Ethan Silverman (director)
100 min (length)
13 November 2023 (released)
20 November 2023
ANGELHEADED HIPSTER: THE SONGS OF MARC BOLAN is, as the title suggests, a tribute to the glam-rock pixie and T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan. However, this behind-the-scenes documentary not only entertains with all sorts of archive footage but features an almighty line-up of musicians as diverse as Nick Cave, Joan Jett, Børns, Beth Orton, Macy Gray and many more – all of whom have flocked together to record their own interpretations of a Bolan song of their choice. Essentially, this documentary goes hand in hand with the album of the same name.
Director Ethan Silverman and producer Bill Curbishley felt that by assembling such an impressive line-up of musicians – all stars in their own right of course – the result would be more than the usual ‘tribute’ to Bolan, who died in a car crash in 1977, aged just 29. While the idea itself is of course a noble one, another reason for ANGELHEADED HIPSTER is that with this tribute, more acclaim would be bestowed on Bolan – a musical innovator and poet who never quite got the appreciation he deserved - apparently. Think what you want, from humble beginnings with John’s Children, followed by considerably more success with psychedelic folk band outfit Tyrannosaurus Rex - Bolan’s gradual rise to fame cannot be underestimated: his devilishly good looks and his trademark corkscrew mane. Check. His ambiguous and androgynous image. Check. His dandyish demeanour. Check. Above all, his unique sound and undisputed talent, which the ‘godfather of glam rock’ had in abundance and which presented him with several number ones in the pop charts – not to mention his 1971 album ‘Electric Warrior’ which reached number one in the album charts! Hardly the kind of artist who needs further appreciation! True, after his professional and romantic involvement with backing singer Gloria Jones (mother of his son Rolan) he changed his musical direction by infusing his compositions with more gospel and funk, a concept which proved less successful. Likewise, he never found the kind of fame in the US that he found in the UK (in contrast to other contemporary artists like his friend David Bowie). Despite later setbacks and disappointments, Bolans’ musical influence cannot be underestimated!
His continuing influence is evident during the recording sessions for Angelheaded Hipster and we are treated to very different interpretations of Bolan songs by a motley crew of artists, starting with Bono and U2’s attempt of ‘Get It On’. Nick Cave’s slow-paced rendition of ‘Cosmic Dancer’ is inspired while Joan Jett lends her own touch to ‘Jeepster’. Other American artist such as Børns (‘Dawn Storm’), Father John Misty (‘Main Man’), Lucinda Williams (‘Life’s A Gas’) and Macy Gray (‘Children of the Revolution’) don’t disappoint either. John Cameron Mitchell of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ fame delivers his version of ‘Diamond Meadows’ though it has to be said that the most unique rendition most definitely comes from US jazz-fusion outfit Snarky Puppy. Yep, it’s ‘The Slider’ alright, but not as you know it! Some British talent is also thrown in for good measure, foremost Beth Orton (‘Hippy Gumbo’). Bolan’s son Rolan – a musician in his own right – jams with one or the other artist while all the recordings are overseen by the late Hal Willner, who produced the album.
The recordings are interspersed with archive footage (all good quality, I may add) depicting a plethora of clips from T.Rex concerts, live performances, interviews and what have you – but also old photographs from the days when Bolan was still Mark Feld and grew up in the Jewish neighbourhood of London’s Stoke Newington (before re-inventing himself as a Mod). More interviews follow with the likes of Ringo Starr and of course, archive interviews with David Bowie, who reveals that back in the day, when both he and Bolan were only starting out and had little money, Bolan gave him the tip that clothes shops in Carnaby Street are chucking out perfectly ok clobber in the evenings just because buttons were missing or a jacket might have a tear… meaning that Bolan and Bowie were able to parade around in trendy outfits they got for free! Perhaps the biggest surprise comes from Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott, a Northern lad from Sheffield who confesses that when Bolan bounced onto the music scene, his macho mates were dismissive of him because “he looks like a bleedn’ poof” whereas Elliott sensed straight away that Bolans’ image had nothing to do with his sexuality and everything with his theatricality. In fact, Elliott became such an admirer of the T. Rex frontman that he wrote all of Bolan’s otherworldly poems in his own scrapbook. “He didn’t just write about goblins and fairies” muses Elliott – “Bolan was definitely out there with the fairies!” Rounding up the docu are some final thoughts from Bolan’s former partner Gloria Jones.
ANGELHEADED HIPSTER is available as a dual format DVD/Blu-ray set.