Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away – Film Review
by Alison Traynor
Director: Emer Reynolds
Star: Carl Shaaban
Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away can be described as many things: a saccharine love song, an ardent celebration of a rockstar’s life, and above all else, a well-intentioned but overly nostalgic expression of national pride. That is not to say Emer Reynolds’ documentary is unworthy of praise. In fact, it is a solid, engaging feature which has plenty to offer, falling down only in its attempt to blindly worship a flawed human being as well as a time and a place which never truly existed – at least not in the way that Reynolds implies.
Although he was born across the waters, Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott spent the majority of his childhood in Ireland. Despite growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, he did not live in a place marred by guerrilla warfare or the callous rule of the Catholic Church as those around him did. If this documentary is to be taken at face value, his Ireland was the true Emerald Isle, a country characterised by peace and love, green pastures and benevolent leprechauns. This level of sentimentality comes across for the most part as mawkish and irritating, detracting from any sense of verisimilitude that Reynolds manages to establish.
Tonally, Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away is often cloying. Any unsavoury aspects of Lynott’s life are blatantly evaded, while his successes are elevated to the realm of the divine. It is, of course, important to acknowledge Lynott’s many incredible achievements, but Reynolds tends to forget that although he was a renowned musician, he was also a human being like anybody else. His death, for example, is hurriedly noted and described only as being the result of pneumonia and septicaemia. That, however, is only part of the sad truth of his demise. It is unfortunate that Reynolds takes a formulaic approach to this documentary, presenting a rise and fall narrative without ever truly committing to exploring the fall.
The highlight of this documentary is by far the inclusion of footage from a variety of Thin Lizzy’s live performances. The band are at their best when their music is allowed to speak for itself, transcending the grime and the glamour of the frontman’s troubled life. Time after time, the camera lingers on Lynott as he belts out Whiskey In The Jar or Don’t Believe A Word or Sarah, his passion forcefully conveyed through sound and physicality alike. Throughout this documentary’s 112 minute runtime, the impact of Thin Lizzy’s music never falters. Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away may not bring many unique observations to light, but it certainly has the power to immerse its viewers in the music of a truly outstanding rock band. For that alone, it is a success.