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FAME 2022, five must-see documentaries

From February 16 to 20, the Gaîté Lyrique hosts the 8th edition of FAME, an excellent international music film festival. Eclectic and stimulating, the program invites you to discover, in particular, a remarkable portrait of the English musician Poly Styrene, an essential figure in post-punk, and a colorful documentary on the Mirano Continental, an ostentatious Brussels club dedicated to extravagant hedonism.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché by Celeste Bell and Paul Sng

At the end of the 1970s, when England was caught in the face of the punk explosion as the symptom of a disillusioned and abandoned youth, the singer and musician Poly Styrene was an unparalleled UFO in the punk scene. A biracial and feminist icon in a world of white boys, an inspiration for artists like Neneh Cherry, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Thurston Moore or more recently FKA twigs or Shamir. But above all a major reference for the generation of Riot Grrrl, these angry girls of the nineties determined to mess things up in a music scene, rock, reserved for men.

Born in 1957 in Brixton, a working-class district of London, Marianne Joan Elliott-Said is the daughter of a father of Somali origin and an English mother at a time when England was discovering mixed unions and when being mixed was a never being black or white enough and ultimately not belonging to any community. Turbulent and dreamy teenager, torn between the arts and rebellion, passionate about fashion, music and poetry, fan of soul and reggae, of David Bowie and Marc Bolan, Marianne hangs out in hippie festivals of which she will retain an acute ecological awareness . But it was with the explosion of punk, and after attending a Sex Pistols concert at 19, that she clicked. Neither one nor two, she advertises in the MelodyMaker (“Looking for young punks to stick together”) auditioned the four members of the group herself, baptized herself Poly Styrene, a name she found in the yellow pages in homage to plastic as a symbol of the madness of the consumer society, and launched X-Ray Spex in the process. . A group that is part of the punk movement of the time while allowing itself sound freedoms, such as the use of the saxophone, Afro rhythms or soul melodies, and meets with success from its first single, Oh Bondage! Up Yours!a veritable little feminist manifesto and now a classic of the punk scene.

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, which takes its name from a famous hit by the group, retraces the incredible and chaotic story of this extraordinary character through the eyes of Celeste Bell. Her only daughter, who, patiently for several years (through a book, an exhibition and now a documentary), puts the pieces of the puzzle back in order, reconstructs the past and documents the life of this mother whom she has little and poorly known. This artist too ahead of her time, who tirelessly questioned questions of identity, racism, feminism, ecology, consumerism, jostled the notion of femininity with her retrofuturistic looks, her curves and her smile embellished with rings. dental. Between images of concerts sweating the punk rage of the time, off-the-record readings of Poly’s newspaper, Super-8 family films, TV appearances, freaking out and interviews with members of the group or famous fans, the documentary paints a portrait of an overly sensitive girl. “A sponge that absorbed everything around it, good and bad”, says his sister. A potential star destroyed by the success of the group, the greed of the majors, the hard drugs discovered during a concert at the CBGB in New York, an immense need for love and the schizophrenia against which she was fighting in the daily. An icon, symbolically destroyed by the capitalism she denounced in her songs, who found peace and refuge with the Hare Krishna before dying of a dazzling cancer in 2011 aged 53.

Fascinating from start to finish, alternating melancholic passages and boosted sequences, darkness and hope, the strength of I Am a Cliche – homage to this character torn by his inner demons – also relates to the story within the story: that of a daughter who finds herself with the heavy burden of honoring the memory and the heritage of her mother. While discovering a media character that she did not know, as she declares from the first images: “My mother was a punk-rock icon, people often ask me if she was a good mother, it’s hard to know what to say, sometimes I wonder what she would have said. The funeral was unreal, my memory of the events is confused, all these people I had never seen had come to say goodbye to Poly Styrene, this personality so far removed from the mother I knew. I was sick of it, I wasn’t ready to be the guardian of Poly Styrene’s legacy. I had just lost my mother. PT

