Morrissey has inspired the passions of many throughout his career, inciting anger and dislike from those who disapproved of his effeminacy, his outspoken politics, and his persistent melancholy, while inspiring delight in the legions of fans whose angst … see full wiki
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am one of the tiresome people who didn’t slash their wrists when they were weary teens because they discovered The Smiths and Morrissey. I am an unreconstructed and unrepentant Morrissey fan.
It is with this spirit that I decided to watch Morrissey: The Jewel in the Crown. Fortunately my spirit in one of my idols is strong enough to withstand the otherness of this “unauthorized” biography.
The documentary announces from the beginning that there would be no original Morrissey music in the film. What this really means is that, except for some bland riffs in the title sequences between chapters, there is no music at all. Further, this isn’t a biography of Morrissey the person or even musician (at least in total). Jewel in the Crown is only the story of his solo career. Therefore any of the fundamental stuff regarding the way he developed his sound before becoming one of the few one-named stars is entirely missing. Morrissey is famously silent in all ways but his crooning and unique voice, so I didn’t expect anything from him; however, the idea of a biography, unauthorized or not, created in me certain expectations. None of them were met.
Instead Jewel in the Crown is a chance for people whom Morrissey once worked with to gripe about one another. The first twenty minutes centers on an argument between Stephen Street and Vini Reilly on who really wrote the music for Morrissey’s first solo album, Viva Hate. It was a back and forth between the dour Street with his sad puppy-dog-left-on-the-road look and the horribly frightening Vini Reilly who looked like a starving heroin addict with a wig on that is 5 sizes too large. Fifteen percent of the whole documentary is about their argument over who wrote the music. Since Morrissey himself doesn’t make an appearance, this was precious time wasted. And finally, this is a giant “who cares” for people not in the music business. This time could have been spent explaining Morrissey’s early life in Manchester. Much is made of him both hating and loving being English, but they do nothing to explain this, only present it as a fact that everyone already knows.
Further everyone, who isn’t a journalist, is someone whom Morrissey dumped. They don’t speak poorly of him, but their motives are questionable. Producer Steve Lillywhite who worked on many of the most recent—but not the most recent—recordings isn’t interviewed. The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that Mr. Lillywhite is still in Morrissey’s circle and wouldn’t want to be involved in something so glaringly incomplete.
Incomplete and dull and hamstrung. Without being able to play any of the music to offer comparisons or just be able to put what they are talking about in context, the bland musicians and producers are, in a way, naked. Only hardcore Morrissey fans would bother with something like this in the first place, but the producers had to know that failing to get permission to play any of the music would doom it. This raises the question in my mind as to why make it in the first place.
The only reason I can think of is that, since the man is so singularly silent, they felt that saying anything was enough. It isn’t. One of the reasons I have loved his music for as long as I have is that all I have is the music. There is little personality to get in the way. Cher and Madonna are both singularly named icons, but their ‘music’ is as much about their new diet, new surgery, new spiritual dithyramb that it becomes difficult to listen to the music in vacuo. With Morrissey, all we have are the lyrics, the unique voice that either lulls (those of us who love it) or grates (the others who hate it), and the appearance, usually ironic, in music videos. I can think of no other pop icon, that didn’t die by running afoul of the hypo with heroin, who has been able to last on his pure ability alone—who knows how badly Mr. Hendrix, Mr. Morrison or Ms. Joplin would have spoiled their careers if they had lived to an older age. Bono is more personality than singer now. Michael Stipe has become so much a protester and whiner that he has outlived both his usefulness and his opinions. Morrissey, who covers the same time frame, is still relevant because he chooses to say little at all.
I understand he is coming out of his shell a bit since the release of the latest You are the Quarry, but to me that is still rumor since I don’t subscribe to music magazines.
Finally, Jewel in the Crown is for a British audience. I’m not saying that they are telling stories that don’t make sense to American or Canadian ears, but that their musical tastes are different than even the most ardent American or Canadian Morrissey fan. Everyone interviewed is British, every concert venue mentioned is British (except for one in Belgium and one in Switzerland), so all of the opinions are decidedly British. I didn’t feel so much lost as just unheard. I would love to have heard even one American or Canadian music critic throw his or her hat in the ring.
Not even the most strident Morrissey fan would glean anything useful from this film.
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