Summer in the nineteen-nineties, or is it the early twenty-first century? What are the images you remember from back then? Were you even around? Do you have any conceptions of what Britain was like for the young in the last era of the twentieth century, just as the mood of apocalypse settled over the population like a nuclear winter for the following era? Was it all partying as the sun went down? Were the summers all bright and stylish, as if reality was being directed by a European New Wave auteur? What if you started in the South and travelled North, meandering to make random stops along the way? As one couple break up, more couples are getting together, and it's possible to ignore the troubles of the world...
This was the accompanying film for English pop band Saint Etienne's album I've Been Trying To Tell You, the trio's Lockdown creation they felt needed some visuals to offset the dreamlike music they were playing. That was significant since the pitfalls and attractions of nostalgia were a theme of the album, using samples much as they had at the beginning of their career, but slowing them down and warping them to make them all but unrecognisable - that was until you read what you were actually listening to, and wondered if you recognised them in their original state either, so far had they fallen between the cracks of pop culture, despite being successes for artists like The Lightning Seeds, The Lighthouse Family or The Honeyz way back when they were popular.
Very briefly popular, in the case of The Honeyz, a British Destiny's Child knock-off that are all but forgotten all these years later. That essential falsehood of your happiest memories was a melancholy aspect director Alasdair McLellan was consciously evoking, but there it was possible to see the joy in that as well, for you may remember your good times without those reminiscences being tainted by all the bad stuff going on in your life. Of course, you will have bad memories too, but that is the nature of life and its ups and downs, and this depiction of a pivotal time when the young cast are at a stage when they are meant to be working out what they are supposed to do with the rest of their time on Earth had an inbuilt poignancy this era of the nineties before the War on Terror coloured our outlook for good in the following century.
That said, you may find yourself wishing McLellan had entertained more ideas than simply showing three quarters of an hour of touristy shots of England and Wales interspersed with many young men divesting themselves of their garments. There were young women there too, but the director's gaze kept getting distracted by toned torsos on the boys, lingering over them in a manner that reminded those with experience of experimental gay cinema of the works of Derek Jarman, or going back further, Kenneth Anger. Not that this was objectionable in itself, but when every tune Saint Etienne produced was presented in a near-identical way, things did get a tad repetitive. McLellan had come from an advertising and photography background, and the benefits (slick imagery) and drawbacks (too obsessed with the image) were very apparent in every frame here. Even the music lacked a real hook in every track, as you were unlikely to be able to bring every sample to mind in this distorted state, leaving an experience that would either mesmerise or irritate. And yet, they were onto something on the subject of memory, and how a golden age must by its character be selective.
[The BFI release this film on Blu-ray with these special features:
Her Winter Coat (2021): New Saint Etienne music video directed by Alasdair McLellan
Hello Holly (2021): New Saint Etienne music video directed by Alasdair McLellan
Escalade (2021): New Saint Etienne music video directed by Alasdair McLellan
Access to All Alone / Infinity 21 (2021): New Saint Etienne music video directed by Alasdair McLellan
Bob Stanley and Alasdair McLellan in conversation (2021, 29 mins): the Saint Etienne co-founder and film director discuss the project
Marc Jacobs Daisy Love Eau So Sweet: TV advertisement starring Kaia Gerber, Aube Jolicoeur and Faith Lynch, directed by Alasdair McLellan
Gallery of film stills
**FIRST PRESSING ONLY** illustrated booklet with new writing on the film by Jason Wood and un-released images from Alasdair McLellan.]