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Elizabeth Marcus: No Manifesto: A Film About Manic Street Preachers

An inside look at the Manics’ world proves warm-hearted but overly conventional.

Don’t be fooled by the title of this documentary: the Manics did once try living by their own manifesto. The rules included not having girlfriends, never writing love songs and never admitting to liking The Beatles. “We were young and fucking mental, give us a break!” James Dean Bradfield explains, laughing.

Directed by New Yorker Elizabeth Marcus, No Manifesto was conceived as a film portrait of obsessive Manics fans before evolving into a more conventional rockumentary about the Welsh guitar heroes themselves. To her credit, Marcus secures great access to the band, conducting dozens of interviews and gathering some strong live footage.

Less impressively, all the material was shot last decade, around the Send Away The Tigers and Journal For Plague Lovers albums. Years in gestation, this self-financed labour of love lost any urgency or topicality along the way.

The title derives from one of Nicky Wire’s quotes about wanting to provoke thought in listeners rather than preach a fixed ideology, though the film-makers may have taken him a little too literally. The Manics have always had plenty to say about socialism, feminism, capitalism, class war and more. But besides a fleeting reference to the miners’ strike and some lingering misgivings about the Manics getting cosy with Castro on their Cuba trip in 2001, No Manifesto mostly shies away from political context, overlooking a crucial element of the band’s make-up.

The strength of No Manifesto lies in the easy rapport Marcus establishes with the band. It’s also refreshing to see drummer Sean Moore, usually absent from press interviews, open up on camera. The disappearance of lyricist Richey James, who appears briefly in archive clips, comes about midway through the film but is not allowed to dominate the narrative.

Padded out with too much routine studio and rehearsal footage, No Manifesto is a warm-hearted but shapeless affair. A little more of the punk provocation, artistic ambition and intellectual bite that defined the band’s early years might have helped excuse the conventional rock-doc format and come closer to the film that culturally important figures like the Manics deserve./o:p

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.