A Divorce Before Marriage @ Leeds International Film Festival
In 1987 the inaugural Leeds International Film Festival launched at the iconic Hyde Park Picture House, that very same Edwardian cinema also recently celebrating its centenary. Now in its 30th renewal, the 2-week Festival is proving more popular than ever and tonight we return to find the venue packed out once more, this time for the Northern premiere of A Divorce Before Marriage – a poignant fly-on-the-wall documentary featuring the recent trials and tribulations of Leeds post rock legends I like Trains, created by Matt Hopkins and Ben Lankester for the big screen.
The film was originally intended as simply a teaser clip in support of their 2012 release Shadows, subsequently evolving with the help of kickstarter funding into a full-length feature covering the next 3 years of the band’s stop-start existence: A Divorce Before Marriage, acquiring its moniker from a song from their second long-player ‘He Who Saw the Deep’ becoming a working title from very early on.
Generating mountains of footage both around and away from band life, it took some 18 months for the film-makers to edit down from several hundred hours to the final 73 minute cut: the narrative charting I Like Trains’ story from loss of original record deal, the promotion and touring of third album Shadows, followed by frustration and ultimately acceptance as the band members slowly realise their musical project will forever be a hobby and not a full-time job.
The observational style mixed with local urban footage makes the film feel a little bleak in places – David at pains to point out in the post-film Q&A that touring with the band is in fact much more fun than the film might suggest. Not surprisingly, the collective struggles to keep the band moving forward as life starts increasingly getting in the way is the film’s central theme throughout, providing some really touching moments, most notably featuring David and his young son Oscar – for example, the bittersweet incident when dad is informed by phone of his son’s first steps whilst away touring in Europe, the pain of separation almost palpable at that moment.
David also admits he found it uncomfortable watching himself in the film, the other band members adding that trying to act natural whilst recording the non-band footage proved much harder than when they were filmed recording or on the road. They also scored the film themselves, a process that took surprisingly little time to complete as the film concludes with Alistair’s foray into parenthood, Ian getting married, followed by David taking Oscar to school for the first time.
For those who’ve been in a band themselves, have friends in bands, then this fine film is a must-see. From a personal perspective I’ve found their lack of greater success puzzling, my first live encounter watching David Martin, Guy Bannister, Alistair Bowis, Simon Fogal and Ian Jarrold, witnessing their unforgettable performance at the city’s Town Hall during Live at Leeds 2014, the venue proving a perfect setting for the quintet’s achingly beautiful elegiac cinematic soundscapes, probably one of the finest gigs I’ve ever attended.