Review by Eva Holland
Posted on 15 February 2008
Source Odeon Films DVD
“People love tragedy,” a music industry executive tells the camera at one point midway through It’s All Gone Pete Tong. If it’ll sell albums, he continues, “I’ll get on that deaf train, with a wheelchair ramp, no problem.”
The line is nicely representative of the entire film: serious subject matter, tackled with irony and irreverence. The record exec is talking about Frankie Wilde, his once-red hot, newly-rejuvenated, stone-deaf DJ. The (fictional) story of Frankie Wilde – a classic wave of success, excess, drug-fueled downward spiral, and inevitable redemption – could easily have been told as a sober drama, a warning about drug abuse with a tear-jerking finale. Instead, writer-director Michael Dowse has opted to attack the narrative with a healthy serving of dark humor. It’s an approach that winds up skewering the music industry, taking a few swipes at the way society treats the disabled, and exposing the ugliness of addiction, perhaps more adeptly than any earnest movie-with-a-message ever could.
I sometimes find the “mockumentary” format forced or overdone, but in this case it fits perfectly. It’s All Gone Pete Tong starts out feeling just like a retrospective special on MTV or VH1: DJs, club-goers, managers and acquaintances go on camera to reminisce about Frankie’s hard-partying ways, his famous sets in the big clubs of Ibiza, his shift to recorded albums, and his total dominance of the music scene. Soon, though, Frankie’s “problem” is introduced: he is going deaf, and not slowly either. Denial, though, is a powerful force, and at first he carries on recording, playing sets for the adoring hordes, and partying harder than ever. When his situation finally hits home, the resulting cocaine binge is spectacularly sordid, the ugliest portrait of drug abuse I’ve seen since Requiem for a Dream. (And the physical incarnation of Frankie’s addiction, a giant stuffed badger that leaks white powder, is certainly the most disturbing man-in-a-stuffed-animal-costume since Donnie Darko.)
Eventually, inevitably, Frankie finds his way out of the darkness and back to the (strobe) light—though I won’t spoil the details. The story may be a tad predictable, but the real joy of this movie, apart from the countless small touches of humor, is the setting. Mostly filmed on location in Ibiza, Frankie’s universe is garishly colorful: a flashing, thumping, pulsating, brightly-lit world that is by turns seductive and repulsive. Frankie’s manager, Max, oozes sweat and sleaze in every frame, and Frankie himself is the perfect rakish, shallow star. The music, of course, is omnipresent, which makes the moment when everything goes silent all the more powerful.
If there’s a major flaw in this movie, it’s Frankie’s inevitable transition from superficial, drug-addled man-whore to thoughtful spokesperson for the hearing-impaired. In the early scenes, Frankie is portrayed as being wasted most of the time, sure, but also as not terribly bright even when he is sober. Never having seen him pre-fame, we’re left to believe that there has never been anything more to his priorities than beats, babes and blow. After all, this is the man who declares that writing a book about his life “might take ages”—and so perhaps a pamphlet of some sort might do the trick, instead. When his epiphany finally comes, I was left wondering – briefly, before the lights and the music grabbed my attention again – where he found the tools to build his newfound emotional maturity.
It’s All Gone Pete Tong may not be to everyone’s taste. But for my part, it’s a fresh, loud, colorful remake of the classic rise-fall-resurrection narrative, dressed up with some darkly funny moments, a vital, sometimes-seductive setting, and a soundtrack that made me want to hit the dance floor. On a cold night at home in the darkest depths of a Canadian winter, that’s more than good enough for me.