Sunday, 16 January 2011

Soulboy (new film about Northern Soul)


Unlike he whose mortal remains swirl in infinitesimal pieces around the east coast of Scotland, I'm not any kind of a Northern Soul expert so can't really comment on accuracy of detail in this film - an issue with several punter reviews of the DVD on a well-known shopping website.  (Now, had it been doowop ...)

But what I can say, as I'm reasonably sure my late friend would have done, is that this is essentially a coming of age tale which is fairly simple in outline: no huge surprises after the various plot strands have been set up, and the resolution probably won't make you whoop with astonishment either.


But criticising it on that count misses the point that as an example of that sort of genre it's a good 'un: performances are highly engaging all round, and you care about what happens to the central character. And with regard to the music, as an outsider I certainly felt that a sense of excitement was conveyed in those dancehall scenes, which didn't feel stagey. (It's a low budget independent movie, and maybe that counted in its favour for that aspect of things.)

One thing I did wonder: could the film have benefited from a few more minutes to flesh out aspects of the story? Poor old Bruce Jones didn't get much of a shake as the dancehall manager. And I kept wanting to see more of the elderly cashier who looked a lot like Anne George (Amy Turtle of blessed motel memory) but clearly couldn't have been. But even a short time spent on the staff would not have added to the protagonist's journey, so unfortunately ... sorry, Bruce. And Anne-a-like. But at least we got to see the ritual that the doors are not opened until bang on the correct time, and then the stampede begins.

And I'm not sure what extra things it is I want to see: you certainly have to say that everything is resolved by the end of the film: the subplot involving Pat Shortt, below (the Irish comedian who was terrific in Garage), for example, doesn't take up a lot of screentime but there's nothing else we need to know: the glimpses we do get are enough to suggest the whole of his story. I can't really say more without spoiling it but let's just say that Tom Jones is involved.


The "nice" girl's brother is a bit of a cipher, and maybe the best mate's story could have been fleshed out more - but again, there's a point where, asked to justify an aspect of his behaviour (note how careful I'm being to avoid spoilers), he does so in a single sentence which covers matters. So yes, the narrative is lean, but that's not necessarily a bad thing: it's back to what writing guru Tim Fountain says about the protagonist being the motorway of the play and all the other characters being sliproads.

Okay, so I admit to some reservations about just how pared back the story is, but essentially, this feels a good-hearted - as distinct from merely feelgood - film, and I don't feel I want to say anything negative about it. It's modest in scope, but if you accept that you will find a lot to enjoy.


There is also a modestly priced two CD soundtrack on release, which has some of the usual suspects and, apparently (I don't know enough to say) some obscurities too. I'm glad to say it includes Nosmo King and the Javells' Goodbye, Nothing to Say and ends with the Elgins' Heaven Must Have Sent You - what could follow that? Tom Jones's Face of a Loser is included, as is Gotta Have Your Love by the Sapphires, a group I first came across on a girl group anthology with the sublime Who Do You Love. Oh, and Bobby Hebb's Love, Love, Love.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more the film is of a piece with the music: it's simple and direct. It appeals to the teenager in all of us. Leave your cynicism at the door, along with your weapons, and you'll enjoy it.

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