Films #160-162: A London Trilogy by Saint Etienne

what-have-you-done-today-mervyn-day-2005-001-noah-kelly-shot-with-bicycle-in-front-of-houseDirector: Paul Kelly (and Kieran Evans)
Language: English

  • Finisterre (2003)
    Length: 59 minutes
    Watched: 17 Sep
  • What Have You Done Today Mervin Day? (2005)
    Length: 45 minutes
    Watched: 18 Sep
  • This Is Tomorrow (2007)
    Length: 54 minutes
    Watched: 18 Sep
  • plus DVD extras and other shorts: total 43 minutes

I got this… last year? the year before? for Christmas, and finally dug it out to watch over two days in September. I’ve been a fan of Saint Etienne’s music for a long time, and I’d seen the titles of these documentary movies floating around before, so it was nice to finally get to see them.

The first movie, Finisterre, was made around the same time as the eponymous album by Saint Etienne, and it’s a series of images of London set to music from that album with a voiceover that also featured on the album – the two are actually more intertwined than I thought. Like Saint Etienne’s music, it’s a love song to the city, but the filmmakers aren’t afraid to show the gritty side too.

The second is What Have You Done Today Mervin Day?, which has a very similar purview to the previous film, but focuses in on the Lea Valley in East London, on the eve of its choice as the site of the Olympic Village for the 2012 Olympics. It features more voiceovers from interviews with locals, but it follows a fictional character Mervin as he visits different dilapidated and abandoned places on his bike. It has a rudimentary storyline, as well, as he’s kind of on the run from his boss, but it’s obvious that none of that matters in the slightest.

The third is This Is Tomorrow, which has a very different feel and purpose, as it is more of a straight documentary about the rebuilding of the Festival Hall in central London. I didn’t connect so easily with this movie in total. However, I’d literally been there, to that hall, two months before watching this, so I knew where it was and had an idea of what they were talking about. But unlike the other movies, this one doesn’t show the random images of the city so much, so it wasn’t such a window into daily life in London. It did talk about the history of the area, which was interesting.

One of the most interesting things about the movies was seeing how London’s changed. Part of the reason I decided to watch it now was that I’d been to London in July, so my own impression of the city was still fresh in my mind. London’s skyline has changed a lot in twelve years – the Gherkin (or “butt plug”, as I like to call it) is conspicuous in its absence in Finisterre, such an integral part of the skyline is it now, and of course, more recently there’s the Shard and the Walkie Talkie and all manner of other ridiculously-named skyscrapers.

On a similar note, one of the extras was a remake of Mervin Day narrated by Sarah Cracknell which revisits the Olympic Village in 2012 to see how the Lea Valley’s changed in the seven years since they made the earlier documentary. Again, it was interesting to see that. I still haven’t been there yet, but I guess Tokyo is gearing up for similar transformations now. I don’t plan to still be in Japan in 2020, though.

I liked these movies, but I have a particular interest in the band who made them, so I guess they don’t have general applicability. But if you’re at all interested in Saint Etienne, or if you want to see something visual about London that has no plot, you’d do well to see this.

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