The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
If the most engaging and satisfying documentaries about musical acts tend to come from filmmakers who are smart, passionate fans, that rule perhaps applies doubly when the subject is obscure rather than world-famous. So it is with “Revenge of the Mekons,” a portrait of a long-lived English punk group that is the very definition of a cult band: Director Joe Angio not only gives us a sharply crafted account of this quirkily protean outfit, he also conveys his feeling they’re as great as any band you care to name.
Nor is he alone in that. One very notable thing about the Mekons is that, while they’re said not to sell more than 8000 copies per album and they play in clubs rather than concert halls, they have staunch fans that include such notables as critic Griel Marcus, filmmaker Mary Harron, and authors Jonathan Franzen and Luc Sante–all of whom speak to Angio’s camera as true believers.
What they marvel at is not only the band’s musical fecundity and infectious live shows, but also its spirited endurance over more than three decades, despite recurrent personnel changes and a persistent lack of fame and fortune. In a sense, the Mekons are a great bar band of a sort that will be familiar to aficionados of any music scene that values originality and exuberance. Their difference is they’ve managed to make the world their stage, touring internationally and making record after record though ultimately never earning enough to quit their day jobs.
While reflecting on the collective and individual personalities that account for this endurance, Angio also provides a chronological account of the band’s long history. The tinderbox was the art department of Leeds University and the spark, as it so often was in 1977, was the advent of the Sex Pistols. Reacting to the “Anarchy in the U.K” tour, several Leeds students with no discernible musical skills grabbed instruments and began making their own punkish noise. So did some of their mates, who called themselves Gang of Four. When, very early on, the Mekons were offered a record deal, they told the producer he should instead sign their more ambitious and organized friends, “a proper band.”