Having cut her teeth working on political documentaries such as Bowling For Columbine and Fahrenheit 911, Elizabeth Marcus chooses Welsh rock band, Manic Street Preachers, as the subject for her feature length debut. No Manifesto: A film about Manic Street Preachers, charts the career of the band from their first ever gig (full of Cardiff City fans chanting “You’re worse than Swansea City”) through the height of their popularity in the 90’s, all the way to the present. Manic Street Preachers are a band that have always lived in the periphery of super-stardom, often eclipsed by the likes of Oasis, Radiohead and other hugely popular British groups. Marcus, who hails from America, in which the Manics have an even smaller presence- showcased in a brilliant sequence in which Americans are asked what they think of our biggest musical exports- takes a keen interest in exploring why they’ve come close to, but never quite reached the same level of worldwide success as other bands.
This gives No Manifesto an edge sometimes missing from other music documentaries, as there’s a weird sense of regret and frustration that runs through the film, despite all of the bands success. What really sets the film apart though, is that it is essentially a documentary made for the fans, with the fans. Manics fans from all over the world are featured heavily throughout, who are used not just as storytellers, but as an added insight into the lives and personalities of the band members. Through honest discussion, whether that be the band claiming not to be that ‘huggy’ with their followers, or their followers stating what they dislike most about the group (Nicky Wire, stay away from the microphone), at times No Manifesto feels more like a comment on the relationship between performance and fandom than anything else.
It does offer a fascinating insight to the mechanics of the band its members though, each getting a good portion of screen time as the other. You have Nicky Wire, the bitter bassist and bitch of the group; James Dean Bradfield, lead singer and all round nice guy; and finally Sean Moore, the quiet, gun-enthusiast drummer. The film does a great job of exploring the creation of the Manics and what shaped their music when starting out, with literature, art and historical events like the miners strike are all credited as important influences. The band members come off great; intelligent, artistic and above all else, normal, with great sequences that include Wire moaning about having to move from his small terraced house due to the press, and Bradfield cooking a fry-up which is soundtracked by one of their songs. It’s a strange juxtaposition between being rock stars and normal people, that makes the subjects refreshingly down to earth and likeable.
The whole time though, the almost spectral image of the deeply troubled and iconic Richey Edwards, hangs over proceedings. The bands former guitarist, who one day walked out of a hotel, never to be seen again, is mentioned in great detail, shrouded in heartbreak and mystery. The film never becomes just about him though and the way in which the band members and film-makers deal with his story, with respect, regret and honesty should be commended. That’s actually how I would best describe No Manifesto; an honest portrayal of a rock “n” roll band, that acknowledges both their achievements (a sold out Millennium Stadium for a millennium gig) and their failures (shaking hands with Fidel Castro). It’s ab in depth look at a truly interesting band, which will please be fans (it should do, as half of them are in it!), but as someone who has never personally ‘got’ the band, I liked the film a lot too, which is surely the highest of all compliments I could give it.
No Manifesto: A film about Manic Street Preachers is available on demand now, as well as playing in local cinema’s across the country.
Image credit to http://www.novemberfilms.co.uk