Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This month: The A.V. Club atones for its sins of omission, recommending the best movies of the year that we didn’t review.
For most Americans who lived through the 1980s, the British band Spandau Ballet is remembered as a one-hit wonder, responsible for “True”—a kitschy, catchy 1983 slow-dance ballad. Those deeper into pop might also recall “Gold” and “Only When You Leave,” the follow-up singles that just snuck into the Billboard Top 40. But in the U.K. and elsewhere, Spandau Ballet were viable hitmakers from 1980 to 1990, and helped to usher in an era of fashion and glamour that the European press read as a repudiation of the punk aesthetic—although the real motivation behind this “New Romantic” movement was far more complicated than that.
The key to George Hencken’s documentary Soul Boys Of The Western World is that it takes Spandau Ballet seriously… or at least to the extent that the band members themselves would admit they deserve. Longtime fans can watch it for the copious live footage, culled from the archives of a group whose rise shadowed the music video boom. Or they can dig the amusing anecdotes and behind-the-scenes confessionals that Hencken weaves into a kind of oral history, delivered mostly in voice-over. But Soul Boys is even more valuable to anyone who likes pop music but doesn’t really know much about an act that was once one of the biggest in the world.
The movie runs longer than it probably needs to, given that the band didn’t splinter for any kind of explosive reasons. There were drugs (but not consumed at an incapacitating level), creative differences (though nothing too combative), and side projects (most notably from founding members Gary and Martin Kemp, who’d been child actors before Spandau Ballet and returned to their first love to play notorious twin gangsters in 1990’s The Krays). More than anything, Spandau Ballet just lost their creative spark and commercial viability, which led to some legal scuffling over whatever money was left. But even those broken fences were eventually mended, allowing Hencken the happy ending of a reunion tour.
Still, the guys in the band—especially the matinee idol frontman Tony Hadley—are great company. They’re funny and frank and uncommonly self-aware. They talk about the impulse behind their dandyism, saying that as working-class blokes, they were taking power back from the elite by dressing stylishly. At a time when England was dealing with crippling unemployment and creeping conservatism, Spandau Ballet was actively trying to spin an escapist fantasy for the masses. They also wanted to get super rich, and they’re honest about that, too. Unlike music docs that hail the troubled geniuses who suffer to make masterpieces, Soul Boys Of The Western World suggests that there’s also an art to careerism—which does make sense, when it leads to songs as timeless as “True” and “Gold.”
Availability: Soul Boys Of The Western World is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Amazon or possibly your local video/store library. It’s also currently streaming on Netflix, and can be rented or purchased from the major digital services.