First of all, it should be stated that Inside The Smiths is intended for The Smiths obsessed only. The Beatles — sometimes called The Fab Four — is about the only group where fans know all its members relatively intimately. In most cases, however, it’s the singer and the guitarist that get all the attention. For instance, when you think of The Rolling Stones, you picture Richards and Jagger, not Wyman and Watts.
If you’re obsessed with The Smiths, however, your first step is to study Morrissey, the band’s eccentric lyricist/vocalist. And good luck making sense of that cat! He’s an androgynous, vegetarian who is often funny, but never happy. And of the four original The Smiths, he also has the most successful post-The Smiths career.
Your second move would be to bone up on guitarist Johnny Marr’s work since leaving The Smiths. Marr has spent time with Electronic and is currently with Modest Mouse, as well as having added guitar licks to Talking Heads records and many others. But because guitarists play notes, but do not often speak words, there is only so much you can learn about a man from what he plays on the guitar.
After you’ve explored the worlds of Morrissey and Marr, Mike Joyce (drums) and Andy Rourke (bass) are all that is left. And while a famous court case awarded these two musicians The Smiths royalties after the fact, they’re hardly experts on the group’s music. During this DVD, each former member praises Morrisey’s lyrics and Marr’s guitar parts, but they do little to amplify what these great songs actually mean. Instead, they tell us what it felt like to be a member of The Smiths, a highly influential rock band.
Joyce takes us on a tour of the group’s first rehearsal spaces, for example. He furthermore tells us what his first impressions of Morrissey were. He also describes how this shy singer/songwriter became increasingly distant and difficult as his fame increased. But both Joyce and Rourke paint themselves as supporting characters in the Morrisey/Marr play. They never say, for example, that any of their ideas lead directly to The Smiths songs. Granted, they were there on all those great albums, such as Meat Is Murder and The Queen Is Dead, so they deserve a small share of the royalties, but nothing about this disc proves they were essential to the band’s overall sound.
The most touching moment of this work arrives when Rourke describes his descent into heroin addiction. To the band’s credit, The Smiths’ did not immediately abandon Rourke during his dire hour of need. After he received the rehabilitation help he needed, they allowed him back in the fold. This is surprising because Morrissey strikes one as a severely intolerant person.
In addition to these two original The Smiths, a few other prominent Manchester musicians contribute to the film. These include Peter Hook (New Order) and Mark E. Smith (The Fall). When you stop and think about it, this English working class region sure produced a lot of great rock music.
There are seven bonus features included on this DVD. One segment, titled “Tripping in the USA”, follows Joyce and Rourke as they visit with The Smiths fans in America. The longest extra segment is called “A dreaded sunny day” (taken from a The Smiths song, by the way). It’s a sit down interview with director Stephen Petricco where he asks Joyce and Rourke pointed band questions. It’s sometimes even more informative than the 52-minute documentary itself.
Lastly, a short section featuring Chris Gannon called “Fifth Smith” is also worth a look. Gannon toured with The Smiths briefly and helped fill out the group’s guitar sound. He especially allowed Marr to stretch out in concert.
Sadly, there are no The Smiths songs on the film’s soundtrack, nor is there a single The Smiths performance clip. Talking about the greatness of The Smiths music, without included examples of said music, is simply a tease.
Had Joyce and Rourke gone on to make great post-The Smiths music, their time with the band would be worth an in depth visit. But if you need a full picture of the band, with each tiny jigsaw piece included, this DVD will wipe away a few of the blank spots.