This workmanlike Morrissey concert film says more about the singer's braying fans than the mystery man himself.
At once a musical poet who inspires the love of millions and a belligerent old codger famous for making a scene, Morrissey is a riddle best left unsolved. The Lancashire-born performer has spent over 30 years in the spotlight supported by an adoring fan base who've only grown since his definitive success as frontman of The Smiths in the '80s. James Russell, who has forged a career filming live music, has seized the fact that Mozza has now been flying solo for 25 years and made a no-frills concert documentary on this be-quiffed, seemingly permanent fixture on the music scene.
Hollywood High School auditorium, a comparatively intimate LA venue, was chosen as the site. The gushes of superfans bookend what is otherwise a straight 80-minute live set. As live sets go this is a particularly unextraordinary one. A couple of spinning red strobes is it for showmanship and it's all captured with bemusing low-angle shots of Morrissey's jean-clad stomping legs. Perhaps to give proceedings some measure of pizazz, Moz throws his mic out to the audience. Cringe-y words of worship are the result:
"Morrissey, thank you for living and singing so open-heartedly. Bless you always."
"Bless you also," replies Moz off-handedly, as if reacting to a colleague's sneeze.
As a means of observing the contradictions of a man whose lyrics are so powerful that they inspired Willy Russell's heart wrenching book about adolescent loneliness, 'The Wrong Boy', this doc has its moments. It’s awkwardly comic to watch the singer trying, unconvincingly, to clamber into the emotional bath he is sharing with his audience. He plays along until the yield of a call and response session proves too ridiculous for his tastes.
"After this you will be going where?"
"To your bed!" yells one optimistic female.
"Really?" says Moz, tone dripping with incredulity and scorn. "For what?"
The same question could be asked of the need to have another record of the old songs that made his name. 'Please, Please Please Let Me Get What I Want', 'Meat is Murder', 'Everyday is Like Sunday', and 'The Boy with the Thorn in His Side' are dutifully rolled out, with any added value lost through the lens.
Moz changes shirts twice and throws outgoing garments to the masses. These flourishes delight the crowd who brave bouncers and try to clamber on stage, just to touch their hero. Their desire to express raw emotion to their idol is reminiscent of the girl who stripped naked in front of Marina Abramovic in The Artist is Present.
Showing how Moz works as a lightning rod to feelings usually sublimated publicly is where this film is most interesting. It's a shame that James Russell kept his focus where no clarity can be found... on an ironclad persona and his elusive starlight.
The press has not been kind. But to be fair, Moz is not always kind to the press...
Amid tired old tracks lurk compelling emotions.
The enigma of both Morrissey and the emotions he conducts are undeniable.