For his first feature, Niall McCann bravely sets himself the unenviable task of deconstructing former Auteurs main-man, Luke Haines. The Auteurs were hailed as The Next Big Thing by the U.K. music press in the mid-1990s. Their first album, New Wave, was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 1993, losing out to Suede by one vote for the top prize. That was pretty much their pinnacle, as things unravelled thereafter with record company pressure and the emergence of Britpop; a “scene” which Haines openly despised and still smarts about in this enjoyable, insightful documentary.
McCann’s film takes its lead from Haines himself; favouring an obfuscatory, back-roads approach to his subject rather than opting for a formal, linear hagiography. Based on Haines’ memoir, Bad Vibes, the film explores his life and music in the Britpop era and beyond; featuring contributions from assorted friends and associates. The humorous voice-over, written by McCann, is provided by Haines himself. Apparently the director approached Haines after a gig in Dublin and asked if he’d be interested in getting involved in the film he was planning. This turned out to be quite a coup, as Haines’ onscreen presence greatly adds to the film’s sense of mischief. Scenes of him revisiting old childhood haunts, for example, are underscored by his sardonic quips and are as far away from the usual Behind The Music-style biogs as one can get.
By including humorous scenes of actors auditioning to be Luke Haines for the documentary, McCann also seems to be asking questions about representation in a format which we believe to be intrinsically “truthful”. Most documentaries now, of course, feature filmed reconstructions of events, and Art Will Save The World is no exception. However, in McCann’s case, while it’s used to underline factual information, that trope is utilised mostly for comedic effect. Like Haines’ music, the film seems to delight in wrong-footing its viewers, while at the same time acknowledging their complicity by letting them in on the joke.
Naturally the film features Haines’ music quite heavily and one hopes that it may reignite some interest in its subject. These days he seems to have happily accepted his lot as a performer outside of mainstream music culture; but looking back, it appears that he was heading that way all along. After all, songs such as Light Aircraft On Fire, Unsolved Child Murder and his Baader Meinhof incarnation weren’t exactly going to endear him to regular viewers of Top Of The Pops.
Luke Haines continues to write, record, agitate and confound; in typical style, his last album bore the catchy title – Nine And A Half Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s and Early 80s. Thankfully, he continues to work at the coalface of conceptual rock. Long may he pun.
Watch the trailer: