Teenage Superstars


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Teenage Superstars
"A charming documentary about a still ongoing chapter in not-quite-popular music."


Before we begin, a few quick questions - are you now a listener of 6music? Were you previously a listener of the Peel programme in any of its various guises? Were you somewhere around Scotland and adolescence at any point between 1985 and 1995? Have you (and the odds are not as slim as some would think) ever been in the BMX Bandits?

Teenage Superstar is a film for you, and you should go and see it.

A charming documentary about a still ongoing chapter in not-quite-popular music, it's got everything one would hope for in a film about 'indie', including a rather good summation of the various corporate and political concerns about the label 'indie' for indie labels and the nature of independence and independents in an industry as dependent on connections and connectedness as music. That discussion is delivered in part by Stephen Pastel and if you too know who he is then I am surprised you haven't arranged to see it on the basis of that first paragraph.

Kim Deal narrates! Thurston Moore is a talking head! (not, like, in Talking Heads - he was in the Wylde Ratttz in Velvet Goldmine). There's a moment where they talk about Bobby Gillespie becoming a familiar face that comes with a photograph where the only distinguishing feature is a fulsome fringe that obfuscates his face as surely and as certainly as ink in a DC Thomson comic. There's a discussion of a moment as foundational and important as the 4th of June 1976 show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade hall. Here it's a slightly later outpost of the do it yourself ethic, one built on a shared understanding (and shared record collections) predicated in part upon Tales From The Drug Attic. Once triggered by a shopping list written by Julian Cope and past the unlikely influence of Sigue Sigue Sputnik on sleeve design there is a selection of stories from a wide cast of characters that manages to surprise and delight even if some elements will seem quite familiar.

There are some odd choices - there's a series of establishing shots that look like they've been taken in the last year or so and then manipulated to make them seem either aged video or badly preserved film, and in a film about bands that includes tales of The Jesus & Mary Chain's legendary American tour where the gigs were tantamount to commercial self harm, this faux authenticity is slightly jarring, more so even than lens flare in video games. There was a note in the screening that Eye For Film saw at the 2017 Edinburgh Film Festival that the credits were temporary for the festival, so these may be subject to change, but while the black biro backgrounds for those credits and intertitles were pretty cool, one shot of Bellshill train station's sign was used so often I expected to see someone I know stumble past on the way home from The Belmill Hotel.

There are some less odd choices - the ending, in particular, is representatively playful - and there's a good selection of interview and archive footage to tell a story that is bound up in part in the history of a few record labels (among them Creation and 53rd and 3rd) but manages to be both about and around a lot more than that. Jauntily transatlantic, it's still very much grounded in what was once Strathclyde, and anyone who is picturing the Regional Council's jotters is probably exactly old enough to enjoy this. Certainly anyone who was told they should speak to someone because the bands they'd written on those jotters matched. "There's a virtue in being primitive", we're told, but this isn't quite that - there are axes millennia old that still cut, and anyone can play guitar. You can learn the chords after you've joined the band, and come within a hair of being sued into oblivion for giving the wrong celebrity a t-shirt.

At one point I suddenly thought "Hang on, they've not mentioned John Peel!", and then they did, and there was archive footage of yer man Ravenscroft in potentially surprising circumstances, and that was probably the only time I thought there was something glaring missing. An interesting subject is usually enough for good documentary, but presenting it in interesting ways is what elevates it. For the quality of its contributions alone Teenage Superstar is to be commended, and there are some real finds in the archive, but in its metaphorical crate-digging it's probably most of interest to those who have rifled through vinyl themselves, searching for that hidden gem. I'm extolling this film's virtues so that it doesn't languish in that kind of obscurity. Seek it out and enjoy.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2017
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Teenage Superstars packshot
A documentary about the pre-Britpop Scottish music scene.

Director: Grant McPhee

Writer: Grant McPhee, Angela Slaven

Starring: Thurston Moore, Kim Deal, Edwyn Collins, Jim Reid, Bobby Gillespie, Alan McGee, Duglas T. Stewart, Stephen McRobbie, Rose McDowall, Gerard Love, Sean Dickson, Eugene Kelly, Martin Hayward, Jowe Head, David Keegan

Year: 2017

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2017

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