More about: Gorillaz
After being on hiatus for a few years - as the opening of new documentary Gorillaz: Reject False Icons informs us - the band made a long-awaited return to the studio to record what eventually became the 2017 album Humanz. Of course, no mention is made to the highly publicised falling out between sonic bandleader Damon Albarn and visuals guru Jamie Hewlett that caused the break-up – instead the film is a celebration of all things Gorillaz, offering glimpses of the recording sessions for Humanz and The Now Now interspersed with live footage taken from their epic world tour.
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Directed by Denholm Hewlett, Jamie’s son, the film is drawn from three years of footage. It would be remiss to describe Reject False Icons as a concert film, if only because live footage only makes up part of the runtime. But it also isn’t right to see this wholly as a behind the scenes-type DVD extra of a documentary. As Hewlett and Albarn stated at their introduction to the screening, Hewlett Jr. was simply present throughout this period, filming handheld on a single camera and becoming omnipresent enough to simply blend in and watch the excitement unfold before him.
His footage is very much fly-on-the-wall presented amidst a dense collage of snippets of both Hewlett’s iconic animation and performance footage dominated by Albarn. This deliberate combination of the two figureheads aims to bring the core aesthetic of Gorillaz to the forefront, especially considering the oversaturation of guest musicians on the overstuffed Humanz album leaves Hewlett’s animations feeling like an afterthought at times.
Early in the film, Albarn describes the vast touring and studio bands as the "Gorillaz family" - and that really gets to the heart of what this film actually is. In essence, it’s no different to family home video footage filmed on a camcorder...just in this case, the family in question is an internationally renowned supergroup with a whole host of legendary relatives. We get a scrapbook of in-jokes and banter. We see Albarn mess around on keyboards with Jean-Michel Jarre in his studio. We are granted amazingly intimate access to live vocal recordings by the likes of Peven Everett, Little Simz, Jamie Principle, and Mavis Staples. We see their vacation footage as they take the huge tour across the world. There are sweet memorials to Bobby Womack and Ibrahim Ferrer.
At times it’s self-indulgent. Though presented roughly chronologically, the recording session footage for Humanz zips rapidly between different days and tracks, offering tantalising glimpses of recordings but often not enough to truly give a satisfying sense of how these great songs came together. As much time is spent showing the band chatting and joking together - often about jokes and situations we the audience are not privy to - we miss out on the context, in much the same way that spending time with other peoples' families can sometimes be baffling or irritating if you’re not up to speed with their foibles and quirks.
It’s in the tour footage that Reject False Icons really comes alive. A future film dedicated solely to a recording of one of their gigs on this epic tour would be very welcome. Here, heavily edited footage filmed all over the stage, rapidly cutting between angles and focuses, gives us an overwhelming and intoxicating glimpse of these live shows which must have been incredible to have experienced in the crowd. The energy positively jumps off the screen and the huge response from the audiences is palpable. Footage from each date of the tour focuses on highlights from one particular track, drawn from across their back catalogue. It’s also fascinating to see the day-to-day aspects of touring that aren’t always seen onscreen – the repetition, the pre-show rituals, the endless travelling, bandmates pranking each other.
This film is very much one for ardent fans only. It jumps straight in at the deep end, expecting viewers to keep up and at least have some familiarity with the last two albums. But at its heart this is home movie footage to the nth degree. That really came across at the film’s premiere screening, where many of the band and crew members present cheered each other on whenever they appeared onscreen. In a way, this footage is almost so personal and intimate as to be a little alienating at time. But as a welcome reminder of just how immense Gorillaz can be at the height of their powers, and of how brilliant it is to hear so many of these songs again, fans are sure to love it.
Gorillaz: Reject False Icons will premiere for one night only in cinemas around the world tonight (16 December 2019) Tickets here.
More about: Gorillaz