Before I went to see Morrissey 25: Live last Monday I met with James Russell, the film Director, for a brief interview about working with an artist he admires, and his hopes for how the film would be received. Russell was very candid in his answers; this film is Morrissey laid bare, a film for the fans, truthfully reflecting the artist we know and love: it’s not a documentary film, it’s a concert film. As Russell pointed out in a tweet last week, ‘25: Live. Surely the title explains?! LIVE’.
After the interview I watched the film and found it to be a wonderful treat. On the big screen the sound is unbelievable. The band sails through each song beautifully and Morrissey’s voice is more Morrissey-perfect than ever. Yes I am describing it like a gig, I know, but I wanted to be at that gig so badly, and I never make the front row.
Watching the film, I felt like I was right down the front, singing my heart out, straining to reach for his hand, smelling the sweat of the Mozarmy beside me. Russell’s camera angles provided close ups of Moz’s quiff, his face, the shirt buttons, the sound of his little grunts and noises, the band, their faces, instruments… hell, I even got to examine the jeans he was wearing. I enjoyed the perspective and the details: the audience interaction, the size of the crowd, the look of the venue. Like any gig there was runny make-up and flattened hair, stage invasions and funny quips… just about everything was covered.
I wasn’t expecting the almost 3-D feeling that the film exudes; that magical atmospheric ‘dust’ that whizzes around Morrissey’s orbit when he’s on stage, the invisible sprinkle of Mozness that can normally only be felt from attending a gig. But I felt it and I inhaled it. In fact, I gobbled it all up like the greedy little Morrissey fanatic that I am. I clapped and cheered and sang along, and like the aftermath of any gig, I was still awake at 3am on the bounce starving for more. Thank you James Russell, your movie dinners are delicious.
Taking the cinema-trip to stratospheric heights was the attendance of Boz Boorer and his wife, Lyn, who sat in the row in front. It was like I was having some kind of out of body experience. The film was showing me a super sized Boz, but Boz was actually there in the cinema with his wife, sitting nearby. I could see other cinema goers trying to comprehend this mind fuddle; every time Boz’s face came on the big screen there were roars of approval and points to where he was sitting, and he’d respond with a laugh, but then we’d all look back at the screen again, occasionally stealing glances to just double check that he was really here.
Highlights were Still Ill, November Spawned A Monster, Meat Is Murder, You’re The One for Me, Fatty, Speedway/Asleep and The Boy With the Thorn In His Side. Other highlights included Morrissey’s ‘yes’s’, ‘the dishes’, Boz’s flute on Paris and that little charmer Devan.
This might be my favourite Morrissey film of all time, and this is why: In life, there’s nothing like the high of a Morrissey show. Nothing. Let’s just say that again. Nothing. But Morrissey 25: Live comes as near as you’ll ever get to the front row. It’s intimate, charming and close up without being invasive and it has that atmosphere. As Russell says: 'it's very stripped down, very beautiful, not a big production. A simple reflection of his performance’.
It’s true. All you need is Moz.
Interview With Director James Russell
JH: How did you come to work with Morrissey?
JR: I’ve pitched quite a few times in the last few years to work with him. When he played in Rome, at then again when he played the Palladium. We had done a lot of prep, and it seemed it wasn’t going to happen. At the end of last year I thought, I’ll give it one more try for something when he’s in America. Then right before the Staples Center gig we got a call at the last minute on the Monday night and I was on a flight first thing Tuesday morning. We shot it that weekend.
JH: What direction did he give you?
JR: It was all his creative. He knew exactly what he wanted, which was to capture an intimate gig. Everything was decided beforehand. He wanted to shoot at the Staples Center, do some backstage stuff and he gave us loads of access. I see the film as a thank you to his fans. He could have done any big gig anywhere in the world and he chose to do it in Hollywood High School, and it sold out in seconds.
JH: How many cameras did you use?
JR: We used nine film cameras, and we put them in positions where they worked both for the fans but also that they weren’t in Morrissey’s face. The idea was to try to make the viewer feel that they were on stage with him. We were very happy to get that close. I had cameras positioned in different places. The school isn’t like other bigger venues. So I put them in certain places where I wanted them and that’s how we worked. He wanted the fans as close to him as possible. He didn’t want to have a barrier between him and the fans – so there weren’t any big cranes there. The fan interaction was vital.
JH: There’s some Staples Centre footage in there too?
JR: Yes, he wanted to show the atmosphere back stage at the Staples Centre, then make a comparison to the Hollywood High School that is like ten times smaller. It was just a part of the narrative - the juxtaposition between the two. Hollywood High School carries its own glamour, stars like Judy Garland and Mickey Rourke went there, and so it’s the perfect place for Morrissey to be filmed, - a classic setting. People who say there should be archive footage or documentary footage are missing the point. It’s Morrissey, live; and it really is as simple as that
JH: What do you say to people who are going to see it?
JR: If you’re a Morrissey fan, you’ll probably like it. But if you’re not, you probably won’t! This is a film for the fans. At times when people review it they don’t understand that there’s an idea behind it. This is what I hope Morrissey wanted: very stripped down, very beautiful, not a big production. A simple reflection of his performance.
JH: Who did you enjoy working with on the film crew?
JR: Morrissey’s head of security, Liam is an absolute gentleman. So easy to work with. He was informing us who was about to walk through – there was Heather Graham, Joaquin Phoenix, and he’d give us the signal of where to be at the right time. It’s often you hear that certain artists have a reputation for being difficult but I have always been lucky. This has been one of the most pleasurable and straightforward films I’ve worked on and Morrissey’s crew were amazing.
JH: Was he pleased with the final film?
JR: You’d have to ask him that! It’s all been signed off, so I’m sure if he didn’t like something we’d know about it.
JH: Which part of the film are you most proud of?
JR: I love all of it but I’m most proud of Meat Is Murder. It’s such a powerful song anyway, with the message the visuals, that part of the movie is special, I’m very proud of it. I also think, if you weren’t able to be at the Hollywood High School gig, in some way this gives you additional access.
JH: What was it like for you, meeting Morrissey
JR: It was backstage at the Staples Center, but I just wanted to let him get on with his own thing. It wasn’t right to intrude. I knew what he needed. I wish I could say that we sat down and had a cup of tea together, but there was just so much to be done. He’s so busy, people meeting him every five minutes, lots of his friends and fans. I kept my respectful distance, He had given us the access and I didn’t want to abuse the privilege. We were behind camera most of the time. And anyway, I can’t compete with Tony Visconti and Patti Smith! [Laughs].
H: Did you film any audio in the opening footage?
JR: No, it’s captured visually. It’s a nice little opener to the film, I think. It’s really all about the fans, how close they are, famous or not. The fans are so passionate, but they’re not intrusive. And the passion is enduring, he’s been around for years and they’re still fanatical, in the most beautiful way. They’re not going crazy, they’re in awe just from being so close.
JH: I agree. Watching Morrissey you know you’re in the presence of something truly special, and to dive on it or damage it would be wrong. The Beatles/Bieber reaction is not appropriate.
JR: Yes but people still jump on stage and grab him.
JH: Yes but those are cuddles, they’re not tearing his trousers off.
JR: But I’m sure they would do! [Laughs]
JH: I’d see that film!
JR: So would I!
JH: Thank you James. Would you host our Mozarmyquiz one Friday?
JR: Yes, that sounds fun, I’d love to.
Follow James Russell on Twitter @JamesrussellMCD.