Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Collected Films of Saint Etienne

To anyone who knows me who might be knew I would do this.

Today, somebody asked me who my favourite group was. I gave the pat answer that OBVIOUSLY I couldn't choose just one. In truth, I was being coy, Saint Etienne sprang to mind immediately.

Their albums and singles, it should go without saying, are always brilliant, fresh-sounding, future-eyeing, intelligent pop. And they keep getting better, their most recent album "Tales From Turnpike House" is probably their best so far. A new compilation is released in September. Appropriately enough it is called "London Conversations: The Best of Saint Etienne", and two singles are coming along with it; a new version of "Burnt Out Car" (re-jigged by Xenomania), and a collaboration with Annie and Richard X called "This Is Tomorrow", which incidentally is the name of Saint Etienne's latest film.

My favourite thing Saint Etienne have ever done is probably their film "Finisterre", which they made in 2002 to sort-of promote their album of the same name, and which finally got released on DVD over here in 2005. It's about London: the train journeys to the city centre from the suburbs, the coffee shops, record shops and parks; it's about people's experiences of living and working there, or of leaving and coming back to it. It goes into the night life, romantic literature about the city, the gulf between the sunken, run down council estates and the luxury appartments in affluent areas. It depicts the city as it undergoes a period of renewal at the beginning of this decade; many locations in the film have apparently disappeared since it was made. Many people are interviewed to talk about their experience of London (among them White Stripes' producer Liam Watson, Vashti Bunyan, novelist Shena Mackay and Subway Sect leader-turned-postie Vic Goddard) but no-one actually appears on film as a talking head, instead we just hear their voices over lovingly-shot images of the city. Saint Etienne's music and a narration, which is delivered by Michael Jayston and written by Bob Stanley and Kevin Pearce, hold it all together via a flurry of musical and literary references (of which my favourite is the McCarthy/ Manics inspired "We told the friendly bank manager about our dreams, he talked of business plans and pension schemes; Natwest, Barclays, Midland, Lloyds: use a bank? I'd rather die..."). At one point the voice over intones "My object is to encourage an appreciation of the unlooked for pleasures. The create an enthusiasm for the neglected or undervalued...the freakish, even." - a sentiment which I, and I'm sure many "bloggers", can identify with. "Finisterre" is a real work of love; beautifully shot, well narrated, and ultimately... very Saint Etienne. Bob and co-director Paul Kelly (also a member of Birdie, of whom more tomorrow...) were interviewed for The Guardian's media section last week and you can see that here. Kieran Evans also deserves credit for his wonderful work on "Finisterre".

Here's a YouTube link of a live version of a track from the album "Finisterre" (on the album it's immediately followed by the quote "Rock could be so good, but we make it all so rubbishy...").

And while we're about it...
a very short and very selective history of rock on film