blur – To The End; A Fine Glimpse Behind The Curtain

The intimate new documentary is well worth catching...

We’re sitting in Damon Albarn’s home studio. Albarn, aged fifty-six now, still as stylish as ever, pours Grey Goose vodka into a coffee cup, his trademark cheeky grin just the same as it was at twenty. He sits on a chair and opposite him, spread across a cream sofa, are Alex James, Dave Rowntree and Graham Coxon, cigarettes hanging from their mouths, a half-eaten (homemade) victoria sponge adding colour to the pale room. Before coming to Albarn’s rural farmhouse to write and record this latest blur album, some of the bandmates have not spoken in ten years. An early cut of an unreleased song from blur’s ‘The Ballad Of Darren’ begins to echo through the room and Albarn’s shoulders begin to move, from a distance it may appear he’s laughing, but the camera hesitates a little longer on his shaking shoulders, and we realise tears are streaming down his face.

Make no mistake, this is still the blur as we knew them in their so-called ‘Britpop heyday.’ Over the course of Toby L’s intimate documentary, blur: To The End, the bandmates turn everything into a joke with a distinctly British brand of dry, self-deprecating humour, they dress with the same stylish ease the world came to know them to and they perform with the same frenzied electricity which was once captured on blurry camcorders, and is now recorded by the unmistakable flash of iPhones. Whilst the tattoos may be a little faded, their knees knackered and their everyday now spent feeding children and chickens alike, blur: To The End, shows the band, not as glorified titans or nostalgia-crippled has-beens, but as quietly contemplative, deeply driven bandmates, who feel the weight of aging yet have no compulsion to sit and get drunk on memories of their youth.

The feature-length documentary, which goes into cinemas in UK and Ireland from July 19th, tracks blur as they came together in early 2023 to record new material ahead of their sold-out, first ever shows at London’s iconic Wembley Stadium in July last summer. With a thoughtful, tender gaze, the documentary wanders through the lives of the four bandmates, offering something far from the usual brash, over-dramatised form of music documentary we have seen over recent years.

There is a hesitation upon entering the film that the bandmates will be all ego. Their fame and cultural sway is a little dimmer than it was during the ‘90s and there’s a natural expectation the band will react to this with embellished ego and entitlement, a disdain for the contemporary. Instead, Toby L’s intimate documentary finds blur pensive, transparent and dwelling on the nature of their mortality. We see their rehearsals, recording sessions, interviews and personal lives, the sights and sounds of their modern everyday set against punchy footage of their break-neck career decades earlier.

blur: To The End is far from gloomy however, as every time the band takes to the stage within the feature, there is the practically religious eruption of joy. Each band member seems to reach a euphoric state on stage, exuding the same sweaty, unrelenting energy they did at twenty-three. During the climactic Wembley performance especially, there is a sense something truly iconic is happening as Albarn, as he always does, performs with his whole body and spirit, adhering to every impulse and emotion and leaving his naked soul on the stage. 

It feels a privilege to be granted such unmediated insight into one of the most enduring British bands, who have been at the heart of British culture for over three decades. Toby L seems to have captured the band at the perfect moment, as they find themselves confronted with their pasts, presents and futures.

8/10

blur – to the end is out now.

Words: Grace Dodd

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