Entertainment, Music

On The Road – Michael Winterbottom’s marvellous rockumentary featuring Wolf Alice

This Sunday the much-anticipated Winterbottom film, On The Road, premiered on the BFI London Film Festival.

Michael Winterbottom, the brilliant director is of Wonderland and 24 Hour Party People is back again, this time with a rockumentary staring non other than British rock band Wolf Alice.

Winterbottom brought his crew literally on the road, following London-based Wolf Alice as they toured their debut, My love Is Cool, around the UK and Ireland for weeks. Capturing the tour reality, whilst integrating a line of a fictional love story sounds complicated on paper, yet Winterbottom and his team made it seem effortless.

On The Road is peculiarly narrated by actress Leah Harvey who plays Estelle, a young, new member of the band’s management team. Estelle meets Joe, played by James McArdle, a Glasgow roadie with a baggage of family issues, and they develop a somewhat romantic relationship. The blurred line between the fiction of Estelle’s storyline and character, and the reality of touring we actually get to part take in makes the film a fascinating viewing experience.

A romantic relationship developed in the isolated bubble that is tour life is an interesting take, yet the most outstanding feature in this film is how the moments are weaved together using live footage and audio captured both at gigs, and behind closed doors on tour.

About 75 percent of the film is an honest, high quality documentary about the My Love Is Cool tour, staring live clips, real life dressing room anecdotes, post-show comedowns, hangovers, endless amounts of rigging, sound checking and the general obligations that keeps bands busy whilst on tour. This might make the constructed storyline brought on by the actors that came on tour feel superfluous, yet they seem to blend so perfectly in that if you weren’t aware you’d think they usually did tour management or worked as a roadie on a daily basis.

Winterbottom seems in many ways to work the relationship around carefully selected live clips and recordings, counterpointing intense sex-scenes with sweet tune ‘Bros’, and ode to girl’s friendship. The musical moments featured in the film is in it self a work of art, and works as the seam holding the movie together.

More interesting is the reality check-up, even for the fictionalised character as the tour comes to an end. The bubble burst, reality smacks your face and your on-the-road-family is suddenly scattered around like beads on a tile floor. It is harsh to get back to reality. 

The picture On The Road gives of the creative industry, – in this case – the music industry, is a lot more open and in depth than most tour diaries you come across. It also gives us a rare insight into how hard, yet how amazing life on the road can be, through the repetitive frequencies of bus drives,  setting up, sound check, gigging, packing gear and getting back on the road, you don’t see just the glamour of the concert experience, but the whole, much more harshly detailed picture. Yet you also see the beauty of friendships formed and that kind of human care that only comes from living in a very tiny space together over a longer period of time. The most important thing Winterbottom expose us to is the reality of touring and the rough side of life on the road, proving to all of us the passion and drive that must lie behind all this to make everything go around.

On The Road is possibly on of the greatest documentaries in a long time, and if you’re even slightly interested in music, or just a fascinating film experience, it is a film you definitely have to watch.


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