Movies We Like
Blur: No Distance Left to Run
You will never convince me that there was a more definitive group for the 1990s than Blur. With a manifesto to astutely chronicle pre-millennial anxiety in sharply observant pop songs such as "For Tomorrow," "Girls & Boys," and "The Universal," they were three impossibly good looking young men (plus possibly good looking drummer Dave) with wildly different personalities who created some of the most memorable songs of the last decade of the 20th century. As is so often the case with the best bands their personal clashes made for some wildly explosive creative tension. In Damon Albarn they had a singer who looked like Leonardo DeCaprio reconfigured as an anime character—Britpop's very own Astro Boy; he of the vintage Adidas zip-up, artfully messed up hair, and burning ambition to front the biggest band in the world. His good looks and arrogant attitude were coupled with an extraordinary talent for writing catchy tunes that were every bit as good as their obvious influences—Bowie, Scott Walker, The Kinks, Syd Barrett, The Buzzcocks, et al. In Graham Coxon they had "the most talented guitarist of his generation," the indie kid obsessed with American hardcore who played raggedy chords that bled emotion and aggression all over Albarn's sterling compositions. Graham gave Damon’s songs soul and in his shy demeanor and anti-pop tendencies was seen as Albarn's main adversary within the group. Alex was Blur’s jet setting bon vivant bass player. He was gorgeous, tall, gave the best press quotes, and seemed determined to cultivate a reputation as a champagne Charlie always looking for a good time with people equally famous and beautiful. Simultaneously detestable and wholly endearing at the height of his explorations into the decadence of celebrity culture, he was also the most charming member of the group. Dave the drummer was just lucky to be there, I think, though his egghead presence gave Blur some of their singular cache as the thinking boy and girl’s pop star pin ups.
Cute boys writing old fashioned pop songs may seem kind of typical now but circa 1993 when Blur became Blur as we know them it started nothing short of a British pop cultural revolution. They hit their stride by railing against grungy yank dominance and waiving a Union Jack as a slightly ironic act of defiance. Their third record Parklife was a massive hit and their fantastic songs showcasing a scrappy post modern grab bag ideology was as influential in Britain as the first wave of punk. It was all downhill from there of course and they disappointed themselves and their original fans with a hollow if massively successful follow up LP called The Great Escape. After a year or so despairing about spawning the xenophobic watershed of Cool Britannia they managed to redeem themselves and even win over the U.S. in the process with a moody and reflective self-titled fourth album that harkened back to their scruffier beginnings. Two more records followed the last without contributions from Graham who had left the group or was kicked out. No one is absolutely sure what happened. At that point Blur was over and no one expected them to return. But rumors started circulating last year that they were going to reunite for some summer shows in England. No Distance Left To Run is a documentary chronicling their reunion shows and finds time to tell their story from their Goldsmiths Art College origins to the rise–fall–redemption– reunion story arc the band dutifully followed.
It's a fantastic documentary that might not mean much to the uninitiated as Blur's influence, while huge, remains fairly undetectable to the multitudes who think Radiohead are the best British band to come along in the last 20 years. However, for people who know better there is plenty here to savor. Fascinating archival footage shows Blur in varying states of existence and for us children of the '90s who were at their shows, bought their import CD singles as they were released, and stayed up late to see them on 120 Minutes (their only U.S. outlet until "Song 2" changed things for them), it's heartening to see the story played out again with commentary on the ups and downs of their career from all four of them, now older and wizened and slightly less young and lovely. The film itself features gorgeous cinematography throughout capturing all of their smaller shows full of punky energy that served as a dress rehearsal of sorts that led up to their big reunion gigs in Hyde Park, London last summer.
For Blur fans that have been waiting for them to get the deluxe treatment this is pretty much a goldmine of material. Their unceremonious implosion back in 2003 never felt right. It’s to their credit that this reunion has really seemed like the organic outcome of four friends getting back together to run through their old songs rather than a cynical ploy to cash in on the goodwill that has amassed since their splitting up. Or maybe it’s both. Regardless, the material contained within is wonderful. A bonus disc of one of the Hyde Park shows from last summer is included and it has several truly euphoric moments, not least of which is the entire crowd singing the "oh my baby" line from "Tender" as the sun sets over London. It's powerful stuff. Even if you weren't there when they were really happening this is a documentary that poignantly conveys just what was so magical about these four guys and their songs anyway.