Writer and Director: Matt Hulse
The rock documentary is a staple of most film festivals, last year there was White Riot examining the Rock Against Racism movement in the 1970s; this year the London Film Festival focuses on little known 1970s post-punk band The Hippies involving the Hulse children who in 1979 left behind a cassette of their masterworks including Rabies and Dallas City Ghost. Sound for the Future celebrates their legacy.
This somewhat tongue-in-cheek documentary allows drummer Matt Hulse to explore the enduring legacy of his childhood band 40-years on. Matt was 11, his brother Toby was 12 and their sister Polly was 8 when they formed The Hippies. Using art installation, dramatic recreation, archive clips and interviews, Hulse works with a local youth group in Glasgow to recreate and understand the legacy of this formative period in his life.
The approach is fun, merging pop art visuals that layer image cut-outs of Thatcher’s Britain, family albums and other pictures with historical footage from the era, much of which is incredibly random including concrete road bridges, catalogue pictures and shots of pink Angel Delight being mixed and poured down a toilet. Some of these images act as animated music videos for the songs including mad frothing dogs and the exploding head of JFK.
Hulse is the inspiration for, creator and star of this story, describing himself as a narcissist with a wacky humour that results in a bizarre and unusual film. It is mostly meant in jest of course, but there is something a little disturbing about watching a 50-year man audition clearly bemused sets of children to play his siblings, recreating the songs and family photographs as well as reading from Hulse’s school report.
This material along with diary excerpts are also reprised in a pub performance given by Hulse and his now adult sister Polly in 2019. Toby is perhaps pointedly unable to attend and does not appear in the film, while their mother, the self-proclaimed inspiration behind the band, is interviewed several times. Clearly this cassette tape has meant much to the family – or at least to Hulse himself – but this 100-minute satire rather overstays its welcome, as it moves beyond a wry examination of the semi-seriousness of children into a biographical self-indulgence that feels out of proportion with this handful of pre-teen songs.
As this film spills over into other areas of Hulse’s life, we watch him travel to Beijing to have a suit tailored for his Snoopy dog toy named “Mr Spoons” based on an outfit worn by Malcolm McLaren, and later Hulse goes to McLaren’s grave to snog the singer’s death-mask. The toy, his mother explains, acts like a ventriloquist dummy, a way for Hulse to say controversial things with impunity. He is “an expansion of my ego” Hulse says tells an unseen audience, revealing an intensity that stops the absurdity in in its tracks.
The art installation quality of Sound of the Future has merit, and the various techniques that Hulse employs to tell his story in the strangest way possible are enjoyable and inventive. There are also some interesting angles on his mother’s feminism, their parents’ divorce and its effect on the family. It is an energetic film that skitters about, but its darker subtext often overwhelms the jaunty story of three kids and their earnest songs about social change.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October