The Alcohol Years

The Alcohol Years


Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski

Autobiography is a genre that teeters between appealing to our curiosity about the intimate details of the lives of others and arousing our distaste at the narcissism it necessarily invokes. However, as Carol Morley's documentary is as much concerned with Eighties Manchester as with examining her own psyche, it seems an appropriate medium to depict the arrogance, hedonism and self-absorption of the Madchester scene.

Morley left the city in a hurry and didn't return for 12 years. By talking to the people who knew her between the ages of 16 and 21, she reconstructs the sights and sounds, gossip and debauchery of that period - The Hacienda and the Ritzy; Morley's girl punk outfit, TOT, that received a Melody Maker single of the week without ever releasing anything; hitchhiking to London with her mate Debby to be New Order groupies.

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Her subjects-for-interview display varying degrees of willingness to go along for the ride. Many appear bemused by the project, wearing a half smile for the camera, behind which she's hiding, silently waiting for them to tell her who she was back then.

For most, she was attention seeking, with a worrying attitude towards alcohol and sex, a manipulative little Lolita who wasn't content on a night out unless she'd cadged enough free drinks to get plastered and went home with someone - male or female, she wasn't fussy.

There's a lot of contempt directed towards Morley, or at least towards the mythical, grotesque caricature of Carol that the interviewees conjure up in the space left by her purposeful silence. Pity and distaste, too, balanced by warmth and laughter at the memories that she evokes.

The film becomes a collective biography, allowing the different personalities expression and the opportunity to reminisce. Nostalgia is the premise, both in its content and style, and the interview footage is interspersed with recent archive footage of Manchester life. The visual ethic is a kind of kitsch verisimilitude, aiming to reconstruct dirty back alleys, brick by brick, and tatty bedrooms down to the lipstick stain on the pillow.

As a homage to Manchester, it's warmer and softer than 24 Hour Party People, sentimentalising its grit and seediness, in a way that Michael Winterbottom's farcical and ironic film definitely didn't. Even the bleak tower blocks of Hume are caught in limpid Northern sunlight, breaking through the clouds, making the estates look like places of hopeful promise.

Morley has put together an engrossing and entertaining film of the legends and personalities of a vital era in British pop culture that will have you wincing in parts, while wishing you'd been there to witness this world of anarchic opportunity.

Reviewed on: 04 Jul 2005
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The Alcohol Years packshot
A former groupie returns to Manchester to find out who she was back then in the Eighties.
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Director: Carol Morley

Writer: Maggie Choyce, Carol Morley

Starring: Stella Grundy, Douglas Hart, Dave Haslam, Tony Wilson, Alan Wise, Bruce Mitchell, Vini Reilly, Pete Shelley, Debby Turner.

Year: 2000

Runtime: 79 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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