Full of candid footage and commentary from fans, a new Manic Street Preachers documentary promises to reveal the band's "secret life".
At one point in new documentary 'No Manifesto', Nicky Wire says, "There's a secret life to Manic Street Preachers..." His bandmate, drummer Sean Moore, steps in to finish his sentence: "...that even this documentary won't find!"
Having joined the Manics on tour, at home, at large and in the studio, director Elizabeth Marcus would be forgiven for disagreeing. Does she thing she found that secret life?
"Yes, I do," the New York-based filmmaker confides over lunch in west London. "I'm not gonna say, 'Oh yes, I completely dissected their psyches', not at all. But I do believe that there's a pretty well-rounded picture in the film of who they are and what they're about."
A labour of love, the film accompanies the Manics onstage and off from 2005 to 2009, a crucial period for the band that saw them bounce back from the critical and commercial low point of 'Lifeblood' (though that album is one of Marcus' favourites) to release their renaissance record, 'Send Away The Tigers'. Towards the end of the film, they put out 'Journal For Plague Lovers', using the last of the lyrics that bandmate Richey Edwards left with them before he disappeared in 1995.
'No Manifesto' is a candid film, all vérité footage, allowing the viewer a rare chance to see Nicky and James arguing over the strings on 'Autumnsong', James tickle-fighting producer Dave Eringa and some frank discussion about Richey's departure and the direction the band took afterwards - not to mention the revelation that James hates cereal. It also serves as a way in for newer fans: conceived as a radical, fan-focused alternative to the backstage/talking-heads footage commonplace in rock docs, it lets the Manics' famously fervent devotees - nearly 100 of them were interviewed - narrate the band's history, highlighting, as bassist Wire puts it, the "mutual respect and mutual hatred and mutual love" between the two. As an American Manics fan, Elizabeth herself is a rare thing - part of the film focuses on the band's "American curse", whereby every US tour before 1999 somehow went wrong, and there are vox pops with American anglophile rock fans who've never heard of them.
The film premieres at Cardiff's Chapter Arts Centre on January 30, with further screenings around the country (see nomanifestofilm.com) and is released on demand and on DVD and Blu Ray on February 16. It's been so long in the making largely because it was self-produced and self-financed. Marcus and producer husband Kurt Engfehr (whose previous movies include Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling For Columbine) began with the premise of making a film about Manics fans in 2002. When the band agreed to contribute, things became more complicated schedule-wise, and more expensive. Troubles with the economy in 2009 meant the pair's original distributor for what was then the final cut pulled out, but the additional delay has allowed for further editing to remove dated material. The result is a snapshot of a band at a critical juncture on the way to where they are right now.
Despite the access allowed to Marcus and Engfehr, the Manics took a hands-off approach to the film. "At the beginning of the process, I was a little disappointed that the band didn't want to have more input," says Marcus, "But I came to see that it was really for the best. Aside from the fact that it gave me the creative freedom to do what I wanted to do, it's also...they're musicians, they're a band. And I was happy with the fact that they understood that it was better for them to just do their thing and have us do our thing...the band saying, 'Oh come in here and do this multi-year, career-spanning project on us and do whatever you want with it', that takes a lot of courage, and I really admire them for being able to do that."
The title, 'No Manifesto', echoes that willingness to relinquish the control associated with a more traditional rock documentary. But, says Marcus, it's also a reflection of the film's emphasis on the fans. "I chose it before I did any interviews with the Manics, because I had this great quote from this early, early interview with Nicky where he's saying, 'We can't hand out a manifesto on how to make your life better; we just want to ignite sparks in people's minds,'" says Marcus.
"That to me was wonderful, because that's always been what I turned to music for. But in the fan community, especially back then in the late '90s, there was a kind of a manifesto for Manics fans...like, oh well, if you're a Manics fan you believe in this, that and the other thing. And I really wanted to point that out to the fan community that the Manics never told anybody what they should think or believe. They never told you what to think, they just told you that you should think."