No Distance Left to Run is an (almost) extensive warts-and-all delve into the tumultuous history of one of Britain’s greatest bands. Pinned on Blur’s triumphant come-back gigs last year, taking in a pretty comprehensive chronological journey from the bands early days in Colchester, through the heights of the ‘brit-pop’ era, to their darker and more experimental work of the late 90s, this is the film fans have been waiting for.
In the same way the recent Joy Division documentary visually captured the essence of that band, the vibrant cinematography and collage-esque editing of No Distance Left To Run is totally fitting for a band who’s iconography is almost as important as its music. Blur played an integral part in the redefining of Britain’s artistic identity. It is visual treat. The shambolic early live footage is particularly eye-opening, showing how far the band developed in a few short years; from manic noise-mongers to tight and relatively polished (albeit just as drunk). Cut with various bits of live footage, television appearances and home-video shots the whole thing is a mix of nostalgia-fest and delve into the unseen world of Blur.
But there’s much more on offer than visual excitement, Blur’s is a story well worth telling. The quality in the story telling comes from directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace unparalleled access to the four band members, from who they draw frank and honest interviews about the highs and lows of their time as a band. The decision to not interject this with a narrator or the usual cast of sycophantic talking-heads only adds to the realism and honesty of the narrative. While this film shows the members of Blur to be the expected larger-than-life characters, it gives them a human-edge not before seen in other work on the band (except Alex James’ recent book).
All in all No Distance Left to Run is a tale of a band crushed under the weight of the massive success they enjoyed. The backlash after the infamous, media-driven, chart-spat with Oasis opened the cracks that would lead to the emotional problems that, whilst causing untold tension in the group, would help them produce some of the most inventive music in their repertoire.
The bands problems with each other, the press and alcohol are honestly laid bare. Damon Albarn raises the issue of heroin being something that was very destructive in his life in the late 90s, although (despite the assertions of other music scribes) it is not made clear as to whether he or the other members of Blur were on the drug, or simply those around them. It is the skirting around such important issues that is the films only down-point, whilst certain aspects of the bands troubles are mentioned you get the feeling that there has been a decision to avoid laying all the details down on celluloid for all to see. The issues are mentioned but not delved into.
Despite much doom-and-gloom, the film is filled with the humour and wit that you would expect from one of Britain’s cheekiest bands. Graham Coxon’s interviews are largely tongue-in-cheek, witty and entertaining, whilst the footage of Alex James recording idents for many TV and radio shows is laugh-out-loud hilarious. The bands responses to the ridiculous questions from music journalists would not be out of place in This is Spinal Tap.
Coming back constantly to the bands various performances during their triumphant come-back tour the underlying message is one of optimism, that the quality of Blur’s art saw them overcome adversity and problems they faced. Regardless of anything else it is the music that has connected with people and ensured their popularity. The looks between band members hearing tens of thousands of people singing Coxon’s lines from ‘Tender’ in unison at Glastonbury, well after the band have finished playing, speaks more of how much the support of fans means to Blur, more than any of the interviews throughout the film – it is a moving, classic moment. No Distance Left to Run, is a masterfully executed, technicolour tribute to a bands who’s story is worthy of a full-length documentary. This is a must for Blur fanatics, but also a worthwhile experience for anyone with just a passing interest in popular music.
No Distance Left To Run is available to stream until 22/3 on iPlayer here. It is also out now on DVD from all popular outlets. A shortened version of this article was published previously in Faux Vol 1.1.