Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dignity is Not For Sale: In Praise of BASTARD ART

I'm not entirely sure when Sex Gang Children and their charismatic leader, Andi Sex Gang, first came into my life but ever since, the magic and texture behind this man has entranced me. Often sounding like the exotic love child of Bowie and Brecht, but firmly remaining to this day his own man and artist, Andi Sex Gang is undoubtedly one of the most underrated figures in music. All of that despite his band charting repeatedly on the UK indie lists in the 80's and then going on to work with the legendary Mick Ronson. (The latter must have felt invigorated to work with someone truly unique,vital and not expecting him to rehash the Diamond Dogs blues.) 

The journey of any artist with bone-bred integrity and an unwillingness to whore is going to be a rocky one and Andi is no exception. Luckily for us all, his life and musical journey has been covered in one hale and hearty documentary, BASTARD ART. Before getting to watch this film, I was just excited to know that someone took the time and energy to cover the man. After watching this film, I was excited to know that a guy like Andi Sex Gang is featured in a well made, lovingly researched and incredibly accessible documentary. It's the perfect mix of being thorough and surprising enough to woo the hardcore fans but pieced together in such a way that it will lure anyone unfamiliar with Sex Gang Children.

In BASTARD ART, we get to see Andi go from a little boy with a natural instinct for song writing and singing to a squatter in the punk scene. In fact, it was his friend from that same scene, George O'Dowd aka Boy George, that gifted the band name, Sex Gang Children, to him. (A name undoubtedly with origins from music savant Malcolm McClaren, who had worked with a pre-Culture Club George.) From there, we get interviews with former band mates, friends and musical peers. But most importantly, we get and receive a bounty of interview footage from the man himself, Andi Sex Gang.

He is the star of the show, not just because he is the subject matter, but because his natural charisma, smarts and sheer will of survival draws you to him. There are performers that are good artists but have rocks for personality but that is far from the case with Andi Sex Gang. The amount of bowling balls this man has had to jump, ranging from bad music deals, facing fake criminal charges that ranged from rape to carrying explosives and an industry that acts more like the ravenous center in the lake of ice in Dante's Inferno, is harrowing. Weaker souls have been eaten by that very machine, but weak is not a word associated with ASG. Scrappy and tenacious, absolutely, but not weak.

Director Vince Corkadel, who has worked previously with both Andi and Sex Gang Children, has a lot to be proud of here. The key to any truly great music related documentary is having the music paint the right picture over the canvas of information. For me, there are few things more frustrating than a documentary about a musician that features little to none of their music. It would be like watching a bunch of people talking about a painter and never showing even a scrap of one of their paintings. Beyond frustrating, but BASTARD ART is a film that thankfully does not suffer that fate. 

As far as pacing goes, it's tight and flows very well. There are zero lulls and it does exactly what this type of film should do; leaving you wanting more and wanting to devour more of the great art featured. Safe to say, BASTARD ART is one of the best documentaries to have come out in the last few years. What's inspiring about this is that guys like Corkadel and Larry Wessel (ICONOCLAST, featured here) have proven that one can make a vital and culturally rich documentary while sticking to a true independent, DIY approach. This is no Miramax or Sundance indie, which is safe in its bigger budgets and often homogenized layers. Instead this is a film born out of pure love, determination and years of hard work and research.

No matter what labels people will throw on the works of Sex Gang Children and Andi, none can ultimately stick, proving not only the folly of “genres” but also the folly of trying to box in an artist you love. A guy like Andi Sex Gang, who continues to be as prolific and active as ever, will set fire to that box, and like a pale faced shaman with a mind of darkness and heart of light, will continue this fight of life. And nowhere is this ever more present than in BASTARD ART.

Copyright 2012 Heather Drain

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