1980s music fans will remember Adam Antâ€™s string of hits and a series of dandyish videos that dominated the early years of MTV. His New Romantic imagery was the studied creation of an artist, born from a love of history and a formal art school education, and a perfect fit for the New Wave era. His music combined the free spirit of punk rock with the poses of glam and the tribal wallop of twin drummers, and proved itself a surprisingly sturdy platform. Antâ€™s music career slowed down in the mid-80s, but his charisma and innate theatricality led to television, film and theater gigs that lasted out the â€˜90s. But in 2002, troubling behavior that first cropped up in college returned with a vengeance, and in 2003, Ant was involuntarily â€œsectionedâ€ for in-patient psychiatric care.
Ant discussed his bi-polar diagnosis in the documentary The Madness of Prince Charming, and again in his 2006 autobiography Stand & Deliver, but it wasnâ€™t until four years later that he was sufficiently recovered to piece together a full artistic return. Legendary director Jack Bond documents that return in this 2013 cinema verite film, chronicling Ant assembling and rehearsing a new band, touring for the first time in fifteen years, and recording the album Adam Ant is The BlueBlack Hussar Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter. Along the way, the film reveals its subject as creative, intelligent, funny, hard-working and introspective. Viewers weaned on the MTV videos will come away with a much deeper appreciation of the thought and craft that went into Antâ€™s early work, and a feel for his continuing passion as an artist.
Along the road to re-emergence, Ant meets up with actress Charlotte Rampling, whose appearance in The Night Porter was a seminal early influence. He charms Rampling as they work together in the studio, just as he does artist Allen Jones, who has a connection to Ant (or more accurately, the pre-Ant, Stuart Goddard) of which he wasnâ€™t even aware. Bondâ€™s camera followed Ant for more than a year, capturing the frenetic energy of his return. The film doesnâ€™t impose any context on the raw footage – no story setup for Antâ€™s return, no title slides identifying the guests; but there is an arc as Ant rehearses the band, publicizes his return, gigs his way up through smaller clubs, and emerges at the filmâ€™s end into the sunshine of Hyde Park and the welcome of an enormous festival audience.
Some fans have complained that the album capping this comeback was raw and underproduced, but the documentary makes evident that Ant is meticulous about everything he produces. If the album is raw, itâ€™s because it was meant to be. Some of Antâ€™s new lyrics are coarse, and his music reaches back to the punk rock of his earliest work, but there isnâ€™t even a hint of nostalgia to be heard. In his mid-50s Ant remains as magnetic and captivating as he was in his 20s, perhaps more so with the removal of MTVâ€™s intermediation. The artistic drive that kept him upright as the original Ants were spirited away to form Bow Wow Wow continues to sustain him today; and in turn his energy sustains his fans, who turned out in droves for both his UK and US tours.
MVDâ€™s 2015 DVD release augments the original documentary with bonus live performances of â€œWhip in My Valise,â€ â€œYoung Parisiansâ€ (a duet with Boy George) and â€œDeutsche Girlsâ€, along with a Q&A with the filmâ€™s director, Jack Bond. Longtime fans (who probably saw this film upon its theatrical release) will enjoy having this in their collection, but itâ€™s the casual MTV fans who will really learn something new. [Â©2015 Hyperbolium]