DIR/WRI/PRO: Christine Franz • DOP: Daniel Waldhecker • ED: Oliver Werner • CAST: Andrew Fearn, Sleaford Mods, Steve Underwood
Bunch of Kunst is a rockumentary about English music duo Sleaford Mods. Known for their minimalist post-punk stylings and angry rant-filled lyrics about the state of Britain, the band have a devote following – mostly consisting of working to lower class people who relate to their critiques of working life, capitalism and unemployment. As a fan says in the film, the harsh profanity-laced music is “cathartic”, a means of expunging anger. The documentary, directed by friend of the band Christine Franz, follows singer Jason Williamson and musician Andrew Fearn as they grow in status – achieving chart success with 2015 album Key Markets and landing a headlining spot at Glastonbury.
Watching the film in a cinema is a strange experience. Sleaford Mods are undoubtedly an interesting band to rest a documentary on – they are outsiders in the music industry, they’re outspoken and controversial, their music is raw. Bunch of Kunst excels when the band or their fans quite eloquently discuss these qualities. Williamson describes how Sleaford Mods fill a niche for people who feel alienated from the mainstream songs about “love” on the radio. This is something audiences seem to agree with as one fan at a gig equates seeing the duo live to seeing the Sex Pistols. Another remarks that the band write about everyday things like hating one’s manager at work, something they can relate to.
Yet, despite centring upon two interesting people (as well as lead singer Jason’s wife who delivers some witty lines about her spouse), Bunch of Kunst isn’t as fascinating to watch formally as its subject matter. For one thing, aside from some brief concert footage, it’s not cinematic. Franz crafts the movie mostly from interviews and footage she captured following the band on tour – the norm for roc-docs. But she never really takes advantage of the medium of cinema. For example, I reviewed Gimme Danger not long ago, Jim Jarmusch’s tribute to The Stooges (one which shares passing relevance to Bunch of Kunst as both feature Iggy Pop). While I found that film “standard”, it did feature neat animated sequences, while also incorporating footage from old Hollywood movies into its narrative in a clever way. Bunch of Kunst has no experimentation of this kind, thus leaving it feeling like an overlong TV documentary.
Also, early on, Williamson asks the person filming him to turn off their camera as they approach the street where he lives. It’s definitely a reasonable quest – his wife worried about over-enthusiastic fans. Yet, it shines a light on another problem with the movie. For a band as edgy as Sleaford Mods – one which takes pot-shots at various other contemporaries and has been described as “the angriest band in Britain” – the documentary is slightly too well-behaved, particularly given its title. While Williamson’s father appears and calls his son lovingly “a wanker” and his wife says that in the days after returning from tour, he can suffer from “cunt-flu”, both the singer and writer Fearn seem like relaxed, placid people. This is interesting as it provides a stark contrast from the band’s onstage persona, but the viewer is left with the feeling that Franz didn’t dig deep enough into her subject to find what really makes them tick. Ultimately, Bunch of Kunst is passingly entertaining, but all of that is down to the subject. The filmmaking adds little.
Bunch of Kunst is released 21st May 2017