My review of Paul Fegan’s excellent documentary exploring Scottish folk memory and identity is over at Flickering Myth and republished below. Starring ex-Arab Strap singer Aidan Moffat, it’s a beautiful and wry slice of lyrical imagination…
“Folk music needs a good editor” Aidan Moffat says at one point during this heartfelt and incisive documentary. It’s just one of the many quotable lines delivered in this wryly humorous exploration of cultural memory and identity. Part music doc, part travelogue across Scotland, the film stands proudly as a unique tribute to a world passed and an inspiring testament to the power of words.
Moffat is best known for his darkly provocative song plays as the ex-front man of cult indie folk-pop duo (alongside Malcolm Middleton) Arab Strap. Here he sets out to explore his country’s past by rewriting and touring its oldest songs. The only thing standing in his way is the 79 year-old Sheila Stewart. The traditional travelling folk balladeer takes a combative stance towards Moffat’s view that the old songs need reworking and tells him so in no uncertain terms. Despite their initial terse meeting, the two develop an understanding and it is their relationship that is the bedrock of the film.
The powerful mixture of Moffat’s lyrical skill and love of grim humour sits well with the accounts of romance, debauchery and existential dread. The footage of gigs in far flung and out of the way towns and villages is captured in poetic playfulness and offers a real intensity to the work. It’s always interesting to watch the faces of the more conservative audience members as Moffat drops in a few well timed obscenities to colour the tone of the old songs blue. This plus the idiosyncratic eccentricities of locals (such as the old timer who instructs his dog to wait in a phone box whenever he meets people) make this the filmic equivalent of a free-spirited open mic night – funny with moments of bleak beauty and always with the potential of stumbling blindly over the edge.
There’s even a slightly confusing insertion of Loch Ness Monster fakery that adds to the weirdness, but not much to the whole picture. But it’s all in good jest and describes something of the nature of performance and show that Moffat is interested in. His mysteriously intoned voice over is a little over done, but from such an honest and likeable screen presence one invariably gives him the benefit of the doubt. He’s a performer after all, and brings the whole thing alive with a joyful barroom swagger.
Not strictly for fans of folk music, this will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in storytelling, mythology and what we can learn from the past.
Where You’re Meant To Be is in UK cinemas June 17th.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★