Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

The Posters Came from the Walls – A film by Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams, Prince Charles cinema, 17/10/2009

Posted in Reviews by zoecharaktinou on October 21, 2009
Still from the film courtesy of the directors

Still from the film courtesy of the directors

I

In St. Petersburg, Russia it is the 9th of May – Victory Day, a major holiday that marks the victory over Nazi Germany. It is also Dave Gahan’s – Depeche Mode’s lead singer – birthday. A large group of Depeche Mode fans are gathered amongst the rest of the peopl who are out to observe the military parades. They are so proud of the coincidence and they celebrate Gahan’s birthday with such fervour as the rest of the country’s who is celebrating winning World War II, declaring it ‘Dave Day’. They have their own banners and the hold their own parade, singing proudly. One of the Russian fans declares: “We are Depeche-ist. Like Communist, like Fascist”.

Depeche Mode are one of the most popular, succesful and influential bands of the last thirty years. They have a sacred status amongst both devoted fans and your average music listener. In their hometown of Basildon, Essex they are not known much today, not really and they never had a number 1 in the UK, however they have touched so many other places in almost undefinable but definitely diverse ways, as revealed by Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams’ film ‘The Posters Came from the Walls’. A film, shot exclusively on video, about the fans of Depeche Mode, it sets out to observe the effect that the band has had on people over the years. Their journey takes them – and us – around the world, in order to meet people who testify of their faith and devotion to Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher.

I woke up early on a Saturday morning in anticipation and made my way to Leicester Square’s Prince Charles cinema for 10:30am where I would have the opportunity to watch this film. I have seen Depeche Mode live and I know of countless people who love them and enjoy their music. All these fans who I know personally and who are currently travelling around Europe to see Depeche Mode live, were on my mind whilst waiting to watch the film. The atmosphere was almost celebratory in the auditorium making the experience even more intense.

Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams are clearly fans themselves. The story goes that a few years ago they set out to make a film for the band but legal disputes between Depeche Mode and their record company meant that this would become a different film, one not of the band but about them. It also meant that it would take them three years before it could be released – the film was made in 2006. In many ways, these problems have been fortunate as Deller and Abrahams present us with an unusual music documentary – rarely we see in such a condensed way how people are truly affected by music and how this affect can range from appreciation to obsession. ‘The Posters Came from the Walls’ is an intricate exploration of the human psyche, recent history and love, true, obsessive, fetishistic love, for Depeche Mode.

In London, a previously homeless man who lived for about five years under Hammersmith bridge talks about how his only company was a Depeche Mode tape and how by going to see them live he decided to turn his life around.

In Germany, three former east-Berliners talk about the free concert Depeche Mode gave in 1988 – archival photographs show the anguish, happinness, and almost disbelief of the audience. The three fans relay how exhilarated they were and talk of how at that moment they felt connected with the rest of the world. The title of the film comes from this incedent, as the posters they used to have on their walls became alive.

In the USA, Trent Reznor, lead singer of the Nine Inch Nails explains how Depeche Mode’s music was imperative to his future. One common thread that appears in almost all the stories is that Depeche Mode fans are outsiders of their respective societies.

Deller and Abrahams approach the subject in a very subtle and tender way. They don’t narrate and they don’t lead. They let the people interviewed express in full their feelings. It is a very emotional and touching film. It starts off light-heartedly and with humour, without much irony involved. The feelings of the fans are strong and much respected through the lens, the editing crucially subtle. At times attention shifts from the band to politics, history and the bizarre. The film covers teenage angst, rebellion, political change, oppression and obsession. Most importantly, the filmmakers do not draw judgement. They let the viewers have their own opinions of the people they see on screen.

Deller’ s ongoing themes are apparent both in approach and visually. Collective memory and action is researched and recorded in an ethnographic manner. The artefacts of collective action are all there: parades and banners, common experience, and most importantly, people: together, connected through Depeche Mode. He is not being romantic, he is curious. Abraham’s trained lens manipulates the video medium making the film look like a personal video. His sympathetic cinematography renders the camera invisible. The spectatorial gaze is neutralised and you are face to face with these people, listening, wanting to ask more, share the moment and stand up and shout, “I love Depeche Mode!”.

Two American teenagers dance and lip synch outside the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena commemorating a 1988 concert; a Russian woman recites Depeche Mode lyrics in Russian; a family in Germany declares: “ Depeche Mode is our hobby”.

Deller and Abrahams explore artfully and affectionately the intricate and fascinating ways through which people draw energy and create their universes and the worlds that make them happy and empower them to continue to exist despite of everything. In the darkness of the cinema we were all united in the common experience of music fandom.

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