Interview with Niall McCann – Director of Lost In France – Part 3 by Killian Laher
Part 3 of Killian’s interview with Niall McCann, Director of the new film Lost In France, in which he ruins his chances of ever working with Radiohead!
Lost in France is released on March 3rd.
Friday March 3rd – The Workman’s Club, Dublin
Saturday March 4th – Connolly’s of Leap, Cork
Sunday March 5th – Roisin Dubh, Galway
How has illegal downloading of music affected the music industry? People download so much music illegally and they don’t even listen to all of it!
You hear this as well ‘I buy the albums I like that I download’. You fucking DON’T. I was talking to a friend of mine on Facebook messenger and he said “I’m not going to be out tonight, I’ve got a load of new albums that I’m going to listen to.” I went, “did you go record buying?” ‘No, I just download them’. I have a massive CD collection, records as well. I don’t get it. These same people say ‘well I pay to go to a gig.’ But the artist that you’re illegally downloading from can’t make any money, or isn’t popular enough to come over here. Then, the gig thing, forget about it. Radiohead and the likes are the biggest spoofers, ‘anti-capitalists’. 80 Euro a ticket and they’re releasing early bird tickets that are more expensive… Thom Yorke is such a fucking charlatan – you can print that. Anti-capitalist my hole!
I’m not saying they’re not talented. I think OK Computer and The Bends are remarkable. Kid A has some interesting Warp stuff on it. How Pitchfork reviewed Kid A: ‘the critic in me thought of John Coltrane, the human in me wept’. Idioteque is brilliant from that album but let’s not pretend it’s anything that it’s not. OK Computer on the other hand is a pop, or rock record, that was remarkable at the time. And it did seem to put a full stop on a lot of stuff. Then you had The Strokes who were good too, the first album, but it seemed more retro and less forward thinking. Manic Street Preachers are the same (as Radiohead). I think late Manics albums are remarkable. Rewind the Film and Futurology are, as records go, really surprising that anyone their age would make them. I really mean that, also Journal for Plague Lovers. But you also have this situation where the Manics have basically used Richey Edwards’ demise as the basis for the rest of their career. They’ve got a new documentary coming out that’s about The Holy Bible again. I emailed a proposed treatment which got to James Dean Bradfield through his manager. In the treatment I’d written it was half fiction, half documentary. It was about a filmmaker trying to make a documentary about the career of the Manics, but realising halfway through that he couldn’t make the film, because if he made the film he’d be using… the demise of a human being. I’m interested in ethical filmmaking. Maybe they were offended by what it was implying. I know they love the guy but they didn’t even change the name of the band like Joy Division did. But on one hand maybe he knew what he was doing. He did it intentionally, the night before an American tour, the same as Ian Curtis did. But the Holy Bible, fuck me that’s involving. And Everything Must Go is a good album too but This Is My Truth is not really very good and the one after that, Know Your Enemy is funny cos it’s really racist towards America, a precursor to anti-American feeling that became popular after that, but it’s just a mess. Lifeblood was appalling.
The guys in the film (Lost In France) are happy with it?
I think so. I think it’s very difficult to watch yourself on screen but musicians find it easier because they’ve been in videos. Most of the music videos made at the time probably cost more than my film. Now though, you know that aesthetic where it could have been made on an iPhone 6.
The film is sort of a love letter to a lost era, pre-internet. It was a different world. There were no mobile phones. Sight and Sound reviewed it and at the end of the review they said ‘the film ends on a warm fuzzy note but there’s also a residue of melancholy’. Fear of the future, and the lack of control, because there’s no way of stopping it (the internet). It’s like, you’re in a sand dune and you’re trying to pick it all up with your hands. You can’t do it.
I think there’s a line that runs through my work that there’s this idea that, they know they can’t win, but they keep on going. Unless things change I can’t see another Chemikal.
What about the music scene in Ireland?
That seems to be doing well at the minute but I don’t know if anyone’s making a living out of it. People are expected to do things for free in the arts, and I think that’s bullshit. Especially when you hear the live scene in Ireland makes 6 Euro for every 1 spent, or something like that. Who’s getting the money? It’s depressing. NME is now a free magazine, but that’s because NME went really shit but the fact that people won’t even spend one quid a week on a music magazine is depressing.
I have to work, I don’t believe I can make a living from this. In my head, there are no happy endings for me. You’ve just got to keep going. If I was to go on the dole for a while, after working this last year, my dole wouldn’t cover my rent. Half my wages go on rent, I don’t know what can be done about it.
I don’t like the idea of emigration. If you don’t wanna leave you shouldn’t have to. If you enjoy living in Dublin you should be able to. It’s going to end up like London. But if you move out to Finglas or wherever, it’s not like Crouch End, there are no coffee shops and venues. I tend to worry constantly.
