SXSW Film Review: I Get Knocked Down [Sophie Robinson, Dunstan Bruce, 2022]

If Brit-award winners are like SARS-CoV-2 in their ability to make multiple hit-singles, does it make us feel better that Ebola and measles are one-hit-wonders?

It takes just 18 seconds for “Tubthumping” to be irreversibly branded into your mind’s ears. One-hit-wonder or not, that’s next-level songwriting in my book. We should thank our collective lucky-stars that Dunstan Bruce and the 8-piece Chumbawamba were Anarchists first and musicians second. If they were Monarchist political hacks, we would almost certainly be brainwashed into wearing ponytails and mandarins for all eternity. And what is an anarchist commune? It sounds more paradoxical than an aging punk. Those defiant days, where have they gone? I get the strangest feeling they belong. Why did all the protests come to nothing? Is it because they wanted to shout like Crass but sound like the Beatles when they were seventeen?

This self-narrated documentary about the band opens as a chaise-lounge psychotherapy session for a silver-haired and depressed Bruce. This greying anarchist is ashamed for being merely superficially angry, and had to live with the fact that past hijinks, including the immortal “Tubthumping”, continues to project that anger as a brand. “I’m 48 and I’m still fucking angry” sounds more like a justification to Self than protest to The Man. Chased everywhere by the original angst/conscience of the band, that wide-mouth chumba-baby, Bruce revisits his bandmates and producer to gather nostalgia and summarily evaluates what was really accomplished. We are taken through the group’s beginning in a (post)punk commune in Leeds UK, the 7 albums that came before their “sellout” to a major label, the pilgrimage to a Wizard-of-old in search of absolution, and the home-roosting regret for having only angrily questioned single issues.

Chumbawamba was indeed privileged to have had the opportunity to select whether to preach from the outside or subvert from the inside of the music industry. Clearly, Bruce do not delude himself into believing that their political grandstanding was heard by all those who received a tubthumping between the ears. It was over everyone’s head, and the critics were only interested in cheap counterpoints. Sadly, in my mind, that’s why it was so interchangeable: no one listened to the lyrics. All the self-mockery in the world (plenty in this documentary) could never change the fact that people find in sermons only what they wanted to hear, and that’s if they weren’t sleepwalking through life. Now in his later years, Bruce seems more eager to mobilize the older generation who had long since tuned in. Through his new band Interrobang, he aims to wake up their younger selves despite the fact that the “drugs have all changed… it’s all prescriptions now”. But when you are young, part of being in a band is taking on The World. Now the act seems only to be meekly shouting at It from behind the corner where you’ve hidden, to show you’ve not given up just yet.

I’m glad for the film’s flow and composition. It is principled and intelligently reflective, not filled with inane narrow-minded slogans that typify “activist” documentaries. This is especially welcome in these dire times. But I am conflicted about what the duality of functions for the film… is it to relaunch a career, or a genuine renewed call-to-arms from an once-frontrunner? Or did I forfeit my right to ask in good faith from the moment I lampooned them with a simulacrum of lyrics that people do savor from one of the most mainstream songs of that era?

Despite appearances, I really enjoyed the film. Chumbawamba should take simple comfort that in “Tubthumping”, they have given the world a most perfect and infectious vehicle with which to deliver the joy, pain, anger, and the mundane. Please just get working on a durable vaccine against cultural indoctrination, because I’m afraid for the day when my zombie self will get back up again for white toast in pajamas.

You have a chance to catch Dunstan and the gang again on Mar 15, 2022 10:30pm at Alamo Lamar E.

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest

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