Documentary Review: ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’ Explores Spandau Ballet And A Musical Era

Greetings again from the darkness. Director George Hencken’s biopic on the British band Spandau Ballet provides not just an in-depth look at the band’s roller-coaster history, but also a timeline of musical changes beginning in the late 1970’s.

The film begins not with the formation of the band; but rather with each bandmember briefly discussing their childhood, family life, and original inspiration for a life in music. The photos and interviews provide insight into each of the gents, and is a terrific way to begin telling the story of a band that would go on to experience the greatest highs and lowest lows.

Best known for their huge international number one hit “True” (1983), Spandau Ballet went through numerous name changes and musical style changes in their early years – experimenting with influencers ranging from the Blues to Sinatra and Ella to Glam Rock and The Kinks. This was a group of working class Brits searching for their place during the rapid changes that included Punk Rock and Disco. Mostly, they wanted to be “Pop Stars”, and they became one of the beneficiaries of the Dawn of Music Videos. The band was a mixture of fashion, graphic arts, video and music, and never lost sight of the need for glamour.

Their musical rivals during this era were Duran, Duran and Wham!, though obviously there was plenty of airtime and plenty of fans for all. This group of school buddies leaned heavily on Gary Kemp for their songwriting. Things went along very well until 1990 when Gary and his brother Martin (also a band member) were chosen to star in director Peter Medak’s movie called THE KRAYS. It was soon after that the band played what most thought would be their final gig.

The Krays was successful, and both Gary and Martin pursued acting careers, while some of the other band members tried to make a go of it musically. However, a nasty lawsuit over royalties further divided the band, creating apparent irreconcilable differences. In a remarkable turn of events, the band members put the past behind them and in 2009 … after almost 20 years apart, they reunited for a tour and album.

Mr. Hencken fills the screen with some terrific clips – live shows, home movies, news reels, and interviews. It’s a detailed timeline and history of a band that literally took their name right off a bathroom wall, and enjoyed the heights of popularity playing Live Aid in 1985 (2 billion people watching) and the depths of a nasty band breakup, replete with publicly-reported lawsuit. It’s a very well documented and well presented history of band and the music culture of an era.

Opening in theaters and VOD April 29th from IFC films.

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