Do you believe a country has a duty to the citizens who live in it?
Completely. That’s been lost, even the idea that the country is answerable to us. The government seem to do just what they want. I thought Apollo House was great, but I thought it was a shame that Mannix Flynn got so much abuse for speaking out against it when he’s done a lot of good. I saw a lot of nasty stuff being said to him online. You could argue that there is something a bit hypocritical about people that have made their money, and some of those people are millionaires, from an economic system which necessitates the existence of homeless people. Which capitalism does. And then turning around and giving out about that system. I don’t think Glen Hansard is a bad guy. I think there’s a bigger problem with the working poor, which a lot of us are now. I went to a talk recently with George Galloway showing The Killings of Tony Blair, shooting fish in a barrel, but it was interesting. I think he (Galloway) is a bit of a chancer, and a bit of a bully too. I asked him about his links to Russia and he didn’t like that. But he said to the audience: “if you live week to week, you’re working class.” Which I agree with. I don’t think in Ireland we have the same class system.
Everybody thinks they’re middle class in Ireland.
You’re made feel grateful to get a job. There’s no job security any more. I’d like to think Lost In France, while not discussing these topics head on, is about all these things. It’s an example of, if we keep going down this path, it’s one of the aspects of life that we’re going to lose. Maybe we’re not aware we’re losing it.
Do you foresee another scene emerging?
It’s harder to see. Unless it’s from dance? Or is it more localised, where audiences are funding local bands in their spare time? But you have to work as well. And how many great albums are we going to lose because people aren’t able to focus on it. There’s a reason artists used to go and spend a year or two in the studio. It’s craft.
It didn’t end up in the film but I was interviewing Stewart Henderson in his office and I asked him what has the internet ever given us? Everyone’s a critic. Everyone’s a writer. Everyone’s a filmmaker. Everyone’s a journalist. We’re sitting in a powder keg of outrage, and everyone thinks their opinion matters. I don’t mean this in an anti-people way, but not everyone’s opinion matters.
The media plays a big part in turning workers against each other. I might have disagreed with the demands of the Luas strikers but I don’t disagree with their right to strike. We’re bolshy when it suits us here. Tesco went on strike yet I know loads of people who went in and got cheap flowers for their girlfriends. It’s down to the rise of the individual and us not feeling connected. We’re social beings. But capitalism isolates people.
Politics is a farce. It’s like leftist politics is a brand, or a t shirt in an overall capitalist society, and there is no alternative to capitalism anymore. The Soviet Union was obviously hugely problematic, but when that went it was like capitalism had won. Communism wasn’t really what Marx was about anyway. It was supposed to be a step on the way. Marx says capitalism protects itself, it controls the means which we need to take it apart. And the people who run the show are not going to hand over the controls. You’d probably need a revolution. Being nice isn’t going to work because they’re not nice.
When I was in hospital you’re told by psychiatrists that the social aspect is not a major factor in mental health. It’s huge, and there’s something in the fact that they constantly say it’s not. I think psychiatrists are the band aid of capitalism. We make highly sensitive people ill by telling them that the world, which they would see as cruel and unfair, is fair. If people can’t cope with this we say they’re sick. Better put them in hospital and retrain them so they can come back and be a good little worker. Don’t be worrying!
I know filmmakers who are thought of us being very caring and sensitive who make films about people. Then the same people do ads for AIB or Tesco and get paid a lot of money for it. The minute you do an ad – ‘see you later’! I don’t do them not because I don’t want to. It’s like the John Cassavetes line about Hollywood, they’ve a lot of money and I really want it, and I know I can’t take it.
What are your hopes for the film?
That it gets an audience. It would be nice if not just people who are into that music got to see it. Maybe people who see it will think about downloading music and maybe start buying records again, they’re not that expensive. Remember you used to save up for an album a month? And I love CDs. I started buying records because people told me the sound is far better. It possibly was during the analogue age. I stopped buying them because, if CDs are pain in the hole carrying them around the place, forget about records! What I like about vinyl is you don’t skip. But I would only buy records that would be my favourites, or maybe traditional stuff or a Shellac album. That would be it. But CDs are far more practical.
If you were to speak to Hubby or Emma Pollock about music, they’ll tell you it’s done. Finished. It’s the end of one period and the beginning of another period. A shit one. We haven’t come up with a way of dealing with this, of monetising streaming properly. The only people winning are the majors. The record label jobs aren’t there anymore. Or being a journalist. In Ireland if you have a good job like that (senior journalist) you don’t have to give it up. They don’t go, ‘let’s have some fresh ideas’. It’s similar with film. Irish film festivals are great. But they can’t get rid of people (who run them), there’s a fear.