Lucy Holt is quite the diligent writer: here she reviews last year’s indie film hit Submarine, as well as its Alex Turner fronted soundtrack.
NME are acting totally within character and throwing a tantrum because Alex Turner’s soundtrack to Submarine hasn’t been nominated for a BRIT Award.
Also, eagle-eyed human beings will notice its celluloid big brother ”â the Richard Ayoade-directed film of the same name – is absent from many 2011 film countdowns or line ups. It is only really The BAFTAs (whoever they are) that feature it as a contender for some irrelevant pat on the back award. Those well-adjusted readers among you will probably infer from this that it wasn’t all that special or noteworthy. You are wrong. The hyper-cynical conspiracy theorist will claim it’s all an elaborate cover up. They are also wrong. Sitting somewhere on the fence is my opinion that it doesn’t really matter if Submarine doesn’t end up with a shedload of silverware on its mantelpiece, but I’ll seize the opportunity to preach the gospel according to Ayoade to anyone who’ll listen.
The film doesn’t just follow Oliver Tate; it practically drags him reluctantly by his duffle coat collar through a series of adolescent agonies and affectations, from trying to remain the non-boyfriend of school bully and pyromaniac Jordana Bevan, resurrecting his parents’ marriage through the power of his typewriter, and dealing with a dead dog. The film is punctuated with semi-profound epigrams, dictionary extracts and philosophical musings of the most precocious calibre, and features distinctly grown-up performances from Craig Roberts and Yasmin Page, last seen starring on the CBBC channel. (I guess this is what they’d call a “coming of age” moment).
Submarine is essentially a film for a rom-com saturated audience that want to take on sterner stuff; a sort of art house with the stabilisers on. The metaphoric colour coding and sort-of-symbolic aquatic theme isn’t all that subtle or nuanced, but do you really want something that challenging for Sunday morning viewing? The sexual references aren’t so awkward that mums don’t like it too. The washed out cinematography, vintage camera and typewriter are straight out of an Alex Turner fangirl’s Tumblr, but that doesn’t mean its popularity is limited only to the skinny jean-inclined. Consider it a sub-culture spanning gateway film; you know you’re being lured into a totally fictional, Ayoade-crafted world of beautifully wistful scenery (Oliver Tate doesn’t believe in scenery) and sardonic putdowns, but there really is nothing you can do about it. Really, it’s indie so brilliant it’s not confined to its own clique. (According to his comments last week, that would make Submarine right up David Cameron’s street. He advised the industry to make independent films more “commercially successful”Â. We’re expecting a “water to wine” policy within the next week or so).
It would be easy to deduce that because the film was originally a novel, and the novel featured a socially awkward, adolescent male protagonist, that Submarine is this century’s Catcher in The Rye . And yes, yes it is. That’s if you base your reasoning on the fact that both Oliver Tate and Holden Caulfield wear a hunting hat. There’s angst, isolation and rebellion in Submarine, but there’s also a lot more humour and a lot less existentialism. It’s essentially the story of growing up, and Alex Turner’s been doing a heck of a lot of that recently, which is evident on the record. Still hints of boyish immaturity remain, like snapshots from an old photo album; the lyrics to ”ËGlass in the Park’ declare “I can’t stop making appointments to sweep/ beneath the climbing frame”Â.
Submarine‘s musical counterpart is sonic wallpaper to the film; Oliver Tate’s internal mixtape, which means it neatly sidesteps stating the obvious territory. (Unfortunately, this meant I couldn’t go as Jordana Bevan to a musical themed fancy dress party). But this means the music works alone out of the context of the storyline: “having a Submarine moment” has become synonymous (to me, at least) for anything within the boundaries of having a pretentious internal crisis about the meaning of existence, to cycling in the rain with a coat on. Mostly, it refers to listening to the soundtrack on a train, staring atmospherically out of the window, pretending to have “issues” in a music video or cinematic montage.
”ËStuck on the Puzzle’ is the pinnacle of the effortless compendium; a deceptively simple pop-song with an irresistible and (whisper it) catchy chorus. It’s dripping with cynicism like the withering backhanded compliment; “something in your magnetism/must’ve pissed them off”Â. The big finish; ”ËPiledriver Waltz’ is equally melodic and melancholic, a stripped back version of what you’ll find on Arctic Monkeys’ Suck it and See, which conjures imagery of heart break and mundanity. Another highlight is ”ËIt’s Hard to Get Around the Wind’, which is drips with the twisted metaphor “as long as you still/keep peppering the pill”Â. There are two things wrong with the Submarine soundtrack. The first is that it’s only 5.5 songs long; the other is that it will probably never be played live.
Perhaps the film and its musical companion won’t win Oscars or an Ivor Novello. It probably won’t beat The Iron Lady to a BAFTA or go down as a genre or generation defining, but as joint forces, they are more than the sum of their individual parts. If you saw one film last year, make sure it was Submarine. It will change your life… or perhaps I’m just being a dramatic, angsty, pretentious teenager.