Friday, 18 April 2014

Lawrence of Belgravia (2011) - Paul Kelly

Okay so the briefest of history lessons first. Despite what you might have read, heard or remembered the eighties was actually a phenomenal period for music. Back then Lawrence had a band called Felt. They were influential, heavenly, and easily one of the best bands of that era. Lawrence’s plan was to release ten albums and ten singles during the eighties and then split the band. Which is basically what happened. Lawrence desperately wanted to be a star, play Top of the Pops, sell a ton of records and live the whirlwind life of the fabulous. His records sounded like nothing else around at the time, the guitar heroics of Television fed through The Velvets swagger and topped off with a healthy dose existential poetry. Lawrence was ready for stardom, he sang about it, craved it, demanded it, but it never came. Felt were, and I suppose still are a cult band.

Paul Kelly’s remarkable documentary, Lawrence of Belgravia, picks up Lawrence’s story twenty years after Felt’s demise. Things aren’t too good for Lawrence when we catch up with him, he’s facing eviction and is suffering from mental health issues. That said he’s still recording and releasing music as Go-Kart Mozart, and dressing like a thrift store Brian Jones at his most dandyish. Still living the dream, still clinging to the vague hope that at any moment his boat will come in. Through a series of interviews with various interviewers, we get to meet Lawrence the person as opposed to Lawrence the failed pop star. All sorts of topics are covered from the formation of Felt right through to Lawrence’s opinions on the internet. Lawrence is an entertaining interviewee, coming across as someone who could wax lyrical and say something pithy about almost any subject dropped in front of him. One of the things that impressed me most about this documentary was that at no time is Lawrence ever made a figure of fun, you never get the feeling that anyone involved in the film is laughing at him in any way. It is funny, in places hilariously so, but the amusement always comes from Lawrence himself. One scene in particular of him trying to paint a door is painfully comical.

I’ve been trying to see this documentary for years, and have only just managed to do so. Being a huge Felt (and Lawrence) fan, I was worried that I’d built up what could have been unattainable expectations. Yet Lawrence of Belgravia didn’t disappoint. The whole documentary looks gorgeous, and is largely comprised of static shots, allowing the action to unfold within the frame. Which works well and allows Kelly’s great eye for composition to really come to the fore. Kelly’s background in photography is something that really shines through in his films. He's also aces at super-fast montage sequences, one of which manages to compress the whole history of Felt into a few seconds of screen time. Very nice.

The great thing is that you don’t have to be a fan of Felt, or even music to enjoy this, since it’s a portrait of a rather eccentric individual, who when given a platform tends to make amusing comments about everything. Please, someone just give him a TV show.

Lawrence of Belgravia is thoroughly watchable and for a Felt fan like myself an utter joy. For the eagle-eyed, there are some sublime cameos (my personal favourite being Pete Wiggs popping up for a second behind a door), Pete Astor, Martin Duffy and even legendary producer John A. Rivers turn up at various points. If you get the chance to catch a screening of this, then you’d be a fool to miss it. Hunt it down, you won’t regret it.

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