Pete Doherty

 

The Libertines: There Are No Innocent Bystanders

Roger Sargent/Pulse Films

 

Noel Gallagher said that the Libertines are a band that “have changed the way people wear clothes, and talk and speak”. In the six years between their split and reformation, this has proved incredibly true ”“ even having a stiflingly detrimental effect on British guitar music at times. Though Doherty and Barat are now suffering their first grey hairs, their influence has seldom waned over the last decade and little has matched the seminal two albums they produced before burning out in the prematurely perfect way that great bands often do. Hedonistic, poetic, anarchic and introverted in turns; the Libertines are everything that is great about British rock’n’roll. In an age obsessed with excessive information and detail, the Libertines are probably the last band still enshrouded and engulfed in some level of myth and mystery, even though they were in many ways key to bringing the wall down between bands and their audiences.

 

”˜The Libertines: There Are No Innocent Bystanders’, the eagerly awaited documentary by Roger Sargent, follows the band as they prepare to reform for gigs at the Kentish Town Forum and at the Reading and Leeds festivals. This is punctuated by a history of the band from its inception to its fractured split. Few documentaries are made with such startling intimacy as this one, long time friend of the band and photographer (responsible for that album cover) Sargent is fly on the wall at moments of heightened tension and great jubilation. Seeing the band take their first uneasy steps towards practicing their first song in six years is an acutely uncomfortable view, and by the end you’re hugely aware of how far the band had came by the time they walked on the Reading stage. It takes a lot of effort to sound that chaotic.

 

By 2010, when the film was shot, Doherty was exiting his Sid Vicious period of tabloid notoriety and the ghoulish circus all of that entails. Pete appears contemplative and often humorous, with flashes of the innocent vaudeville poet so often caricatured as a rock’n’roll cliché in waiting. With Babyshambles ”“ very much the experimental PiL to the pop riot of the Libertines’ Sex Pistols ”“ on hiatus, it’s clear by the film’s end that Doherty is after something more than a few festival appearances from the Libertines and is plagued by some level of regret and restlessness about the end of the band. Pete is shown criticising the financial gravy train that motivated the Libertines reunion for some, bemoaning it was just a venture for the tour bus companies and merchandisers ”“ showing his frustrating that playing a big corporate festival would not be an ending fitting for the start. The topic of Pete’s well documented drug addiction that split the band is somewhat skirted ”“ perhaps due to its sensitive ongoing nature or perhaps due to a desire to make this film about the music and not a tabloid exposé. Doherty pins his problems on an upringing of “so many years behind barbed wire”, while Barat is frank and mournful of there being “very little to romanticise” about heroin and its inevitable outcomes.

 

The most entertaining parts of the film show Carl Barat walking around the bands former haunts in London, from a Holloway Road brothel to the Shoreditch artist scene that he feels has now “ripped its own heart out” through removing the artists that made it what it was. Barat appears very much a stable and thoughtful figure, often very light hearted and aware of what the band means to people.

 

Of course, at the centre of the film lies the relationship between Pete Doherty and Carl Barat. Whilst the bond between the two is shown at its most jocular and brotherly, you see Barat as someone hesitant to let Pete back into his life after the trauma of their bitter 2004 split. One poignant moment in the film is when Carl realises that Pete isn’t turning up to that day’s rehearsal, and the quiet sense of disappointment yet strange acceptance that Barat shows. Unlike most music films, this candidly focuses on the unresolved ”“ friendships that are still in repair and the state of flux that perpetuates throughout the film. On discussing their split, Carl Barat explains that he ”˜opted out of dying at 27′ and therein laid their crucial, irreconcilable difference. Whilst the film can at times be too centric on the soap opera between Pete and Carl, there are interest moments of the often sidelined importance of rhythm section Gary Powell and John Hassall. Powell speaks openly about the mental strength it takes to hold up Pete and Carl at their most tense or unrehearsed.

 

”˜The Libertines: There Are No Innocent Bystanders’ is perhaps as intimate and frank portrait of the band that we are ever likely to get, and captures all of the uncertainty and all of the spectrum of emotions that the Libertines reformation was to those involved. The film carefully does not show the Libertines story as being over, but does shine a light on the bruises and scars that stop the next page from being turned. A powerful and candid documentary, this is a must for any Libertines fan or anyone interested in one of the most riotous and fractured stories in rock’n’roll.

 

”˜The Libertines: There Are No Innocent Bystanders’ is released on DVD on 30th April 2012 and is available to pre-order at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/thelibertines 
 
The film is also showing (some with a Roger Sargent Q&A) at: 
25 April – O2 Academy Liverpool  
27 April – O2 Academy Birmingham  
27 April – O2 ABC Glasgow  
2 May – O2 Academy Islington 
4 May – O2 Academy Bristol  
5 May – O2 Newcastle 
 

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