Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Factory Records Documentary

There have not been many great pop music documentaries. Factory From Joy Division to the Happy Mondays was one of the better ones. To say I enjoyed it – I did – would be to overlook the fact that it was in parts poorly researched and lacked the scope and intelligence on many occasions to put its subject in a wider musical or cultural frame.

Yes, it’s an oft-repeated observation by Factory supremo Tony Wilson that “when faced with historical fact versus legend, that one should always print the legend,” but a documentary is the place to separate fact from fiction and to use the advantage of time to put the facts in a historical perspective.

Largely, this Factory programme did its subject justice; in some way it sought to redress the caricature sketches of 24 Hour Party People, but it would have served its purpose far better had it been more careful with the facts.

Why were we told that 1988’s summer of love belonged to The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays? The Stone Roses released Elephant Stone in October that year, their first release in the 18 months since Sally Cinnamon; Happy Mondays released Wrote For Luck in November of 88, their first release in over a year. Neither band broke big until the summer of 89.

Why could the documentary not find the time to celebrate the Hacienda’s role in changing those groups’ directions, laying the foundations for baggy, indie-dance and the house music invasion (the latter of which is in other histories always credited to London) rather than focussing on its many troubles?

And why – this is really un-fucking-forgivable – did they soundtrack that section with Groovy Train by The Farm? That was a summer novelty song from – wait for it – 1990 that had nothing to do with Factory or Manchester.

There were other errors and the editorial and research team obviously didn’t know their stuff - they were generalists. Specialists would've picked up on interviewees’ statements that contradicted past statements. That would’ve made a more interesting programme. For example, Wilson has said in the past that he would never have worked with Morrissey because he thought him too difficult and he didn’t want the aggravation; why, then, was Wilson allowed to blame his Factory partner for not signing The Smiths and suggest he'd wanted to sign them all along?

Pop music has been the most creative and inspiring art form of the past 50 years. Where it would be safe to say drama’s heyday was in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, pictorial art blossomed most richly in the 300 years from the 16th to the 18th centuries and the novel belongs to the 19th century, pop music – despite its detractors, its naysayers, the killjoys and the snobs – remains the world’s most vital form of artistic expression.

It is nothing more than crude condescension that sells short pop as an art form. That it isn’t afforded the same editorial rigour and cultural weight as more traditional art forms by our TV stations is an insult not just to the fans but to the people who have provided – and continue to provide – the greatest artistic highs offered by any discipline of the past half century.


Anonymous said...

That line about every copy of Blue Monday losing money (a lie) is getting a bit tired too.

I enjoyed the prog immensely, though I wish someone would ask Alan Erasmus about the era.

Fire Escape said...

Yes, I'd love Erasmus to be interviewed. I'm sure it would be fascinating. He is variously described as "famously silent" and "enigmatic", so perhaps it's not for want of trying that he remains un-interviewed.

Anonymous said...

It just seemed odd to constantly be referring to the man and yet not actually be talking to him. Martin Zero & Rob Gretton are both dead, so apart from Peter Saville, Erasmus is the only key player still with us. It would have been good to hear from someone who didn't have quite such a fixed agenda as Anthony H (or at least, a different agenda).

It would also have been nice to see some clips from Tony's seminal late 80s quiz show "Remote Control" in the doc too. Thankfully youtube comes to the rescue once more:


Incidentally (and this is also a question that the doc didn't really answer) I appreciate Factory was quite a -ahem- "nebulous" label, but do you know if each of the three MDs have defined roles within the label, or was it more an "I've got a good idea", "OK let's do it!" situation?

Fire Escape said...

I don't know if the partners had different roles. Someone with greater knowledge of Factory than me would be a better person to ask. Er, readers! Do you know?

I agree with you re Erasmus. At least an explanation of why he wasn't talking...