Film

The Fantastic Soul Boys of the Western World Puts a British Pop Group in Perspective

by

The rise of the New Romantics and other flamboyant music camps in early-Eighties British pop led Paul Weller (the Jam, Style Council) to carp that it was “like punk never happened.” The fantastic documentary Soul Boys of the Western World blurs cultural lines and complicates the politics (and dismissiveness) of Weller’s comment.

Director George Hencken charts the rise, fall, and rebirth of Spandau Ballet, first of the New Romantic superstars. Early in the film there’s footage of a young Gary Kemp, Spandau’s songwriter and lead guitarist, noting middle-class blokes’ disdain of glamour and the appearance of success, while working-class folks like him and the rest of the band happily embraced them.

Through superb editing of stock footage, home movies, new and vintage interviews, and performance clips of Spandau and their heroes (Stevie Wonder; Bowie) and peers (Culture Club, Duran Duran), Hencken fleshes out the familiar tale at the core: Young, ambitious kids form a band, shuffle names and personnel a few times, luck into global superstardom, and then see clashing egos and dreams bring it all down around them.

In watching Soul, it helps to be a Spandau fan, of course, but the smart, layered contextualizing and historicizing of the group within the film makes it a gift for any pop-culture aficionado.