Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche; Dir. by Celeste Bell and Paul Sng, 2021


The thing about Punk Rock is that the hot take is imperative. Disaster Amnesiac mentions this, because as I sit here pondering my viewing experience of Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche from last night, the thoughts are weighted down by my having neglected to go and post straight away, as opposed to waiting some several hours. A potential hot take on my part is blunted by even that short duration. 

It seems to as though the hot take weighed down upon Marion Elliott-Said, aka Poly Styrene, as well. 

As the history of Punk has shown, and as the film I Am a Cliche reiterates, Marion was swept up into the initial cultural explosion of Britain's 1976 youth movement, and quickly found a somewhat exalted place within it. As Poly Styrene, she used her extensive creative vision in order to put X-Ray Spex together, assemble the band's graphics and image, find decent management, and have the entire package rolling towards music industry success very quickly. 

Marion was clearly gifted with what appeared to this viewer to be innate skills with graphic design, fashion assembly, and musical talent. Scene by scene within the film, Disaster Amnesiac marveled at just how cool her designs were: clean and legible, yet bursting with flair. Ditto that for her outfits, which were adventurous yet not sloppy. One scene shows her at a piano, and I can't help but wonder if she wrote the lion's share of the music for Spex. 

All of this creativity was put forth within the societal hot take of Punk, 1976, and this seems to be when the weight of it encroached upon the consciousness of Marion Elliott-Said in ways that would have lasting, and, in many ways, negative effects upon her. Director Celeste Bell, in a parallel narrative stream to that of the excitement of showbiz Poly Styrene's path, presents the harrowing, heartbreaking events of her mother Marion's real world journey. This aspect of the story presents a woman weighted down by expectations societal, familial, and personal. Disaster Amnesiac got the sense that Elliot-Said was a person who desired much more of an introspectively lived life, a person that truly needed quiet and reflection, yet who, because of the persona that she'd invented, and the need for hot takes on and from it in all realms (can you imagine Kathleen Hanna NOT kicking guys who bum rushed her at CBGB's in the nyuts?), got her perceptions crushed by impossible expectations. The fire of the hot take singed the sensitivities of Marion Elliott-Said in ways that I suspect Bell only hints at in I Am a Cliche. And this was heartbreaking to see and feel as Disaster Amnesiac watched it. Shots of Celeste's face as she strolls the Hastings pier and disperses Marion's ashes into a river in India show the residual pain (and perhaps more complicated emotions, surely) that she dealt with in making the film. Not easy to watch, nor was it to hear her recounting of Marion's post-Punk Rock years as she attempted to find the solace she needed within a world "gone Punk". I wonder what her years spent in a krsna ashram were like on a day-to-day basis, you know? Clips of her singing and spinning around therein made me at times uncomfortable, for I couldn't help but wonder if anything rather less enlightened was brewing behind and around them. Similar musing apply for Disaster Amnesiac to the comeback music. Was Marion in thrall to hot take dream that Poly Styrene so easily navigated again? Some of the photos from that time seem to show someone struggling, at least they do for me. Elliot-Said was aware of her cancer diagnosis at that time, so obviously she was dealing with a lot. Still, the question arose in my mind. Hopefully she got the time to reflect that she needed, before her passing at age 53. 

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche goes way beyond the hot take. In so many ways, Marion Elliot-Said did as well. The film is a fine exposition of complex, complicated artist and the profound human being that she so clearly was. Rock on Poly Styrene, and Godspeed, Marion.

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