Sunday, 23 October 2011

Lawrence of Belgravia

Paul Kelly's Lawrence of Belgravia eschews archive footage and instead guides the philosophical narrative along with the thoughts of Lawrence himself. Ripe with sagacious and whimsical aphorisms from one of the musical geniuses of the past twenty-five years, the film is both sensitive to Lawrence's mindset ('I'm legally bonkers'), while also serving as a glaringly bright spotlight for an ageing artist.

The film's title, Lawrence of Belgravia, is apt. Lawrence was born in the glory-free Midlands when Lawrence of Arabia was dominating the paying cinema-goers. 'My brother was lucky. He was called Sam, he's a builder', he comments. A clue here: the film title mirrors the antipathy he feels towards the perpetrators of his upbringing, while being blithely self-aggrandising.

Kelly, as is evident with previous works such as Finisterre (with Kieran Evans), likes his gritty, high-rise London shots. A long-time resident of London's Clerkenwell, he lives a block along from Lawrence. Their part of town is high-rise, dense and in the middle of a conflation of media offices and brutalist social housing.

This project has been over five years in the making. Progress was slow and impeded in part by the inflexible pace of Felt's former maverick. (Kelly told me he would text him, look out of the window, see Lawrence on a distant flat balcony pick up the phone to see who it was, and subsequently watch him hang up).

During Saturday night's Q&A session, Kelly was asked 'if he had known how long the film would take to make, would he have carried on?' Clearly moved by Lawrence's reaction to the film (Lawrence hadn't seen the film in its entirety before the premiere) said: 'if you'd asked me yesterday, I would have said no. But today, I'd say yes'.

Whatever your preference in terms of his career trajectory, from the semi-goth beauty of early Felt, to the manic, inscrutable electronic joy of Go-Kart Mozart, musically there's a distinct unifying thread in the film. In the parting shot, we're reminded that despite his reluctance to revisit earlier styles, a core, soulful darkness remains. Buried in the daftness of his eclectic songs, there's pathos.

Lawrence of Belgravia feels like a refreshing pat on the back of the finer, if extreme, points of English eccentricity. Lawrence is cocooned by his loneliness, by his projects, by his unflappable belief that although he has nothing in material terms, he knows exactly who he is. If he was wealthier he could almost be seen as the Edith Sitwell of low art.

There's plenty of laughs in this film. Kelly is an impressive and gentle artist, but he also has an astute sense of humour. There's little room here to be be sad for a skint and under-appreciated artist because Kelly has too much respect for him as a thinker and instinctual communicator.

Lawrence of Belgravia is showing now at the London Film Festival.

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