Minicine member Steve Firth has written up his impressions on Sound it Out, the film we screened last week. If you saw the film here, or if you have seen it anywhere else and care to comment, agree, disagree, enlighten or any other way of communicating, then please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments box at the bottom of the post. The all important audience reactions will go live on the site tomorrow for you to see how the films were received.
Don’t forget our next film is The Hedgehog on Thursday 28th of June. Details can be found here and tickets are open to members NOW. They will open to the general public on Friday.
Northern Soul: A review of Sound it Out by Steve Firth
Jeanie Finlay’s documentary Sound It Out goes beyond chronicling the times of Teesside’s last independent record shop. The film is a piece of social realism about life in Northern England, 2011’s contribution to a back catalogue that includes Billy Lair, The Full Monty, Billy Eliot, and This Sporting Life.
Sound It Out is different though, the people are real. They live in Stockton, a town with mass unemployment, high crime and little else of note. It’s a difficult place to survive in, an even harder place to get out of. Some have found a temporary haven: music and the Sound It Out record shop.
Sound It Out is a cross between a community centre, a bring-and-buy shop and a psychiatric clinic. You go there not only to buy records, but also to meet your social and spiritual needs. The owner, Tom, has probably known you for years. You’ve most likely bought all your records from him. He might even occasionally send you a text message letting you know he has something that may interest you. He knows your musical tastes better than you do. Sound It Out is sanctuary in a cultural wasteland.
Tom claims 99% of people who frequent the shop are male, suggesting the obsessive nature of record collecting and the need for escapism are masculine traits. Well, what his customers lack in gender diversity they more than make up for in age range and musical taste. From youthful metalheads with a detailed knowledge of obscure genres to grandfathers with a penchant for 80s soft rock, Sound It Out welcome all kinds.
Stocked full of vinyl the shop is an anachronism. That the store thrives in an age of homogeneous commercialism is a significant achievement. David, Tom’s assistant, is especially aware of how callous the business world can be. Sacked, along with all other Zavvi employees, by money-orientated big business he’s revelling in his new environment, showing how a love of music, heart, and dedication to customers has made Sound It Out independent, separate and unique.
At first you laugh at Sound It Out’s strange clientele. Yes, at them, not with them. They are misfits, sad in modern meaning of the word, a jumble of life’s unfortunates, their only means of expression their all-consuming infatuation with music. The critical decisions in their lives appear to be, ‘What filing system do I use to make my records easy to find?’ and ‘Where can I put my ever-growing collection?’
One of the strengths of Finlay’s film is how it allows the viewer to jump to certain conclusions a character, and then slowly reveals their human side, showing the real person. Audience misconceptions are gracefully corrected.
The best example of this is Shane, the undisputed star of Sound It Out, a man who on the face of it appears to be the stereotypical, not very bright, middle-aged rocker. He’s seen Status Quo, according to his own estimate, “350-400 times”, says he prepares for a Quo gig by listening continuously for a week to the band’s music, and claims “there’s nothing like six nights in a row of Quo” before adding “it takes a fortnight to recover, though.” When he announces he wants to be buried in a coffin made of his records’ melted vinyl you think it’s hilarious.
You don’t think it’s hilarious when he describes his life and how difficult it’s been. Or when he talks about his years at a ‘special’ school, or when refers to himself as a ‘spacka’, or when he tells you about his job as a shelf-stacker on the permanent night shift. He’s now sad in the traditional sense of the word, you feel sorry for him, you think no one should have a life like his. You’re happy he’s found something to cling on to, something that gives his life meaning, something to take him away, however briefly, from a world of prejudice. It’s irrelevant Status Quo have rescued him, that he has a release is what’s important.
Shane is a hero.
And there are numerous other passionate, honest, likeable people in Sound It Out. The auditor with his strict indexing system (alphabetical, then chronological), the twenty-somethings DJing in a shed, and the rappers specialising in the geographically-challenged and little-known genre of Mákina, all add to the film’s warmth and humanity. While society has shamefully failed to give them any hope, they’ve got on with the lives and found a positive outlet to express themselves. Sound It Out is their triumph.
Although the film has some unquestionably funny sections, it would take a hard heart to watch Sound It Out and not be moved. People’s daily struggles are ever-present throughout the film. Whether it’s customers trying to sell their record collection for a few quid, people who can’t afford to buy an album having it “bagged” for future collection, or the seeming inevitability of each generation disappearing into the unholy triangle of unemployment, alcoholism and criminality, Finlay shows it all. We should be grateful to her.
The director allows the film to speak for itself. The cinematography captures the town’s bleakness without being overwhelming, and the characters tell us all we need to know about their lives. The simple camera work gives a feeling of freshness, and whether capturing a live band attempting to be ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ in the far-too-small shop, customers talking to Finlay on camera, or people speaking in their front rooms, there’s a warmth and intimacy to the film-making. Such is the success of this approach that the film’s soundtrack is less conspicuous than you’d expect, supporting the characters and the visual experience rather than dominating proceedings.
With its often amusing cast Sound It Out begins as a comedy, and gradually turns into a tragedy. It shows people in the North of England who, for reasons beyond their control, have to endure dead-end lives with music their sole pleasure. Stockton may be, as one teenager put it, “Where I feel safe” but it’s also claustrophobic, desperate and decaying. Sound It Out is more Kes than High Fidelity and shows us the cost of prioritising uniformity over independence, the price of placing commercialism before caring, and the idiocy of loving profit not people.
If you’re a music fan, believe there’s more to life than putting money in the coffers of multi-national companies, or have an independent streak and like to see David put one over Goliath Sound It Out is recommended. If you care about people it’s essential viewing.
– Steve Firth