directed by Stewart Copeland
starring Andy Summmers, Sting, Stewart Copeland
There’s hardly a more distinctive sound in drumming than Stewart Copeland’s snare hit, unless maybe it’s his nimble hi-hat work, his gong-rock steady bass drum, or the overall way he manages to convey loose-limbed absolute precision. Copeland assembled The Police in 1976 London, and the band’s unusual combination of sounds (an amalgamation of punk, reggae, jazz and dub) made it one of the most influential musical acts of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Unfortunately, like fellow barrier-smashers The Clash, their contributions are mostly ignored by modern “new wave” radio and consequently the public, though it’s clear that their influence remains strong in the musicians that are bringing up the next vanguard.
Everyone Stares chronicles The Police’s rise and eventual (arguably, inevitable) implosion, all through the lens of Copeland’s 8mm film camera. The film starts out with photo stills chronicling the band’s early history, but as soon as Copeland purchases the movie camera, things pick up in shaky, grainy, sometimes fish-eyed cinema verite. The film tracks the band’s rise, from Ford Econoline to private jet, from an audience of a handful of drunk punks to a concert field filled with fans screaming along to “Roxanne,” from run-of-the-mill Dutch recording sessions to Air Studios in the tropical paradise of Montserrat, from three band members and a tour manager in a van to a horde of stage technicians and hangers-on. Like a cannonball ejected in a gout of flame, the track the band follows is almost hypnotic in its mathematical predictability, with the expected crash at the end of the trajectory.
The film is accompanied by Copeland’s often sardonic commentary, done mostly with voice-overs and occasionally with subtitles. The camera’s vantage point is focused more on what is happening to the band than how the members of the band interact with each other. It leaves one wondering if this is what Copeland chose to capture at the time or whether it’s a decision made at editing time. The DVD extras include a bit more of dialogue, so I suspect it’s the latter. Regardless, it’s clear to see that the band’s struggling years and unexpected break into superstardom saw them in high spirits, while success brought introspection and isolation.
Most of the film deals with material dating from the Police’s first three albums, and the last two are given almost perfunctory treatment. Perhaps the band’s disintegration is too painful to dwell on, or maybe Copeland didn’t feel like filming as much in those times. As a result, the film is upbeat, almost giddy, and the end comes a bit suddenly and without much forewarning. Copeland offers an explanation based on the changing creative dynamic in the band — towards the end, Sting brought near-finished songs into the studio, rather than working them out with the band — but that’s about the extent of it. It could still be a sore point, as the film ends with Sting staring into the lens and declaring, while handcuffed to a high Parisian railing, that it’s all the fault of the man with the camera.
For the most part, the soundtrack is snippets of Police live performances and some occasional studio tracks. It’s an exciting find for those who have memorized the band’s limited output (five albums, plus a couple “greatest hits,” a lackluster live compilation and a handful of extra tracks). The sound is raw and not of the highest fidelity, but the energy is through the roof. It makes one wonder if there is a treasure trove somewhere waiting to be released, chained down by legalities and band friction.
Overall, this film can’t be recommended enough, both for Police fans and those who want to know what it’s like for a band to “make it.” It doesn’t get more up close and personal than this — no amount of access given a documentary maker could result in the sort of perspective Copeland recorded, firmly in the inside and tracking the band’s entire career. Pick up the DVD and witness history in the making.
Stewart Copeland: www.stewartcopeland.net