ALISTAIR Harkness reviews some of the key films at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, including Richard Ayoade’s new feature The Double and Tom Hardy’s latest, In Locke.
PUTTING a fascinating slant on the history of rock ‘n’ roll, Morgan Neville’s remarkable, Oscar-nominated documentary 20 Feet From Stardom (* * * * *) shines a light on the many hard-working, supremely talented, mostly black backing singers who’ve been helping transform good songs into rock and pop classics since the early 1960s.
Featuring in-depth interviews with the likes of Darlene Love and Merry Clayton (whose isolated vocal for the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter should send chills down the spine of anyone with a pulse), the film – playing at the Glasgow Film Festival this weekend – traces their journey from church choirs to recording studios to concert tours to show how the evolution of their sound has informed our understanding and love of everything from Phil Spector to David Bowie to Michael Jackson.
The likes of Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and Stevie Wonder are all on hand to provide expert testimony to their talents, and Neville broadens out proceedings to place what these women did in the context of the civil rights movement. He also examines why so many of these women, whose talents were the equal of many major stars, rarely made the limelight. Moments of heartbreak follow, but the message is that singing is a higher calling than chart success – a point this history makes with intelligence, grace and killer music.
Tom Hardy could probably have used better backup in his latest film. In Locke (* *), The Dark Knight Rises star has to spend the duration of the movie at the wheel of a car with only disembodied phone voices for company – a potentially intriguing set-up quickly ruined by writer/director Stephen Knight’s inability to follow through with a compelling story or halfway decent script. Instead we get a Welsh-accented Hardy babbling on about concrete (his character owns a construction company) and making lots of life-changing decisions about his family situation while en route to London for reasons that prove fairly mundane. It’s tough to empathise with Hardy’s character, and watching Locke is too much like being trapped in a car with someone you hate.
Richard Ayoade’s The Double (* * *) and Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition (* * *) aren’t exactly better options when it comes to the likeability of their respective main characters, but unlike Locke, each has artistic merits that make them worth checking out. Ayoade’s second film (after the wondrous Submarine) is initially the more interesting of the two. A loose adaptation of Dostoevsky’s doppelganger-themed novella of the same name, it stars Jesse Eisenberg as Simon James, an office drone living an unremarkable existence in the sort of retro-future dystopian world familiar from Brazil, 1984 and that vintage Ridley Scott ad for Apple Mac.
Ayoade’s success in realising this world goes a long way to making up for the obscure turns the plot takes when an interloper who looks just like Simon turns up, not least because a double dose of Eisenberg at his most obnoxious proves an increasingly tough sell.
And on the subject of tough sells, Exhibition sees Joanna Hogg (Archipelago) taking another uncompromising look at British life, this time by focusing on a pair of artists who’ve put their modernist London home on the market. The reason for selling up is hinted at, but never explicitly stated, with Hogg gradually fostering an atmosphere of marital anxiety that her cast (musician Viv Albertine and conceptual artist Liam Gillick) struggle to convey at first, but eventually make strangely hypnotic.