Mirano 80, the space of a dream by Luc Jabon and Thomas Purcaro Decaro

Screened at FAME in the first French screening, in the presence of the directors (Luc Jabon and Thomas Purcaro Decaro), Mirano 80, the space of a dream celebrates the golden age of the Mirano Continental, the Brussels equivalent of the Parisian Palace or the New York Studio 54 – a lair of the most whimsical nocturnal hedonism, here augmented by a well-built schoolboy spirit (Belgium obliges). Opened in 1981, the club – housed in the imposing enclosure of a former neighborhood cinema – quickly became the flamboyant epicenter of Brussels nightlife, attracting a multicolored fauna and creating endless queues. In addition to unbridled musical evenings, more or less thematic, it hosted spectacular fashion shows, inside or even outside… From 1990, the innkeepers not having been able to negotiate the electro turn, its aura goes gradually decline. Focusing on the 1980s, the film leads us to relive the delirious utopia that was embodied at the Mirano during that decade. Crisp archive images (ah! the encapsulated car…) mingle with many and often tasty testimonials (including the priceless one from the establishment’s wee lady). The whole thing is pure bliss. JP

Freak Scene: The Story of Dinosaur Jr by Philipp Reichenheim

Having emerged in the mid-1980s from the depths of Massachusetts, Dinosaur Jr – who was first, briefly, called Dinosaur – is today one of the legendary heralds of American indie rock. Droopy with the long, fluffy hair and the drawling nasal voice, immediately recognizable, Jay Mascis (vocals, guitar) is the irremovable central element, his two main acolytes, members of the original trio, being Lou Barlow (bass, vocals) and Murph (drums). Often considered as one of the major precursors of grunge, the group also perfectly embodies the style slacker (lazy or wanker, in good French), an unstable alloy of coolness and I don’t care.

Following a linear chronological sequence, Freak Scene – The Story of Dinosaur Jr recounts with enthusiasm the wild epic of this electric animal as restless as it is enduring, still in activity (his latest album, Sweep It Into Space, was released in April 2021), after having gone through intense dissension and experienced various configurations. Jay Mascis’ brother-in-law, director Philipp Reichenheim was able not only to follow him closely and interview him in confidence, but also to have access to rare and precious archives (photos, videos or Super 8) – special mention to this sequence, grainy, where we see Mascis and Barlow start fighting in the middle of a concert of the group. Added to the interviews of the main protagonists of the adventure, fervent contributions from illustrious fans (Henry Rollins, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Frank Black, Bob Mould) punctuate this classic documentary on a formal, but nevertheless very substantial level. JP

Karen Dalton: In My Own Time by Richard Peete and Robert Yapkowitz

Died of AIDS in 1993 at the age of 55, Karen Dalton left behind two albums – It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You the Best (1969) and In My Own Time (1971) – which alone guarantee him eternal posterity. Giving to hear a music without age but not without soul, far from it, the two discs consist only of covers of folk or blues songs and revisited traditional tunes. The American singer asserts herself as a remarkable interpreter, with acute sensitivity, endowed with a superb hoarse and broken voice, which irresistibly evokes that of Billie Holiday (admired eldest).

Sprinkled with many excerpts from his songs, Karen Dalton: In My Own Time recounts the tragic fate of this magnificent loser, drawn into a fatal spiral of disappointment and addiction. With a hushed elegance, at times almost stuffy, the film – directed in pairs by Richard Peete and Robert Yapkowitz – implements a consummate art of storytelling by alternating archival documents and interviews with relatives. The very moving testimony of Abbe Baird, Karen Dalton’s daughter, stands out in particular. JP

Hard <3 by Kevin Elamrani-Lince

For ten years, the Parisian collective Casual Gabberz has taken over from the gabber – this angry, hardcore and violent sub-division that rocked the raves of the 1990s –, while inventing new ways of partying today. Kevin Elamrani-Lince, young French clipper that everyone is raving about (Alkpote, The Pirouettes, Oklou), who had already collaborated with the collective in 2017 putting their compilation into images No need to flee, followed the collective for three years during their tour of Europe and dates as enjoyable as they were exhausting. Successions of disparate and disruptive images, of abandoned warehouses and sweating crowds, angry demonstrations like surrealist discussions, frenzied hedonism and social awareness, Hard <3, with its sublimely grained black and white, is disconcerting in the first place by its extreme narrative freedom, its refusal to bend to a script or to respect the rules of the classic documentary. But gradually installs as one advances in the viewing the fragmentary poetry of the rave like a waking dream. PT

FAME Festival from February 16 to 20 in Paris (La Gaîté Lyrique). Info and tickets here.

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