Made in Britain: Powder (2011)
A few years ago I read a novel by Kevin Sampson called Powder. Sampson, also author of Awaydays, was, back in the day, the manager of one of the forerunners of Britpop. His band, The Farm, are principally noted nowadays for “All Together Now” which to be fair is an anthem, but as a rule they’ve sunk into well-deserved obscurity. Anyway, as the manager he was uniquely positioned to write a scabrous satire on the music industry in the 90’s. That novel, Powder, charted the rise and fall of Liverpool angst merchants The Grams as they rocket to fame and then implode dramatically in a supernova of ego on an American tour. A genuinely funny novel, with more than a grain of truth to it, Powder was the literary and Britpop equivalent of Spinal Tap. My biggest complaint? The Grams sounded like the bastard lovechild of The Verve and Radiohead, and therefore would surely suck balls something fierce. So, when I discovered that this had been filmed, I have to say I was excited- this could be a raw and ragged coke-fuelled stormer of a movie, the darkest of black comedies and could well rank as an undiscovered gem. When I heard that Sampson was adapting it himself, and that Mark Elliot (a solid TV director) was hired to direct, I thought this was going to be gold. Honestly, the source material is that strong that how could they possibly fuck it up?
Contains miserable Scouse gits with delusions of talent and spoilers below.
Yet fuck it up they did. My fucking Christ this film is awful. The book essentially had three major characters, Keva (lead singer of The Grams), Guy (Ex cokehead, and in love with a hooker record mogul), and Wheezer (comedy manager and all round good sort). The book was split into two halves: making it and losing it, and was packed full of comical incidents, vivid supporting characters and insight into behind the scenes in the Music Industry (which I was incredibly aware of at the time). The film, however, takes a different tack. The making it and losing it is gone, instead Sampson clearly fell in love with Keva (the most hateful character in the novel), and focuses the film on his desire to write “the perfect song”. James Love, the irrepressible party animal guitarist is sidelined, and a minor incident in the novel is the entire crux for the second act. So, we’ve got misery porn and tortured upbringing, a whole load of bollocks before a theft from the Commitments all set to the less-than-enthralling music of one James Walsh, purveyor of mediocrity with shitty post-Britpop act Starsailor.
Meet Keva (Liam Boyle), befringed crybaby and lead singer of The Grams, a “cult” (I’m convinced that’s a typo) band who are on the fringes of making it. He’s pathologically jealous of Helmet (played by some turd called Al Weaver), who he believes has stolen a song from him and turned it into a stadium anthem, when it was really about Keva’s miserable upbringing. If it weren’t so shit then I’d be tempted to write Helmet thank you letters for this. Enter Weezer, played by human blackhead Alfie Allen, Ticky (Jo Woodcock) and Guy (Jefferson Hall). They sign the Grams over a pretentious conversation, and yet Keva is still struggling to write his perfect song. In the meantime, Helmet is having a disastrous tour of the states. Next thing we know, Keva’s also fighting off the attention of Johnny Winegums (Stephen Walters), a turd of a journalist based loosely on an NME writer called Jonny Cigarettes.
Keva decides that the only way he can find his inner miserable git (as opposed to his outer miserable git which is clearly evident all the way through the film) is to go to Ibiza to track down his ex-neighbour and all round hippie douchebag Syd (Ralf Little). Hanna (Vinette Robinson- probably the most likeable character in the film, and certainly the warmest performance) is pursuing Keva, but encourages him to go to find Syd for closure. To which Keva replies “It’ll be opensure”, pronounced, incidentally, open-sher. In all honesty, I nearly turned the film off for that line alone. So, he finds Syd, and we get an insight into his traumatic childhood at the hands of his stepfather, and he manages to rediscover his muse to write the song he always wanted to write. Incidentally, after all this, the song turns out to be shite on toast, despite Wheezer’s protestations that it’ll change lives. Aye, it’ll change people from buying Britpop to buying anything with a fucking pulse, but I struggle to think of another change it will make. Then Keva breaks the band up with “The course is run” or some such fucking nonsense. The fucking end.
This film is horrible. Pompous, boring, musically mediocre, joyless, dull, badly acted horseshit of the most rotten kind. Why on earth Sampson took the Syd story from the novel, which was an anecdote at best, and decided to hang the entire second act on it is a mystery best known to himself. Furthermore, Keva is such a slappable twat that his presence on screen is painful, and when the moping tosser looks at Hannah and says “We can’t because I’d eat you all up”, I swear I thought she’d have been within her rights to cut his throat open and pull his entrails out through the gap. Boyle, while a pretty boy, is desperately trying to channel Ian Curtis, but Curtis WAS a tortured artist, and a charismatic one at that, whereas Keva’s just a sulking cunt.
Furthermore, Sampson has sidelined several of the major characters. I actually hate Alfie Allen, because of his turn in Game of Thrones, so wasn’t crying about Wheezer, but to place Guy at the side makes the suicide of Ticky, a major event in the book, almost irrelevant. Why do we care about this posh bint? We know nothing about her, or her love for Guy, let alone the reasons for the suicide. It’s a huge mistake, and it doesn’t matter how nice Jo Woodcock is to look at (very) or how hard she’s trying (she’s not bad, actually)as there’s nothing to anchor Ticky to the film. Also, Helmet is clearly there to be laughed at, and he is a massive twat, but it was an equally stupid mistake to promote him over James Love. James is a force of nature, a fat and coked up sex fiend for whom no depravity is too low. He’s great in the novel, a likeable and gregarious counterpoint to old misery guts, and his absence badly hurts the film.
Moreover, I can’t believe that Sampson decided to curtail the rising section of the novel for this bloody mopy crap. Look, people become rock stars for a variety of reasons- 3 of which are loose women, the adoration of a crowd and classified substances. The rise of The Grams is a spectacular drug-fuelled orgy before one of the most memorably described gigs that I think I’ve ever read. When Keva breaks up the band in the novel, it has run its course, they can’t stand to be around each other any more, but they’ve had a blast in the meantime. When he breaks it up in the film, he does so on the cusp of them making it- and they’ve had no fun, done no drugs and I don’t think shagged any women. The making it section, which should have been the first third, should have been a riot- Britpop’s version of Spinal Tap. Instead, sitting through Powder is a singularly joyless experience- and I’ve absolutely no idea why anyone would want to be a rock star if it’s like this. Or, and this is a better idea, self-important douchebags should not be allowed to be rock stars, because they’ll just waste it.
Overall, I hate this film. I despise it actually. This is cinematic diarrhoea that took a fun and filthy source, chewed it up and then pebble-dashed the toilet bowl. I wish nothing but bad things on everyone involved with this, and cannot believe that this crap is billed as a black comedy. There isn’t a single incident in the film that could remotely be called darkly amusing. Basically, this is for people that think Kid A is a work of genius, and that the Smiths are the most important band of the last 50 years. Anyone else, and I do mean anyone, don’t touch it with a fucking bargepole- because, to be honest, Powder honks, and honks badly. An Orangutan of Doom is as low as I can go, but that’s being fucking generous.
After that trauma I need something fun to watch.
Until next time,