Friday 6 July 2012

Return to the fields: "Glastonbury The Movie (In Flashback)"

Here's an artefact of sorts. In the mid 1990s, the Glastonbury festival was still very much the more or less exclusive domain of hippies, crusties and other assorted indie tribes, and hadn't as yet undergone its eventual gentrification at the hands of Kate Moss, Zane Lowe and those middle-class kids who just wanted to see Coldplay and Paolo Nutini before getting back to their day jobs in graphic design. Robin Mahoney's low-budget documentary Glastonbury The Movie opened in the summer of 1996, to no particular acclaim - it landed a memorably dismissive one-star review in the then-ascendant Empire magazine - and quickly vanished from circulation, written out of history as the Eavis empire expanded.

Julien Temple's subsequent Glastonbury - released in 2006, just as the festival was becoming the go-to event of the summer season for just about every Florence and Jocasta in the Home Counties - was an overview, overseen by a blue-chip documentarian who had context, contacts and clearance lawyers on his side. The Mahoney film was something else: a ground-level account, observed through the bleariest of eyes and fuggiest of hangovers, and embarked upon in the company of Charlie Creed-Miles and Dexter Fletcher, who appear to have been using that particular year's festival as a launchpad for ill-advised spin-off careers in jazz-funk fusion. Its key line would be uttered by the festival flunky who turns the band's transit van away from the Jazz Field with a curt "you've no authorisation to be here".

With all concerned buoyed by ten years of success in their preferred professions - Fletcher was shortly to cross paths with Guy Ritchie, and went on to guide Creed-Miles towards his recent career peak in Wild Bill, while Mahoney produced Adele's Live at the Royal Albert Hall DVD - and aware there'd be no festival this year, the filmmakers have returned to this footage, spruced it up (in so far as it could be spruced up), and now present it to Glasto-starved pop kids as Glastonbury The Movie (In Flashback). The film remains an unfocused, rambling, somewhat tatty thing, scraps and memories presented in no particular hurry or order, but in capturing some of what Glastonbury once was - even on the fly - it allows us to note just how the festival has grown, evolved, improved in recent years.

Crucially, the new version doesn't much seek to inspire nostalgia - it isn't the people who've changed, rather the parameters of the event: the bands, the staging, the sanitation provision - but it preserves for posterity some of the dirt and sweat and oddness that have been hosed away in recent years to ensure Beyonce and Gwyneth Paltrow can now enter the site: it's become of interest as an unadorned, undeodorised vision of a Glastonbury where something as eccentric as The Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" - rather than a straight-down-the-middle showstopper by Springsteen or McCartney - could become the festival's defining closing-night anthem. Some of those Empire criticisms are still valid. There's a fair bit of Creed-Miles and Fletcher pratting around, as young men at festivals are wont to do; a certain emphasis on Glastonbury "characters", whom you would be well within your rights to find annoying; and a broader sense the filmmakers couldn't quite get their shit together to go see anybody worthwhile on the main stages. 

Or maybe this was a particularly poor line-up to begin with: fleeting glimpses of Spiritualised and The Verve are the only clues we get that Britpop was nearing its zenith, and I doubt anyone would now pay £135 - and spend hours refreshing a page on the Ticketmaster website - to stand in a field watching Omar, Back to the Planet and the Stereo MCs. (Like I said, another world.) In fact, I suspect Mahoney may struggle to get anyone to hand over £10 to see the film in cinemas, however much he's remixed it: there always was something of the Gap year student's holiday video about the experience, and its appeal may finally be limited to anybody who was there, or who wanted to be there, with Robin, Charlie, Dex and the gang. But it now seems more charming, and less scenester-ish, than it did, once, back in the day - or at least charming enough to revise that initial one-star review up to something like... two-and-a-half stars, maybe?

Glastonbury The Movie (In Flashback) is in selected cinemas.

1 comment:

  1. I thought it was ace. Four stars form me. He's right about cinema ticket prices though. A tenner is steep.