I was never impressed by the band The Police. Call this vagary what you will, but their music never engaged me enough to seek them out in their concert venues or avidly purchase their albums. I wasn’t enamored by their consciously effected image or their raucous, audience limited prepossession. Situations do change; people change; the band members transformed. And with their own self-discoveries and personal development, they have become fascinating in their evolution, remaining indefinable and elusive, as revealed in their individual memoirs where they stand alone and shine with power in their own light. Thus, Stewart Copeland’s Strange Things Happen, Sting’s, Broken Music: a Memoir and Andy Summers’ One Train Later are indelibly worthy reads. These works express minds so uniquely creative, that one wonders how these men cohered as long as they did to form one of the most celebrated bands of all time. Clues to how Stewart, Sting, and Andy have remained mates through the band’s winter seasons of “goodbyes” and summery “hellos” to play together periodically for their legions of global fans may be found in the subtext of guitarist Andy Summer’s memoir and the basis of the documentary Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police.
You will have to read Summer’s One Train Later to glean the cohesive gossamer threads that will never die between Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers. However, happily, you will note them in the superb independent film directed by Andy Grieve, Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police. The documentary subtly shows that these threads of unity are more apparent than the press would have liked to portray at the time in prognosticating their “dissolution,” and Sting’s launching out on his own “without” the band. Grieve has Andy Summers narrate throughout this film, a wise choice for the personal and intimate revelations that Summers brings to the table about his life and the band. He highlights bits from his memoir reinforced by film clips and Summers’ astounding black and white photographs, which are a chronicle of the band’s history together and their tours. Gradually, we understand why these creative artists, musicians, writers could not be constrained by the limitations that others, including the most egregious aspects of the music and entertainment industries, intended to place upon them. Gradually, we understand how they must each evolve on their own; that their own identity and creativity are what will save each of them, where under the hot, white pressure of artificial celebrity, each was being destroyed.
How Grieve brilliantly reveals this is by selecting key passages from Summers’ memoir and cobbling together video clips from the band’s performances, their past (during the time from 1980-1983) and present (during their 2007-2008 global tour). Included are clips of their behind the scenes preparations, studio practices, arrivals, departures, 1980s press interviews, television show clips, and interviews before and during the 2007-2008 tour and much more. The amount of footage accumulated is amazing and Grieve slides from past to present, and back and forth, loosely following Summers’ narrative arc, which is predominately thematic but on the surface appears to be linear as it locates The Police’s rise until the press pressure becomes claustrophobic and noxious and the “eventuality” that Summers intuited in his bones happens. The irony is that Summers “felt” there would be a break up because he has always been in bands that “didn’t stay together.” However, it is 27 years later that The Police went on an irrevocable global tour but as different individuals having undergone light years of personal and inner development.
The film sagely opens to Summers writing his memoir then flashes back to the past with the grainy video of The Police’s last performance on New Year’s Eve in 1983, which Summers describes as their Cinderella moment, for the band will dissolve at midnight. However, Grieve then slips forward two decades later overturning this notion of dissolution when the band went on a farewell world tour bringing “closure” for their fans as they traveled from May 2007 to August 2008 playing 151 shows throughout Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Oceana.
Immediately, we begin to see Grieve’s themes through Summers’ inferences; The Police and the members individually and conjointly, sometimes in tandem, sometimes in parallel are always moving forward on their journeys and life paths. Grieve’s film continues following Summer’s memoir briefly giving an overview of Andy’s history, his parents, birth, first guitar, and his falling in love with this instrument and making music on it. We get a glimpse into the bands Summers belonged to, (he plays professionally at 16-years-old), their break ups, and the transformations in the music scene from the late 1960s onward. He narrates that his life changes when he meets and marries Kate, the woman who will remain his love for life, though during the caged in, robotic merry-go-round of fame at the apex of The Police’s celebrity right before they stopped playing together, Kate divorces him.
