With that sort of pedigree, ‘SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock’, a new documentary on Rock’s life, would have probably got four stars if it had just been a few of those pictures on the big screen alongside a few anecdotes about doing drugs with David Bowie. However, director Barney Clay (husband of Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’/‘Her’ soundtrack fame) tries something different, and much more fascinating.
We see a man wheeled into hospital following a drug overdose. This man is Mick Rock, or at least an actor with an uncanny resemblance to him. The rest of the film is set in this hospital, which transforms into a ‘Twin Peaks’ Red Room-cum-‘The Singing Detective’ space, with the real Mick Rock lurking in the shadows of the room or by a big light-up table that pops ups when needed. The standard talking-heads-and-archive-footage doc this is not.
Instead, Rock himself narrates his life from this room, with his reminiscences illuminated by his photographs, other footage he’s shot, and taped conversation he has had with Bowie and Lou Reed, both of which the film is dedicated to. Part of the reason why this works so well is that Rock is a pleasure to be around. This is a man who one minute talks about transcending reality or the practice of yoga, and the next speaking in zen koans like ‘if that’s not rock and roll, then rock and roll is a wank job.’ He’s part Dickens, part Beat Poet. Part Rimbaud (who gets quoted throughout the film), part Patsy Stone from ‘Ab Fab’. He’s the last of the rock ’n’ roll photographers, (no offence David Bailey).
Hearing him narrate this documentary, you get the impression of being with a person who is great at telling stories because they’ve told every tale a thousand times. However, the novel framing narrative and Rock’s charisma stop this from being another rock ’n’ roll survivor getting a pay check from VH1 to tell their Iggy Pop story, and allow it to become a genuinely exciting documentary that is the nearest you can get to the 1970s without actually drowning yourself in cocaine.
SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock is released on July 21st.