Spandau Ballet launched the “New Romantics” movement in
pop’s New Wave, the music that blended punk and disco and
fashion and paved the way for the “hair metal” and hip hop that
followed as reactions to it.
But Duran Duran, Culture Club and Rick Astley followed and stole
their thunder and outlasted the Islington quintet.
So “Soul Boys of the Western World,” the documentary about
their rise and fall, serves as a corrective, as well as a time machine
trip without the hot tub back to the era of jackboots and jodhpurs,
berets and ballads, an era in pop much derided for its MTV
friendly fashions, its “soaring synthesizers,” synth drums and
George Hencken’s documentary, produced by band manager
Steve Dagger, uses home movies, vintage TV news clips, early
performance video and decades of taped interviews to tell the
story of the band, best-known for that worldwide smash, “True.”
A clever strategy — Hencken has them remember their story in
voice over. We aren’t jarred into seeing how they look now until
the very end. Not a bad idea for a band of ear-ringed, exotically-
attired matinee idols.
The guitar-and-bass Kemp brothers, crooner Tony Hadley,
drummer John Keeble and guitarist/synthesizer/sax player Steve
Norman were just another band inspired to form by the Sex
Pistols, working London clubs. They were The Cut, The Makers
and Gentry, and not really standing out.
Then, just like The Who a generation before them, they picked up
on the fashions of their fans and reinvented themselves. They
ditched their songbook and started over. They took a name
someone had seen on the walls of a Berlin restroom — Spandau
Ballet, with its “Cabaret” echoes.
With the electronic elements in their music, they “sounded like
the future,” and as Martin notes in the narration, their
“wedge haircut, peg-pants” fans gave them a leg up.
“We could be the band for this scene.”
Androgyny, Atom Ant and all that would follow. Spandau Ballet
was “a creative manifesto for the ’80s,” an escape into excess in
Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.
Starting out in punk, with its “built-in obsolescence,” they never
thought it would last. And with Gary Kemp as songwriter and
band bully, it didn’t. The Kemps got offered career-making roles in
the true crime movie “The Krays,” playing notorious twin British
gangsters. And since that happened just as music was changing, it all came apart.
Hencken’s film hits the highs and papers over most of the lows.
Lots of boozy sing-alongs, suntanning in Saint Tropez or Freeport,
earning their 15 minutes at Live Aid. One funny moment of
despair, losing on a pop music quiz show to their rivals, Duran
“Soul Boys” lets the band of “True” get its due, and the last laugh
— at least until Duran Duran earns a similar screen treatment.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with nudity, profanity, discussions of drug
Cast: Tony Hadley, Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, John Keeble, Steve
Norman, Steve Dagger
Credits: Directed by George Hencken. An IFC/Sundance Selects
Running time: 1:52