Through all of the rise and edging toward the band breakup, Grieve moves back to the past to illustrate various issues about The Police, then overrides them in the present with encapsulating the various segments of their world tour, a tour which is reminiscent of the world tour they embarked on at the apex of their celebrity in 1983. Each of the sequences becomes memorable because Summers has, in addition to falling in love with his guitar and making music, become obsessed with photography as a release from living the party-time nomadic existence as they tour the US where they are unknowns (1980) after having conquered the U.K. where they are “kings.” Summers’ photographs are a phenomenal, artistic history of the band and various areas of the world set to Summers’ intriguing perspectives: some humorous, some ironic cries for help: all insightful. He “shoots the world” and “possesses” the grinding and exhausting “tours in a new way.” Shooting photographs is his “private world” that he “can retreat to.”
It is these photographs of Stewart, Sting and Andy that are revelatory and express much of what the audience never can see during the concerts and performances where the fans make the band members into their own legends and desired images. The photographs are the private and intimate world into the souls of the trio and reveal the charm, the sensitivity, the humor, the individuality at a “point blank range” that Summers has spiritually captured. These ineffable elements that transpire through Summers’ lens give him the power to continue beyond this band, with its frenetic pace and insane, maniacal demands, to survive and keep a part of himself and his creative being for himself. It is this part which awakens him to return to Kate and start another family after a time of retreat, a few years after the band has “dissolved.”
Grieve’s film ultimately and for all time imprints how a band can become a legend in its own time, how it can survive that to become something more unique and vibrant, with the wisdom of being able to look back at the past, take from it the most salient joys, pains and sufferings and move on to create inspiration and joy in the present and future. In stirring up new inspiration it can significantly touch the lives of the band members and loyal fans and gather new fans along the process.
This is evidenced in a touching sequence that Grieve includes of Andy going off by himself to photograph seminal images of the back streets of a Japanese city which could be Tokyo, but is not manifest. Summers saunters past one bar that offers Karaoke and where they are singing “Every Breath That You Take.” When he initially walks in and begins to sing with bar patrons, the young people there don’t recognize who is singing with them. Then, someone clues them in off camera and Grieve records the faces of the startled patrons who stare in amazement and gratitude that one of The Police has privileged them with his presence and made this seemingly inconsequential bar a place of reckoning. It is a poignant moment for such is the stuff that dreams are made of and Summers, like all of the band members at this point, have gained the wisdom and maturity to appreciate what this means. The best is that they do not have to renounce who they are and where they’ve come from, whereas before, they were foundering and as Summers comments for himself, were “dazed and confused,” or perhaps, couldn’t wait to “escape.” Those elements of success had nothing to do with making music, yet paradoxically, they were inextricably linked because of how these band members made music together in spite of the negatives of success.
The filmmaker by the conclusion of the film indicates that though the band perhaps didn’t realize it to the fullest at the time, eventually understood that each member was his own person who wanted to work in freedom and continue to create. Summers points out that some of their best moments were not onstage repeating the same music formulas their fans came to expect, but were in the studio where they could innovate and be spontaneous. It was inevitable that this group needed to branch out and work in other forms whether of music, writing or photography. Grieve highlights this branching out by showing the photography exhibit of Summers’ black and white tour photographs. During the exhibit, Sting and Stewart Copeland show up to encourage Summers. When they are photographed together, interestingly, the media circus is not allowed to become intrusive. This is Andy Summers’ moment. It is also a reminder that the parts of that past that were overwhelming have to some extent been mitigated. Indeed, the band, as much as they craved the excitement of being at the top of their game, was not contented with the grinding, robotic oppression that was twisting their souls and threatening to make them into who they were not. It was this that had to end. But who the individual band members were and what they represented to themselves and each other has remained and continues to evolve.
These themes are the undercurrents of Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police in what makes for a completely satisfying and enlightening work about The Police. The film will resonate with loyal followers and inspire those who have not been fans to take a look. Throughout the arc of this documentary, Grieve has managed to intimate that their willingness to move forward is why this band has not become a casualty of the band graveyard. These members decades later have gained the wisdom to align the past with the present. They are developing separately, yet come together at times to play. These events cannot be defined, limited or characterized; to make such presentments or prophecies about them is pure folly. That is something they have survived and will continue to survive. With The Police-Steward Copeland, Andy Summers and Sting, the filmmaker reveals, expect the unexpected. Whatever may come next for them is part of the mystical journey.
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