Here it is. What you have all been waiting for Blur’s video garage sale. Yessum, that’s right, the spunky Brits have cleaned out the archives and are offering up some rare footage from the beginning of their dazzling rise to fame and fortune. In short, Starshaped includes everything you did not think you already needed. Whuh? Okay, I’ll drop the vagaries. If you buy this DVD, you’ll get to see Damon Albarn’s dick! It’s hard to think of any other reason why this would garner a release considering the current incarnation of Blur is so removed from the early ‘90s version documented on this release.
With the band proving its relevance in our grand new millennium with an ambitious and forward-thinking album like Think Tank, it seems unlikely that they would be prone to wax nostalgic. Add guitarist Graham Coxon’s conspicuous absence from the line-up these days and Albarn’s foray into multimedia hip hoppery, and this kind of sentimental revisionism is perplexing indeed. Confusing as it all seems, it makes a lot more sense once you actually watch the 63-minute tour film.
The film proper is simply a collection of backstage antics filmed around the releases of the band’s first two albums, Leisure and Modern Life Is Rubbish. Set to a selection of songs from these albums, it actually works surprisingly well. The boys are mostly charming, if not inoffensively ordinary. They get too drunk, they punk, they drop equipment on their feet, they get homesick, and they spout a few interesting nuggets (of wisdom, that is) in the process. One of the tastier morsels includes Albarn espousing his theories of pop music. Basically, he condenses it down to rip-off artistry. And his frank commentary reverberates loudly amidst the current pop music climate, where revivalism is the great bastion for mediocre musicians and whoever has the coolest record collection wins. Albarn’s attitude obviously frames his recent projects and it is one of the few instances in the film where you are reminded that this scrawny Stone Roses devotee is the same man behind Think Tank and the innovative Gorillaz project.
For the most part, Starshaped offers nothing novel in perspective or execution of the touring band travelogue formula. However, the movie does avoid the trap of narcissistic reflection that usually typifies such vanity projects. With the band at the cusp of superstardom in the UK, it could have been extremely easy to frame this film with acclamatory narration and hyperbolic historicism. Instead, director Matthew Longfellow is content to keep things plain and thereby manages to produce an improbable poignancy. He does well to cull together a miscellany of unspectacular moments and produce something fairly enjoyable. The whole affair respires with subtlety and a refreshing diffidence. In an emblematic sequence at Stonehenge, Coxon considers the monument: “It’s a bit like seeing Morrissey—not quite as big as you thought.” The band similarly downplays their own celebrity status during the backstage shenanigans throughout the film. It’s an entirely different story once they get on stage, however. If you have never attended a Blur concert, it might shock you how furiously they play live.
The film is punctuated with footage of the band live that could convert the stodgiest Oasis fan. The band thrashes through songs like “There’s No Other Way” and “Pop Scene” with an enthusiasm that is only accessible to bands just starting out. As a bonus, the DVD package also includes an unedited performance at Kilburn National in London from 1991. It’s too bad the sound is so poor though, because the recording tends to highlight Blur’s tinny whininess and bare arrangements. In addition to that 15-song set, the DVD also features 15 minutes of a concert the band performed just after signing their record contract. Beware: This amateur camcorder footage should only be viewed for research purposes. Although the band is merely in their embryonic stage, it’s evil awful. The talents of Jim Jarmusch and Walter Murch combined wouldn’t have buoyed this tedious performance.
Starshaped will sit nicely with those who already have Blur in their hearts. For neophytes, it won’t grate but it probably won’t warrant lifelong attachment either. Oh yeah, and admirers of Damon Albarn should know that the frontal nudity is digitally obscured.