Episode 39: All The Real Girls (2003)

All The Real Girls cover site

Introduced by Devlin

…in which I derail any momentum we have in gaining new listeners by choosing a film most people haven’t seen and which isn’t available to stream anywhere. Maybe Gali is right when he says he dreads my picks…

To be honest, that’s always been our approach here on Rewind for Throwback episodes – we talk about what the things we like, and appreciate it if anyone at all takes the time out to listen to us. It just so happens that, with a few exceptions, we’ve talked about either famous films or films with an enduring cult, as that’s the nature of what we do. These are the films that influenced us in some way, or that we consider seminal movie-watching experiences, and by and large the likelihood is that these seminal experiences were in sync with other people of our generation. But, for me, we were always going to have to talk about All The Real Girls. We discuss this all within the episode, but this film hit me at a very specific and vital juncture in my life. I have read, somewhere, that most people’s musical tastes coalesce during their middle teen years. For me, it feels like it was a little later – between 16 and 20 or so, during which time I would devour tonnes of music magazines, scroll around on nascent music message boards and get lost in subgenres I never even knew existed, spend eye-watering amounts on imported CDs (I was never one for torrenting – not for moral reasons, just that our internet was shite). It felt like I’d discover a new favourite band every week.

Back in our Almost Famous episode, I eschewed any discussion of the film to instead talk about my most influential albums. I first saw Almost Famous at 16, and came to All The Real Girls around aged 19. The two form a bookend of sorts for this period of intense cultural discovery, and while both (at least to me, in the case of All The Real Girls – hopefully I’ll explain below) feel very musical, they are so in very different ways, and maybe represent in a way a handy illustration of maturation of my relationship to music.

Almost Famous is about Rock Stars, and the way these icons appear to us mere fans. Over the course of the film, William Miller becomes disillusioned by being granted a peek behind the curtain at the flawed humanity that the glamour conceals. At this age, I too was kind of in awe of the bands I was in to, a starry-eyed fan. I had posters and band names and lyrics scrawled on my backpack. Music was made by people I’d only glimpse from the throng of a huge crowd.

By the time I discovered All The Real Girls, my tastes had shifted somewhat, mostly towards less bombastic, smaller independent bands and artists (insufferable music snob mode: activate). The gulf between artist and audience is far harder to maintain when you’re seeing them play in rooms that only hold a few hundred people, so you relate to them on a different level, I think. Not to say in a deeper or a better way, just that it’s more…intimate. And, as both Gali and myself mention within the episode, it’s not that this film is especially concerned with music – it doesn’t come up in the dialogue at any time, the score isn’t overwhelming or triggering a needle drop every few minutes to hammer home whatever drama it wants to get across to you. But something in the structure, then languid way it weaves a story that resists any urge towards a structured 3-act narrative while still taking the audience on a journey, conjures the same feeling as listening to a great album. It’s helped by judicious use of a fantastic, widescreen ambient score by Michael Linnen & David Wingo, and deployment of some great songs, most notably an extended montage set to Mogwai’s Mogwai Fear Satan (remix), but it’s more than that. Most of the panel agreed that the film doesn’t lodge in your brain the same way other films do. It’s like it leaves a feeling, rather than a memory of a series of events. Just like a great album (or, depending how the guys summarised in the podcast, a mediocre or terrible album).

As much as Almost Famous was a film I identified with strongly, I guess the way I identified with it was different. It’s a very personal story for Cameron Crowe, but it is still a Hollywood studio movie – a stadium band, albeit an idiosyncratic and very likeable one. Whereas, All The Real Girls feels like an analogue for those labour of love independent acts, slightly ragged and willing to take the listener on an indulgent tangent and follow their own whims with less concern for appealing to the audience at large. Expressing themselves with less of a filter. To stretch a metaphor to breaking point, it wouldn’t be playing Wembley Arena, it’d be lugging its own flight cases up the stairs of a pub venue and selling t-shirts off a trestle table. At least, that’s how it feels looking back on it. It was a real eye opener for me to find a film that gave me that same feeling of almost tribal belonging as music does. And, oddly, it’s not a feeling I’ve found many times since. Maybe they’re right – when a band or a film or a piece of writing or whatever art comes at you when you are most open to the world, when your antennae are always up, it sticks with you in ways that later work can’t just because of who and where you were at that time. And while I can still find music that makes me sit up and take notice, it’s been a long, long time since a film resonated like this one did.

Writing about this film, about how discovering it seemed to happen symbiotically with discovering a lot of great music I still love today, I figured why not put together a little playlist of David Gordon Green-inspired music. Some of these are bands I liked and found kinship in hearing him name check on commentaries or in interviews, some are bands I learned of by watching his films. Some of the songs he has used on scores and soundtracks, some (like David Wingo’s incredible score for Take Shelter) are from collaborators. Others are just songs I like that re-watching All The Real Girls brought to mind. It’s best not to overthink these things.

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