My favorite music group is Saint Etienne. They are the only group that I will buy any little thing they put out, see them every time they come to town, and basically love everything they do. They were promoted to the top spot after Pet Shop Boys ended their long run there from Actually to Very, then lost it and insulted me and everyone with the slapdash Nightlife. Which was even after suffering the ignominy of Disco 2. THAT'S how loyal I am. So anyway, when I heard that Saint Etienne were producing a film related to their brilliant album Finisterre, I was of course interested, even though I knew it would probably be too obtuse for me. So, more out of duty than desire, I snapped it up when I saw it at my local used DVD store.
Finisterre is subtitled “a film about London” and it is, in fact, a film about London. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Saint Etienne and they do not appear in it, unless that was them I caught quick clips of here and there. No, this is basically a photo essay that is trying to capture the daily atmosphere of London—that is, the hidden, dark little crevices, rather than the big tourist spots and things everybody knows. And Saint Etienne just provide the music [and, apparently, their name as an incentive to see it]. Okay, it seems I’m not entirely right—turns out the film was conceived as a visual version of the album, but soon evolved into it’s own thing. So there ya go.
There is some good photography, and the best thing to do is just relax and let it all unfold hypnotically before you. Sometimes the movie really kicks into gear, though most of these times are when the editing speeds up and it comes close to being a music video. There is a wonderful instrumental version of “Action” that accompanies one of the more successful patches, but like all the music here, it is just a suggestion and ends just as you’re wanting to hear it really kick in.
The images are accompanied by unbearably pretentious narration that will give your eyelids hernias from over-rolling. Consider this sample: “My object is to encourage an appreciation of the unlooked-for pleasures. To create an enthusiasm for the neglected, or undervalued. The freakish, even.” Or how about “The impact of the environment on the quality of living. Discuss.” Or the grandaddy of them all: “New talismans. Reference points. The specialist record shops would have the answers.” This is somewhat in character, as all of the Saint Etienne releases have had maddeningly pretentious liner notes, but you know, you don’t have to READ them. Here you can’t make them go away without losing the music as well, and I feel the movie as a whole would have been stronger and more involving without them. If you’ve heard the album Finisterre, you’ve already gotten a sampler.
The paradox of this film is that Saint Etienne is the only reason you would see it, and yet Saint Etienne is the LAST reason you should watch it, because if you’re watching it for them or their music, you will be disappointed.
If you live in London, or you really need to own everything Saint Etienne has ever touched. If not, I would use your money to invest in their albums Finisterre or Sound of Water.