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August 24, 2017

England is Mine

england is mine.jpg

Mark Gill - 2017
Cleopatra Entertainment

The closest to a legendary moment in England is Mine is when young Steven Morrissey goes to the Sex Pistols concert that was held in Manchester on June 4, 1976. Probably the best, certainly the funniest, recreation is in the film, 24 Hour Party People. This is the concert attended by forty-two people, several of whom went on to be famous musicians in their own right. In England is Mine, the Sex Pistols performance is heard but not scene. Morrissey is standing by the bar sipping a beer while what is suggested to be a full house of enthused fans are seen as an abstract reflection on the bar's mirror.

Abstract images make up a good part of Mark Gill's film. Anyone looking for a standard biographical film, especially one with the greatest hits on the soundtrack, will be disappointed. Gill punctuates the narrative with shots of the Tame River, and empty streets and passageways. There's a short shot of a shopping cart partially submerged by the river bank. And though we know that the perpetually alienated Steven Morrissey is destined to drop his first name and become famous in collaboration with a young teen guitarist named Johnny Marr, the film is for the most part absent of hints of future fame and fortune.

For a viewer who may not be familiar with Morrissey or The Smiths, England is Mine emerges as a portrait of a young man as a perpetual outsider, no matter the environment. The film begins in 1976. London is still the place to be if you're an artist. Even when Steven finds a bit of validation as the singer with local band, the rug is pulled out from under him, with the band turning professional without him. The film ends with Morrissey's first meeting with Marr. What the film lacks in recreation of various incidents in Morrissey's life is replaced by a more internal journey. I found England is Mine to be closer to Terence Davies' The Long Day Closes as an impressionistic biography than to films like Control or Nowhere Boy.

The soundtrack is of songs Steven Morrissey listened to including Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain" and the Millie Small ska hit, "My Boy Lollipop". Suggestions of Morrissey's then unstated sexuality can be found in his performance of the Shangri-Las' "Give Him a Great Big Kiss", inspired by the cover version by the New York Dolls. Another Shangri-Las song, "Out in the Street" is also heard. That a couple of Shangdi-Las songs are on the soundtrack is an astute choice as the girl group's most famous songs are anthems from the point of view of a woman infatuated with a guy who lives on his own terms, a loner, frequently unapproachable - in short, not dissimilar to Steven Morrissey's relationships with women in this film.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 24, 2017 08:31 AM