of hits including “Leave Me Alone,” and “Angie Baby.”

In the meantime, her close friend Roxon had passed away after a severe asthma attack and hubby Jeff had blown most of her fortune on cocaine. She eventually would divorce him, and her career came essentially to an end, although that really isn’t covered in the film.

In fact, a lot of things aren’t covered in the film. Moon is apparently a friend of Reddy (whom she met at an awards show) but delivered a very basic version of her biography. We see none of her ex-husband’s attempts to sabotage her career after their divorce, nor do we see much of her creative process. Mostly what we see is her early struggles and then her marital problems later on. You’re given a sense of her status of a feminist icon, but we never get a sense of what Helen herself thought of this.

Cobham-Hervey has a good deal of presence in the role of Reddy but it oddly doesn’t manifest in the concert footage. For the most part, Cobham-Hervey performs with a bemused smirk on her face; I never saw Reddy live myself but I understand she was a dynamic performer in her heyday. There’s no sense of that here, nor of her flinty sense of humor which characterized her entire career.

I also think it was a major mistake for the production to use Aussie performer Chelsea Cullen to dub Reddy’s voice – people are coming not just to see a biopic on her life but to hear her music as well. While Cullen does a decent job mimicking her phrasing and style, I think most people watching the movie are going to miss her actual vocals. If you’re going to make a biography of a singer, you should get the rights to use their actual voice. See Bohemian Rhapsody for an example.

This is the kind of movie that will end up being damned by faint praise. The heart is in the right place, but the execution is lacking. This feels like a Behind the Music version of a pop icon’s life story, and it leaves the viewer feeling distinctly unsatisfied. However, Reddy’s importance both to pop music and to pop culture make this a worthwhile venture, albeit one that could have been a much better film.

REASONS TO SEE: Cobham-Hervey has great presence as Reddy in the non-performance sequences.
REASONS TO AVOID: Cobham-Hervey is strangely distance in the performance sequences.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Unjoo Moon and cinematographer Dion Beebe are married in real life.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Microsoft, Redbox
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/12/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews: Metacritic: 56/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Runaways
FINAL RATING: 6/10
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Hollywood Fringe