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The Strokes in retrospect: NYC doc parachutes us into era of seismic cultural change

Film reviews


The Strokes enjoyed a stratospheric rise. Photo: Piper Ferguson

The Strokes enjoyed a stratospheric rise. Photo: Piper Ferguson

Nikolai Fraiture, Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valensi, Fabrizio Moretti and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes

Nikolai Fraiture, Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valensi, Fabrizio Moretti and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes

Scream VI - the sequel no one asked for

Scream VI - the sequel no one asked for


The Strokes enjoyed a stratospheric rise. Photo: Piper Ferguson

Meet Me in the Bathroom Three stars Selected cinemas; Cert 15

With an exhaustive wordcount and a Rolodex of some 160 contributors, Lizzy Goodman’s book Meet Me in the Bathroom was the definitive oral history of New York’s post-millennial garage rock explosion. 

The 2017 doorstop chronicled the rise of The Strokes and the multitude of bands in their slipstream during a period of seismic change politically, culturally and technologically.

Goodman assembled the tome over seven years. By allowing the saga to tell itself via interviews with those at the coalface, she succeeded in making what to some was a fad feel like a rock revolution, the like of which we’ll probably never see again.

Although featured acts such as Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem and Vampire Weekend still feel, to greater or lesser degrees, part of today’s landscape, it was The Strokes who burned brightest and fastest.

The five doe-eyed, finger-clicking New Yorkers with surnames like Casablancas, Hammond Jr and Valensi arrived seemingly fully formed, their staccato, Velvets-esque lo-fi a welcome antidote to the nu-metal and bubblegum pop that was bafflingly popular at the time.

That the release of their white-hot debut Is This It was followed weeks later by the 9/11 attacks only heightened the sense of the New York quintet embodying an uncanny cultural moment.​

Filmmakers Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace (Shut Up and Play the Hits) got hold of an advance of Goodman’s book and quickly saw its potential in the visual format.

Originally pitched as a four-part series, they settled on a 100-minute feature. Condensing the source chronicle into that space would be an unenviable task, even without the involvement of Goodman herself, who serves as executive producer.


Nikolai Fraiture, Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valensi, Fabrizio Moretti and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes

Nikolai Fraiture, Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valensi, Fabrizio Moretti and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes

Nikolai Fraiture, Albert Hammond Jr, Nick Valensi, Fabrizio Moretti and Julian Casablancas of The Strokes

Instead, the duo concentrated on something “experiential” that would parachute the viewer into the era. The use of contemporaneous archive and amateur footage embraces the collaged style of so much fashion and album artwork of the time.

In the opening montage, a tracking shot over the Manhattan skyline is cut with frantic splices of creation-myth imagery (the East Village, The Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Wu-Tang Clan).

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Y2K tension coincides with a fidgety generation of misfits such as Karen O and Nick Zinner, Interpol’s Paul Banks, and The Moldy Peaches.

The Strokes’s residency at the Mercury Lounge in December 2000 is the igniting spark for the entire scene. No sooner have they signed to UK label Rough Trade than the band is far from home playing a sell-out tour in Britain. Their bemusement about all this, and the steep trajectory to superstardom that followed, is evident.

We duck in and out of the Strokes's thread to link up with those other acts riding the wave. New York’s changing urban landscape takes a toll. Gentrification makes the Lower East Side unaffordable to musicians, forcing many to relocate across the bridge to Williamsburg.

All the while, James Murphy is cutting his teeth producing for Belfast DJ David Holmes when he cracks on the idea for a label called DFA and, eventually, his solo project LCD Soundsystem.

The ushering in of Napster and the illegal file-sharing craze bring about a cultural shift in how music is consumed, a change to the business model that would prove too fundamental for some acts and labels to withstand.

Few films will make you feel as old as Meet Me in the Bathroom might, what with the vintage sheen it is somehow able to place over music that seems like it only came around recently. Whether this speaks to the cropped and often scratchy amateur quality of much of the footage, or to the evergreen quality of some of the tunes, is hard to say for sure.

