Concert film and DVD from the Hollywood High School, March 2nd 2013
If the timing of Morrissey’s new concert film seems a little strange, well that’s because it is. Out of a planned sixty two concerts in 2013, only fifteen took place – battling Barrett’s oesophagus, a bleeding ulcer and double pneumonia but ultimately being strangled by funding problems. Though 2011 and 2012 had seen a still unsigned Morrissey triumph across an initially highly successful UK tour, selling out venues from the Manchester Arena to Sydney Opera House via Glastonbury and Grimsby, Morrissey now finds his future, in his own inimitable words, ‘suddenly absent’. ‘Morrissey 25:Live’, filmed at the Hollywood High School in March this year, was initially intended as a celebration of a quarter of a century of Morrissey as a solo artist, though you could be forgiven for finding more of the funereal than the celebratory in the film as it stands.
Morrissey’s clamour for archaic silver screen glamour explains the knowing choice of the tiny Hollywood High School auditorium for this concert film – ever contrary it was this small, sweaty evening Morrissey chose to film rather than the previous night’s twenty thousand capacity arena show in the same corner of Los Angeles. Indeed, this is but one of the unusual editorial choices at play in ‘Morrissey:25 Live’; Russell Brand’s onstage eulogy to Morrissey that opened the show is strangely absent, as is the lack of any deviation from the standard concert film format of uninterrupted performance. Save for the introductory shots of a pensive Morrissey sat alone in the empty auditorium, the lack of any even fleeting archive footage or glimpses of an offstage Morrissey – if indeed there is an offstage Morrissey – adds to a feeling of conservatism from director James Russell that Morrissey would have benefited from eschewing. None the less, Russell does succeed in capturing the feverish excitement that catalyses a good Morrissey performance into a great one; every strained and outstretched arm directed at the stage or tightly closed eyes mid-song is a living sign of the places Morrissey can effortlessly touch within his fans. And it’s the fans this film is made for – whilst the set list contains its fare share of classics it’s the seldom aired and the obscure that will keep fans captivated such as the breathless unreleased torch song ‘Action is My Middle Name’ or a cinematic rendition of Frankie Valli’s ‘To Give’ with Morrissey’s band in full John Barry mode.
As a performer, Morrissey is constantly engaging; James Russell is careful not to miss every growl or whip of the microphone lead, though the pace of the film is often brisker than the songs themselves. With stark kitchen sink imagery of stifled Friday nights, Stevenage overspills and looted wine, the reflection on teenage lovelessness (what else?) that is the title track from 1997’s anaemic ‘Maladjusted’ here is uniquely thundering and idiosyncratic,. ‘Speedway’, closing track on Morrissey’s true opus ‘Vauxhall and I’, is crashing and fierce in its communal defiance that gives way to an unexpected and haunting acapella croon through the opening lines of the heartbreaking Smiths b-side ‘Asleep’. The guttural physicality of Morrissey’s output is crucially overlooked time and time again; masterful though it may be, it is often not just what he delivers but how he delivers it that engraves him so deeply into the consciousness of the affected. This goes some way to explaining the outpourings of emotion captured in ‘Morrissey 25:Live’, and though the dedications from fans may feel a little syrupy out of context (“I owe my children’s lives to you Morrissey”/ “Thank you for being alive”) it’s an undeniable force that inspires it. The audience themselves are a far cry from the oft-touted stereotype of fey students and retiring library botherers; the legions of disciples in Hollywood are Levi jacketed Latino’s often with more than a little machismo and grease. And whilst Hollywood may be a world away from grease tea and derelict seaside towns, ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ is captured in all of it shimmering, anthemic bliss and is punctuated by the tumbling shower of sweaty bodies clamouring for the stage that blows into full storm by final, surging ‘The Boy with the Thorn In His Side’.
Morrissey’s future may be something of a question mark, but ‘Morrissey 25:Live’ is a celebration of quite why Morrissey’s present and future still matter so much and find themselves generating such contestation and debate. It’s clear that Morrissey has been forced into having to re-evaluate everything once taken for granted about his career – health not withstanding – but ‘Morrissey 25:Live’ is a fierce reminder of why Morrissey’s Wildean exile deserves a happy ending. Following the split of the Smiths when Morrissey’s future looked as uncertain as it does now, one David Bowie offered Morrissey the advice “step back and attack”; advice Morrissey could do well to now consider.
‘Morrissey 25:Live’ was directed by James Russell for Eagle Vision and will be released on DVD on 21st October 2013