Poly Styrene: I am a cliché

This is a heart-breaking yet inspiring  movie made by Celeste Bell about her mother, Poly Styrene. Poly, born Marianne Elliot-Said to a Somali father and white-British mother, had a Damascene conversion to punk at a Sex Pistols concert in Hastings in the sizzling summer of 1975. Aged only 19 and unashamed of her braces, she set up her own band, the X-Ray Spex, and took on her unique new persona – and in so doing became a diva of the punk scene with her extraordinary gift for songwriting and mesmerising voice.  Her fame and exhausting gig schedule, exacerbated by her ‘half-caste’ status, came at a price and she withdrew from public life to the Maudsley with wrongly-diagnosed schizophrenia

The movie is love-song by Celeste to her mother; she narrates her life story in a soft lyrical voice, her words resonating with poetic cadence. Physically following in her mother’s footsteps and interspersing the narrative with film clips and snaps from the memoir she compiled, Day-Glo: the Poly Styrene Story, she tries to come to terms with the troubled relationship she had with her mum, growing up neglected in a Hare Krishna community. The result is totally engrossing tribute to a teenager who had admirers such as Debbie Harry in her fan club, but also a critique of the misogyny she suffered from the likes of Sid Vicious which contributed to her fragile mental state.

The strangest thing about the film to me – apart from sharing a birth-year with Marianne – is the shock of seeing our talented and zany Louise in Poly Styrene. They shared an outrageous sense of fashion, designing and making their clothes from everyday cast-offs, using colour as a medium of communication of ‘otherness’, of being old before their time with a wisdom to match – her lyrics to Oh Bondage Up Yours and Identity  were anthems of a doomed, yet prescient youth. Just like our Louise. Two talents whose lights burned too bright, too young.

 

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