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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Inside the Smiths
Inside the Smiths
Other // Unrated // January 22, 2008
List Price: $16.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted January 24, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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THE MOVIE:

Though having a title that makes it sound like an unauthorized cash-in on a favorite band from people who have no connection to the music, Inside the Smiths is actually a short documentary about the rhythm section of one of rock's most enduring bands. Formed in the early '80s in Manchester, England, the Smiths recorded one of the most unique catalogues in music, combining the jaunty pop-history melodies of Johnny Marr with the wryly emotional lyrics of a fey, warbling singer named Morrissey. Backing them up were Mike Joyce on drums and Andy Rourke on bass, and therein was the core of my favorite band of all time.

Inside the Smiths seeks to get the story from the other two guys in order to get a picture of what it must have been like to ride the rollercoaster of a beloved cult band. Working primarily with the narrative spun by Joyce and Rourke, the filmmakers carry us from the early school years of the two, on into the formation of the band, and then across the years of fame, ending in 1987 when the band fell apart. Precipitated on a 2004 joint DJing tour with the pair, the film grew into an all-encompassing oral history. Illustrated with photos from the band's history and interviews from admirers in other bands--the Buzzcocks, the Fall, Kaiser Chiefs, Funeral for a Friend, the Ordinary Boys, and my choice for successors to the throne, Suede--the movie is all talking heads. So, for those who might chance across this and not know who the Smiths are, there is no music to inform you what all the fuss is about.

The likely reason for this extends beyond licensing fees to a still-warm court battle between Morrissey and Marr and the film's subjects. This tussle over back royalties is also likely why there is no appearance by either the singer or the guitarist, just as there is no likely reunion or any other activity with these four men as a band. Thus, Inside the Smiths does come with political baggage, which outside of a couple of stray mentions, it largely avoids. Even so, as Inside the Smiths winds down, it ends up feeling like a plea for people to forgive Joyce and Rourke for getting litigious (whether or not they were justified is a whole other subject entirely) and wish, hope, pray that somehow we can all get in a time machine and get the old quartet to shuffle back onstage. Clearly, there are bruised friendships here, and it seems that when going for the sympathy vote, there were less pathetic choices to be made than showing Andy Rourke signing autographs outside of a Morrissey gig he likely had to pay to get into.

But that would suggest Inside the Smiths is anything more than an amateur production, which it very much appears to be. Directed by Mark Standley and Stephen Petricco, neither of whom have directing credits on IMDB (not even for this film)*, Inside the Smiths comes off as a well-meaning fan effort, but one that often trips over its own feet stylistically. The first poor choice, and probably the most egregious, is Mark Standley's on-camera introduction to the film. It comes off as pretentious and pompous, and rather dumbly was shot in a graveyard, playing into the worst stereotype of the Smiths as doomy mope rockers. Groans are also elicited from the reoccurring transitional device of a bass guitar rocketing down English streets and the annoying pseudo-psychedelic effects used during the conversations about Rourke's battle with drugs.

Much better is the choice to hire one-time Smiths back-up guitarist Craig Gannon to record new music for the documentary, giving us quick snatches of Smiths-like sounds that at least sound authentic. Also smart was to rely so heavily on the stories of Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke on their own. No one will ever have as much insight into what it was like to be in the band as these two, and they are both well spoken and tell great anecdotes. On that strength, fans of the Smiths will find something of value in Inside the Smiths, whereas the casual or the clueless won't be very entertained.

* Further research reveals that Standley is a musician himself and was in a band called V2 in the late 1970s.

THE DVD

Video:
This Region 0 DVD is presented in a letterboxed format. The image quality is akin to a television news program coming to disc for the first time: nothing spectacular, and no real problems, either.

Sound:
Given the lack of music or other effects, little was needed here beyond a basic stereo soundtrack. The audio is clear and without any distortion.

There are no subtitles.

Extras:
The running time of the main feature on Inside the Smiths is a paltry 52 minutes, and the deleted scenes nearly match this at 51. There are seven scenes in all, with a complete half hour being devoted to one called "A Dreaded Sunny Day." This segment shows us Joyce and Rourke together talking to Standley on the last day of shooting, and it's actually the only time the two musicians appear together. They talk about the experience of making the movie and their intentions. Additionally, they compare notes and discuss some more of the band's history, including touching a bit more substantially on the legal disputes with Morrissey and Marr. Even this could have used with more careful editing. Did we really need to see Andy Rourke trying to get a seed out of his drinking glass?

Some of the other clips introduce us to a previously unseen space where the band first rehearsed, Craig Gannon, Mike Joyce's cat, and a box in his basement full of unreleased session tapes. Slightly different is "Tripping in the USA," with interviews with fans met on the DJ tour, and "Ask Me One on Sport" is a kind of blooper reel where Rourke struggles to get through a couple of different takes. It's all vaguely interesting, but inessential. These must be watched individually, they do not run as one item.

The interior booklet that comes with the DVD has photographs of the bands and participants, as well as written statements from Joyce, Rourke, and both directors. Ten pages in length, it's a decent insert.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Inside the Smiths is, I suppose, an admirable try but is still a bit of a miss. A low-grade production, it should appeal to any Smiths fans like me who still relish any new anecdote about one of their favorite bands. Given that this is probably the only work devoted entirely to the viewpoint of the group's rhythm section, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, it is unique enough on its own that devotees should Rent It. With its absence of any music and the arguably more important half of the band missing, the unconverted would be better off seeking out some of the music on its own first. I recommend the compilation album Louder than Bombs as a nice place to start.

Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.

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