Starring: Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, Dave Rowntree
Running time: 104 mins
The pendulum of pop perception has a way of swinging back and forth with the seasons. Blur went from up-and-comers to no-hopers, then superstars, before suffering overexposure, breakdowns, artistic reinvention and collapse. Few things can spark re-evaluation like some time on the sidelines though, and Blur's live comeback last year was met with a considerable amount of good will from fans and critics alike. The band are unlikely to get back in the studio, leaving just memories, live recordings and this documentary as the headstone over the career of one of the most important British bands of the last 20 years.
No Distance Left To Run starts at the rehearsals for those shows before flitting back and forth in time, interspersing a chronological look at the band's 1989-2004 career with their live return. It's based mainly around talking head chats with drummer Dave Rowntree, bassist Alex James, guitarist Graham Coxon and frontman Damon Albarn, with the rest made up of archive clips and snippets from their live comebacks. The structure succeeds in telling the story of both the band's heyday and triumphant return, but the breakneck speed through the glory years sadly gives little room for any real depth or analysis.
Looking back, Blur's impact in the mid-'90s was as much a result of the interrelationship between its members as it was Damon Albarn's undisputed genius as a Zeitgeist-grabber and songwriter. No Distance Left To Run makes it clear that last year's comeback was more a healing exercise for Damon and Graham than a chance to get Blur back in the headlines. Sadly, only fleetingly at the beginning and end is any attempt made to scratch at this relationship. Even then, it's a light caress and you rarely have the sense of getting under the skin. One wonderful moment finds Coxon mumbling his gratitude for James's kind treatment of him in his 2007 memoir Bit Of A Blur, with a guileless James responding that he didn't realise that the guitarist never knew how he felt about him. Albarn's on-stage tears are affecting and his natter about the druids and "ancient rites" before playing Glastonbury provides some Tap-like smirks, but like much of the film - it's not a patch on his self-regarding ukulele playing in 2003 Britpop doc Live Forever. Moreover, the film's unquestioning acceptance of the Blur-centric view of British pop in the '90s is more than a bit irritating.
"Britpop," according to James, was "100% Damon Albarn's idea," restating the now-popular claim that Blur's Modern Life Is Rubbish was a sole beacon of Englishness in a sea of US Nirvana-clones and English shoegazers/baggy-come-latelys. The film doesn't simply underplay the contribution to British music of Blur's peers, it completely excludes them in a fit of revisionism. That the release of The Auteurs' New Wave and Suede's Mercury-winning self-titled debut pre-date that of Modern Life, is neatly forgotten in the rush to overstate Blur's importance. In fact, with the exception of a certain Manchester band and a throwaway mention of Stephen Malkmus, No Distance Left To Run gives you Blur in a bubble. Tantalising snippets of 'For Tomorrow', 'London Loves', 'The Universal' and 'Sing' show that there really isn't a need to go so over-the-top. Blur were fantastic, were important and were oh-so special - but their reputation isn't enhanced by this self-congratulatory snapshot.
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