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