Film review – Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance (Mark Kidel, 2013)

I’ll throw it out there – I’m a huge, huge Elvis Costello fan. I can’t pinpoint an incident that served as a catalyst to get into him. As a 30-year-old Brit, the only major hit of his I remember is the Charles Aznavour cover “She” from the Notting Hill soundtrack, which, I think it’s fair to say, probably isn’t a great representation of his fantastic and varied body of work. Yet somehow the songs seeped into my psyche and I now rate him as one of my favourite artists.

This documentary serves as a biography of sorts, albeit potted around some key periods of Costello’s life. Aspects covered include his upbringing, his hometown, the politics of his lyrics and a small selection of his songs. Some huge guests are interviewed, including Paul McCartney, Mark Ellen and Nick Lowe.

Each element that is picked out is tended to perfectly. In particular, the collaborations with Paul McCartney really ignited my enthusiasm to seek out more information. Kidel has managed to get all this contributors to talk really enthusiastically about their part in the Elvis Costello journey and I as a viewer found myself swept along with it.

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Unfortunately, the documentary length doesn’t allow too much delving into each topic, whilst the shear bredth of his career means that a lot of his life is skipped over. It’s an impossible balance to achieve because his life and background are both so interesting, and perhaps his story is instead worthy of a series. Or perhaps that’s just the inner fan getting the better of me and I should just make do with what I’ve got.

The one lasting impression you get after watching this film is that Elvis Costello is overly enthusiastic about everything he has done. Be it having a string of top 10 albums, releasing an album of jazz soul music with Allen Toussaint, collaborating with one of the greatest songwriters of all time or creating an ill-received classical string album with The Brodsky Quartet, he has continually done so enthusiastically and been hugely successful in a variety of ways with every genre he has tried his hand at.

If you’re willing to be enthused by one of Britain’s greatest ever songwriters then check this out. Otherwise, the limited storytelling might have you searching for a biography that has a bit more detail.

Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance is available on the BBC iPlayer in the UK until 20th November 2014.

 

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