Phil Lynott: Songs for While I’m Away – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director: Emer Reynolds
Star: Carl Shaaban
There are the songs, of course, the music and the lyrics, many of which are standing well the test of time. But perhaps the most striking thing in this evocative documentary homage is just how much Phil Lynott remains an iconic image, decades after his death – nearly as long dead as he lived. And not just in the sense of the great rock hero he undoubtedly was but how the actual physical person, the remarkably skinny man with the great head of hair, has seared itself into the popular imagination as a recognisable shape and figure. Like an Elvis quiff or Che Guevara poster, even in silhouette, Lynott can be recognised and identified anywhere, in Ireland at least.
The film is straightforward in its narrative. Stopping shy of hagiography it tells a familiar tale but judiciously avoids the sensational and the prurient. The lifestyle is implied rather than raked over. It is a triumph of editing and benefits hugely from a display of memorabilia and old film and TV footage. For this, we must be grateful that institutions like the Irish Film Archive, among others, exist and have the foresight to preserve imagery for the future. Combining footage and insightful interviews with family members, school-day friends, and former band members and professional colleagues, we travel with Phil through early gigs, the initial hits, the tours and the would-be tours. There is an end coming as we know in advance but unlike Amy (2015) where we are thrust into the horrors of Amy Winehouse’s downward spiral, and unseemly media frenzy, here the death is almost a shock, or at least a surprise. Had we seen this coming?
What is clear is how loving, and loved, the singer was and remains – the rawness of a broken romance was still palpable all these years later. There is perhaps a need for some more editing – too many reflected tail lights and headlights in misty wet Dublin streets and remarkably a complete absence of fans. We hear from the professionals but not from the young and not so young who bought the records and covered the bedroom wall with posters. What did they think of their hero? What do they think of him still? We are all familiar with Shakespeare’s ‘out, out, brief candle’, and indeed Lynott’s life was brief…but far from a candle, he was more of a comet that scattered stardust and radiated brilliantly.