Faithfull: A Broken Documentary


MARIANNE Faithfull’s flame continues to burn brightly if a little less brilliantly as it did in the 1960s.

Despite a life defined by addiction, she still mesmerises audiences as she did last year at Ronnie Scott’s in London where she earned rave reviews.

Now 70, Marianne is a little frailer than she used to be, is not the party animal she once was (understandable) and her gravelly voice (at its best on Broken English, 1979) is past its best. But she remains a formidable performer (helped by a loyal and gifted band), is outrageously glamorous for her age, and has lost none of her verbal bite.

This is all evidenced in Sandrine Bonnaire’s one-hour documentary Faithfull, premiered at the BFI London Film Festival.

The documentary is framed by interviews that Bonnaire (like Faithfull a former actress) conducted over a 18 month period. In addition, it incorporates footage of Faithfull’s early appearances on Top of the Pops as a 60’s singing sensation (including her hit single As Tears Go By), her doomed relationship with Mick Jagger (including her arrest in a drugs bust at Redlands, home of Keith Richards) and her rather racy appearance in La Motocyclette (1968).

There are also snippets of her performing at Ronnie Scott’s with the aid of written notes and a walking stick (she had recently broken her back, a toe and hip).

An interesting cocktail. But the whole, sadly, disappoints. The one and a half years that Bonnaire spent tracking Faithfull seems to have delivered little delicious new fruit. Indeed, what we learn more than anything else is that the relationship between the two was somewhat difficult.

At one point, while Faithfull is being interviewed in the back of a car, she urges the filming to stop. ‘Stop now,’ she demands. ‘I want her to turn it off.’ Yet the camera continues to linger on Faithfull. It all seems rather cruel and pointless. It should have ended up on the cutting room floor. On another occasion, she says: ‘I don’t like it at all [making a film]’.

‘Marianne was a bit afraid to express herself at first,’ admitted Bonnaire in a short preamble to the film (disappointingly, she did not take questions at the end). But there is little evidence to suggest that Faithfull’s reticence melted away.

We do get occasional glimpses into the complexities that underpin this extraordinary individual. Referring to her addictive nature which saw her spend time living homeless in London’s Soho, she says: ‘addicts hate themselves’. Her past drug issues mean the United States still classify her as an ‘undesirable alien’.

At one point she says that marriage is ‘not the scene for me’ (she was three times married). But later on, she admits that the ‘only thing that matters in life is love’, adding: ‘The bottom line here is love, real love’.

She also admits that she did love Mick Jagger (their child was lost in pregnancy, something she felt ‘guilty’ about) and that when they went out together ‘Mick shared my brain’. Later on she says that if she had stayed with him, she would have probably died.

In fact, Faithfull cuts a rather sad figure as she admits that she does not  now  go out much and only wants to ‘hang out’ with her band (Rob McVey, Rob Ellis, Warren Ellis and Ed Harcourt). Indeed, the most moving moment in the film is when Faithfull listens to Ed Harcourt singing a song she has written. Tears stream down her face (her eyes by the way remain as beautiful as ever).

Faithfull is disjointed documentary making. Maybe unlike Whitney: Can I be Me (Nick Broomfield) and Amy (Asif Kapadia), Faithfull’s long life makes it impossible for Bonnaire to do the great songster justice. Or to add anything new to the Faithfull party. A shame. Broken documentary making.

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  1. There is a certain irony in the clip showing MF being interviewed by Kenneth Allsop, who was (like MF) a heroin addict. The difference was that Allsop’s addiction was due to his having a war wound.

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