Common People – Documenting the Fans in British Cinema

“This band are the reason that I’ve never worn a tie.” This quote is one of the many superb fan quotes from Shane Meadows’ excellent documentary Made of Stone. Released last year, the film followed the comeback of legendary band The Stone Roses. The documentary was outstanding, but what made it exceptional were the scenes that explored the reaction of the band’s fans, many of whom had never expected to ever see a reunion. Ranging from unashamed joy to downright hysteria (even Meadows himself could barely keep it together when hearing the news), each of the fans discussed what exactly the band and their music had meant to them. Through listening to the fans, Meadows gains a true understanding of the way in which music can form the identity of the common man, and how music can allow a person to break out of the comfort of their everyday lives and experience something on an almost spiritual level. This makes for an incredibly exciting and powerful documentary, but Meadows was not the first to explore this.

In recent years, the idea of fandom has been explored often in British documentary. In 2011, Jeanie Finlay’s exceptional documentary Sound It Out observed the lives of the owners and customers of the only remaining vinyl shop in Teeside. As well as capturing the obsessive nature of the vinyl purists, Finlay’s subjects talk about their favourite bands with such adoration, that it’s impossible not to watch the film without grinning inanely and vowing to only ever buy vinyl. One such subject is Shane, a particularly passionate Status Quo fan. To him, Status Quo are more than a band, they’re almost his life. And Sound it Out in particular really taps in to the way that music can provide solace for people who perhaps struggle to form relationships in the real world.
Many of the fans that Finlay speaks to use music as a source of comfort, to make them feel less alone. Even in Made of Stone, one fan remarks that when he heard a particular track in the band’s gig at Parr Hall, it made him reflect on a bad period in his life, and he suddenly realised that everything had ‘come good’ again- that song legitimately meant something in his life.
This week sees the release of Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets. Again, the film is far more focussed on the fans, but it actually extends further; it’s about Sheffield. Pulp are Sheffield legends, and director Florian Habicht interviews the ordinary people of Sheffield, asking them about their relationship with Pulp. Of course, everyone claims to have some sort of tenuous link to Pulp, particularly frontman Jarvis Cocker. The desire to have this relationship with music, with your favourite band, is universal. Pulp of course sang about ‘Common People,’ and the film can be viewed almost as an extension of that song, of the link between the kings and their subjects.
Daisy Asquith also took on the exploration of fandom last year with her documentary ‘Crazy About 1D’. Asquith interviewed fans of boy band One Direction, and tapped in to the shrieking, hormonal madness of teenage and pre-teen girls, who in some cases obsessively stalked the boys in a desperate attempt to meet them, touch them, and be noticed by them. Interestingly, Asquith, who had shown a well-balanced, well-researched documentary faced criticism from some of the public, who felt that the fans were not being shown in the most flattering light, but actually, what Asquith was documenting was behaviour that was no different to what would have been displayed by fans of Elvis or The Beatles. So actually what Asquith did with the film is unearth an interesting truth; our relationship with music has changed very little over the years. The reason that watching these documentaries is such an enjoyable experience is that is allows the audience, made up of ordinary people, to identify with others, like Shane the Status Quo fan, and join in the worshipping of our heroes.
It brings about a unity that we can enjoy, often from the comfort of our sofas at home, or at work, whether we choose to wear a tie or not. It makes us feel less alone.

Article originally for Hey U Guys

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