Let Us Be Golden

Let Us Be Golden


Reviewed by: David Graham

An 'alternative' snapshot of the music industry in modern Britain, Colin O'Toole's film is a moderately engaging profile of 3 up-and-coming acts that plays like an extended advert (which it may as well be, coming from the Red Bull Music Academy project). It focuses on hip-hop and soul chanteuse Fatima, indie boy-band The Cheek and folky warbler Beth Jean Houghton, and all eminently likable and talented in their own right. The film seems at pains to distance itself from the likes of The X-Factor, but at times it resembles nothing more than the audition stage of that multi-national phenomenon, lingering on the familiar hopes and dreams of these young wannabes in a way that is alternately empathetic and excessively obvious.

We follow Fatima - who has already made considerable headway, having featured on several established acts' output - as she prepares for a solo showcase that will hopefully put her on the map. Arctic Monkeys-esque country lads The Cheek already have big-label backing from Universal, but they're still mostly stuck in low-rent clubs and their parents' houses; a video shoot with a respected director may be their ticket to greater exposure. Geordie Houghton, at only 19, has been avoiding taking the London plunge, but she's feeling stifled at home as interest from agents and record execs encourage her to seize the limelight in a well-attended gig at the Institute Of Contemporary Arts.

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A somewhat unflattering picture is painted of the music biz, with unseen record label bods perhaps predictably coming off as evil manipulators of these youngsters. However, the producers, managers and beat-smiths in their sphere are well-represented, through the likes of Warp Records prodigy Hudson Mohawke (a young Scottish whiz here foregoing some of his mystique by enjoying an unpretentious jam with Fatima) and Depeche Mode alumni Ben Hillier, whose no-nonsense approach seems to be bringing the best out in the demanding Houghton. These established figures' enthusiasm and passion for the performers is totally tangible and a degree more tolerable than the acts' own occasionally over-bearing self-assurance. The film also serves as a nicely balanced and well-lensed portrait of London and what it means to young hopefuls, being simultaneously welcoming, liberating and restricting, due to its size, history and expense.

The documentary is almost sunk by a distinct lack of drama: even at the outset, each of these acts has made it a good deal further than most aspiring musicians ever will, and they all have safe lives to fall back on if they decide to give up on their dream, or if it gives out on them. Fatima has a job in a cool shoe shop and a flat of her own, the boys all have accommodating families and Beth's clothes-strewn bedroom - it's literally several feet deep in charity shop spoils - speaks volumes about her somewhat unrealistic approach to life, as well as her privileged background. Fatima suffers through a disastrously flooded flat - we see her negotiating the water with record crates and poignantly trying to rescue drenched parchments inscribed with messages left by a deceased family member - but apart from that and the constant money worries, they all seem to have a pretty solid set-up from which to indulge their musical adventures.

Given how well they've already done, the notion of 'making it' seems a bit moot for this lot; if they're really serious about holding on to their 'integrity', they might not get much further than this - should they really want to so desperately? Indeed, many performers plough away for years without getting half the opportunities they already have. Beth herself admits that her songs are constantly changing, which in itself can be a good thing, but there's a slight air of entitlement to her and the boys' band especially that makes them seem like they could maybe do with going back to the drawing board to decide what exactly it is they want to bring us, before they expect us to snap it up unquantifiably.

But for now, their travails make for a reasonably diverting cinematic experience. The interviews could be a little more illuminating - Fatima and Houghton make well-observed points about how disillusioned they became with education, due to its disregard for their creativity - but the participants all open up to the camera enough to keep us invested in their efforts. Their music might not be to everyone's tastes, but their energy and attitudes are a refreshing change from the dogmatic talent-fascism of Simon Cowell's Saturday night stable. Let Us Be Golden might not be saying anything new, but it serves as an inspiring document for other young musicians and a glimpse into the reality of getting started in an often unforgiving business.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2011
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Three acts. Three sounds. Three attitudes. One goal – a career in music.
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Director: Colin O'Toole

Year: 2011

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2011

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