Art Will Save the World


This rockumentary about Luke Haines of the Auteurs premieres at the East End Film Festival in July 2012. I reviewed it for New Empress magazine.

Art Will Save the World
Luke Haines wrote all the songs for the Auteurs, but the cinephil name was his girlfriend’s suggestion. Although he didn’t know what it meant, he says he picked it because he liked the sound of it. Like many claims made in this film about the scowling indie veteran, Art Will Save the World, that may also be best taken with a pinch of salt, but it’s a pity Haines doesn’t take more interest in the cinema. This rock documentary twitches into life when his outlandish, often distasteful imagination is unleashed, and it would have benefited from more of his distinctive voice.
Haines’s songs can be beautiful, but they’re not to everyone’s taste; uncomfortably often, he sings about suicide, murder and plane crashes. And some of his schemes (the pop culture manifesto on record, the £75-a-pop individually recorded CDs and the funk terrorism concept album) are outlandishly uncommercial. One of Jarvis Cocker’s many sympathetic contributions here is to marvel at the “foolhardy” way Haines sabotaged one of his most gorgeous tunes, The Upper-Classes, with a prominent expletive. It’s just this combination of fleeting genius and spiky misanthropy that inspires cultish devotion, and lovingly crafted documentaries. So there is really no need for Art Will Save the World to pull its punches.
The film is bookended with quotations, divided into chapters with lofty titles (“Purgatory: An exposition without which you may have felt cheated”) and plays all sorts of tricks such as inserting criticisms from Haines, corrections that are made before the film can continue. All this is suitably arch, but it doesn’t always work. A gimmick that shows a succession of actors auditioning to play Haines is only occasionally amusing, for example. It’s a bit cute, and just gives Haines more room to play the grumpy uncle, as when he expands, and expands, on his hatred for Britpop.
I did enjoy, however, Haines’s delivery of a wry punchline and the captions that counterpointed milestones in his career with what was happening in pop at the same time. Black Box Recorder’s uncompromising debut single (“Life is unfair. Kill yourself or get over it”) arrived in the year that Robbie Williams topped the album chart twice. And who knew Cast had reformed?
Art Will Save the World is a fascinating, clever film about a unique, ambitious talent. If it isn’t quite as sharp as its subject, perhaps that is only to be expected.
Art Will Save the World premieres at the East End Film Festival on 6 July, followed by a Q&A with director Niall McCann and Luke Haines and a live performance by Haines.