There is something charmingly out of sync with this style of music documentary at a time when so many are slickly produced litanies of talking heads, all giving their tuppence worth about events decades previously. This is more of a family photo album than a museum piece, a collection of musty Polaroids made all the more evocative by virtue of their beer stains and fag burns.

As a companion piece to Goodman’s book, however, it will always be in the shade, constrained as it is by a 1hr 45min runtime and the countless ephemera that couldn’t be housed.

Also on release


Scream VI - the sequel no one asked for

Scream VI - the sequel no one asked for

Scream VI - the sequel no one asked for

Scream VI
Two stars
In cinemas; Cert 16

The tagline is probably the best thing about this clumsy, cack-handed horror sequel: “New York. New Rules.” Catchy stuff.

The dreaded Ghostface has, indeed, relocated to Manhattan for another round of gruesome slasher carnage. Does it enhance the story at all? Don’t be daft.

We pick up where we left off. Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrera) has followed younger sibling Tara (Jenna Ortega) to college in the Big Apple. Things got a little hairy for the sisters last time around, and a traumatised Sam is determined to keep them safe.

No sooner has Tara begun to lead a normal life with her buds when another crazed copycat Ghostface emerges. Later, series regular Courteney Cox shows up as the two-faced journo of the tale. You know how this goes.

We’re in self-parody territory at this stage. How sad it is to see a celebrated horror saga slowly devolve into a nasty, convoluted, Scooby-Doo-esque farce.

It’s a shame, too, to watch it prioritise pointless gore over genuine scares and suspense – and the bone-headed self-aware shtick is beginning to grate. “F**k this franchise,” declares a wounded supporting player towards the end. My thoughts, exactly. Chris Wasser

Three stars
In cinemas; Cert 12A

Another Farrelly brothers solo project. It has been a while since the boys behind There’s Something About Mary directed a film together. Four years after Peter Farrelly won an Oscar for the divisive Green Book, younger sibling Bobby borrows the spotlight with this loosely handled remake of an award-winning Spanish comedy.

Woody Harrelson is Marcus, a grumpy minor-league basketball coach whose career goes up in flames following a physical altercation with his boss. Later, a boozed-up Marcus lands himself a DUI, and a lenient judge offers him a choice: 18 months in prison, or 90 days of community service, coaching a team of disorganised players with intellectual disabilities. Obviously, Marcus opts for the latter, and away we go.

At 124 minutes, Champions is far too long and makes little effort to build a coherent redemptive arc around its protagonist. It’s a tad light in the joke department, too. Still, an enthusiastic Harrelson makes it work, and this creaky yet inherently uplifting display is fortunate to have him.

Similarly, Kaitlin Olson (Dee from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) shines as Alex, an unlikely love interest for our frazzled coach. Give it a shot. Chris Wasser

My Sailor, My Love
Four stars
Selected cinemas; Cert 12A

As part of the recent Dublin International Film Festival, the Dublin Film Critics Circle jury (on which your correspondent had the pleasure to sit) awarded Best Irish Feature to this insightful, redemptive drama from Finnish director Klaus Härö.

The second most famous film this year to be shot on Achill, My Sailor, My Love is a romantic drama that manages to be both tender and laced with integrity. It asks difficult questions about how we care for our parents in their dotage, and how that care can ignore simple human needs.

Nurse Grace (Catherine Walker) is worried about her widowed father Howard (James Cosmo), who has firmly turned his back on the world. She advertises for someone to cook, clean and generally keep an eye on him, and receives a reply in the form of local islander Annie (a beautiful turn by Bríd Brennan).

Annie’s impact is clear and immediate, transforming Howard’s kip of a house and putting hot food on the table. Initially giving the intrusion short shrift, he eventually thaws and love blossoms. His daughter, however, is not entirely enthusiastic about this blurring of boundaries. Hilary White

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