Church Bells Are Calling: Suede And The Making Of The Insatiable Ones

Behind their acclaimed documentary...

Mike Christie's Suede documentary The Insatiable Ones – released this week on DVD – profiles the rise, destruction and rebirth of one of British guitar music's most singular, and most misunderstood, groups.

Built heavily from drummer Simon Gilbert's giant archive of home video footage, the film asks crucial questions about the life of a band. How do young men cope when thrust into the spotlight? How honest are we ever with our friends and colleagues? At what point does partying spill over into addiction? How can we put something so broken back together again?

The film marked the culmination of a year – 2018 – which saw Brett Anderson release the first volume of his memoirs (Coal Black Mornings) and Suede release their critically acclaimed album 'The Blue Hour'.

We spoke to Simon Gilbert and director Mike Christie about the film's long journey to screen.

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Simon Gilbert…

I used to take photos really early on, I had a camera, and I was always a big fan of rockumentaries – I was really into The Clash as a teenager and must have watched Rude Boy a couple of hundred times. I just thought how interesting it was to see behind the scenes of a band. So as soon as we got some money I bought a small camera and started filming bits of pieces; got pretty addicted to it.

At the end of a tour I’d go home and watch what I’d recorded and it was just fascinating. I always wanted to make a film like Rude Boy but better. Part of me being in the room having a camera shoved in your face – they got pretty used to it, I wouldn’t have stopped anyway.

I’ve been trying to make this film for literally fifteen years – Mike had done some Derek Jarman films with us early on and had always been around, always making films and stuff, and he knew the band inside out. But we couldn’t find a way to do it, and then a year ago – after the Hansa Studios film – Sky Arts said that he could make whatever he liked, so he gave me a call about the Suede film.

I was so sad that after 2003 (Suede split) I sat there and documented everything, numbered and catalogued everything really well, so the process of getting the film together wasn’t that difficult for me. We had everything. There’s about 800 hundred hours of tape all in all – we only use about an hour of it for the film! Most of it’s rubbish, people sitting around doing nothing.

We’re a lot more honest than most rock films, and that was the problem with why we couldn’t make this ten years ago – we weren’t at that stage. I was quite surprised how honest and open we actually are in the end result, and it needed to be that rather than just people saying how great it all was. Me and Mike both wanted more depth, wanted it to be more real.

The scene at the ICA at the end, we didn’t talk about that beforehand, and it turns into a bit of a … doctor’s surgery a bit. I think the film captures our humour in the band though too, there’s a lot of serious stuff but most of the time it’s a good laugh, you know?

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Mike Christie…

I first met Suede in the Spring of 92 and worked with them quite solidly until the beginning of 97, and at that point I’d got a lot more into filmmaking, and a TV career. We were all close and a lot of friendships in the mix, though we didn’t work together after that point.

I started thinking about the life cycle that bands go through – partly through the Hansa Studios film I did, which involved 32 interviewees and you start to get a sense of the ways that the journey is so often very similar. I went to see Brett and basically, I interrogated him over a few afternoons – because I knew the facts, I wanted to get an emotional landscape of what had happened.

We arrived with the five thematic headings that are in the film. The thing I really didn’t want it to be was Oasis’ ‘Supersonic’ – a list of arguments, a list of songs, a list of people being fired, a list of drugs – I wanted to make a more intelligent film.

We agreed early on that for the film to have merit and weight, it would have to not be a hagiography – it was a bit like having a difficult conversation with a family member. We kept the whole band apart until the ICA scene, which was very deliberate – when they’re together, the dynamics change quite dramatically.

The ICA scene was really uncomfortable – it was just me, the crew and Suede – these are not people who want to have those conversations together. Suede’s career and life has been pretty dramatic, and when you look at the music as the product of the events and the drama of their career it takes on a slightly different life.

Obviously there’d always been drugs in the mix, but I didn’t want to tell a long story about drugs – so you contain that part in one segment and look at it from a mature, informed point of view. These aren’t things that should be treated lightly because they’re really important subjects to explore.

Now those conversations are made a lot more difficult by the fact that you know each other. Brett was losing sleep over those conversations he would have to have in the film, and I knew it was going to be difficult. Because Suede was such an emotional rollercoaster for everybody involved, very few people wanted to be in this film – I count in that virtually every interviewee you see in the screen.

I asked Bernard to be in the film – twice – but what emerges from everybody else’s interviews is that Bernard didn’t like the limelight, so it doesn’t surprise me in retrospect that his preference was to not be in the film.

Fortunately there was all that archive – again though, there’s a lot more emotional intelligence now about the situation that Bernard was in. I hoped two things would come across about Bernard – I tried to be very respectful about his art, but I didn’t want to gloss over what happened.

If you asked Brett, or Simon, they’d say that the band is stronger for making this film.

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The Insatiable Ones is out now on DVD.

Words: Fergal Kinney
Photo Credit: Dean Chalkley

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