Love Live Long Review
The very first Gumball 3000 rally took place in 1999, instigating an annual event in which various celebrities, extreme sports stars and millionaires go on a six to eight-day, 3000-mile adventure through a number of exotic countries and back. Inspired by the 1976 movie The Gumball Rally (a precursor to The Cannonball Run involving a 3000-mile coast-to-coast race in the US), it is perhaps unsurprising that it should, in turn, prompt some films of its own. Gumball 3000: The Movie emerged in 2003, a Burt Reynolds-narrated documentary that received a limited theatrical run in the UK before attaining a cult-ish audience on DVD. Two years later saw the arrival of Gumball 300: 6 Days in May, which went straight to home video market, a move followed by subsequent documentaries, right up to this year’s Gumball 3000: LDN 2 NYC. Keen to branch out, there has also been a single season of the reality TV programme entitled simply Gumball 3000, whilst the 2005 involvement of various Jackass performers prompted a one-off television special; Wikipedia also informs of a hand in commercials and music videos. Yet whilst there may be a diversity in terms of medium, each of these films, documentaries, and so on is effectively just a slight variation on the last. These are ramshackle productions, essentially nothing more than a compilation of those various celebrities, sports stars and millionaires goofing off for the cameras. They have a tendency to resemble home videos, albeit ones on sale to the general public, and as such come with all the weaknesses inherent in the format.
In 2007, however, something interesting happened. Eschewing the documentary format of the other Gumball 3000 affiliated titles, the brand was used to finance a more conventional narrative feature. Except that it was Mike Figgis who was approached to direct and conceive of the film, and at this point Figgis was in the midst of an experimental phase. Since Timecode in 2000 and its multi-screen construction, the director had been increasingly moving away from his earlier much acclaimed, and straightforward, dramas such as Internal Affairs and Leaving Las Vegas. Hotel, from 2001, utilised an all-star cast but also digital video and semi-improvisatory techniques. The Battle of Orgreave, made the same year, was a collaboration with the Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller; part art-piece, part documentary. Co/Ma was a 2004 collaboration with nineteen student filmmakers in which a full-length was made from scratch in just seven days. A number of short films also appeared - some for Channel 4 or Sky Arts, others with less expected funding; one starring Kate Moss, another devoted to a performance by Belgian dancer Ann Van den Broek - each of which fell somewhere on the documentary/experimental cinema divide. Occasionally more conventional work would appear, such as an episode of The Sopranos or the Jeff Bridges feature The Door in the Floor, but it was now abundantly clear as to what kind of filmmaker Figgis had become.
Reportedly Gumball supplied Figgis with £100,000 and stipulated only that the Gumball 3000 should be incorporated into the film’s narrative in some way. I’m not entirely sure that they knew what they were letting themselves in for, but the result is a curious mix of many of Figgis’ techniques and devices of the last ten years. Entitled Love Live Long, the film is essentially a two-hander between Sophie Winkelman and Daniel Lapaine. He plays a British-based, Austrian-born hotel heir taking part in the rally. She plays a young woman, emotionally lost, who has recently attempted suicide. Figgis wrote an initial treatment but allowed his pair of actors to improvise their dialogue over the course of a number of days. He did this whilst filming parts of the actual rally, in Istanbul and Bratislava, with an epilogue of sorts captured in London a few days later. Apparently it took less than a week to actually shoot Love Live Long. Digital cameras were utilised, unsurprisingly perhaps given that Figgis also published his Digital Film-Making handbook the same year as filming took place. He also incorporates himself into the narrative, as a journalist who is recording some of the footage we see, plus there are more conventional documentary inserts.
In combination these elements add up to a small-scale drama of a young woman and a married man told in a number of realist ways: the improvisatory nature; the digital camerawork (at one point switching to night vision as though to emphasise the voyeurism inherent in non-celluloid); the use of real events and real documentary footage as a backdrop. At one point we even get reference to the fatal accident that occurred in Macedonia during the 2007 rally, resulting in the death of an elderly couple. It isn’t explicitly incorporated into the narrative, but nonetheless it sits there and colours proceedings - a perfect encapsulation of how fact and fiction intermingle in Love Live Long. Furthermore Figgis never tips the audience off as to where the divide lies and so many scenes exist within a grey area. Even the character played by Lapaine is introduced in strictly documentary terms - a to-camera interview in which he discusses his background and the Gumball 3000 itself - which will surely wrong-foot a number of viewers. Indeed, at times Figgis even uses this blurring to his advantage, thus making the unfolding drama between Lapaine and Winkelman seem all the more real and intense.
With that said, the off-the-cuff production methods necessarily result in a film that is a little rough around the edges. Love Live Long isn’t quite as tight as its 76-minute running time would suggest. There are longueurs, distractions and moments that feel either over-egged or underdeveloped. Winkelman, for example, will traipse around the streets of Istanbul during some kind of public demonstration (plenty of folk brandishing Turkish flags who are far from ignoring the camera) in a scene that feels like an entirely vacuous homage to Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool and its own blend of fact and fiction; the use of trip-hop on the soundtrack only adds to the posturing. Likewise some of the moments recording the various rally drivers appear entirely empty and devoid of reason, although here I wonder if Figgis is trying to tell us something. The crux of Love Live Long is a nocturnal encounter between Winkelman and Lapaine in his hotel room: she just wants meaningless, degrading sex in an extreme drunken state so that she’ll forget the entire thing; his own wishes aren’t too far removed from supplying exactly that. We know this because Figgis has also incorporated her ‘suicide diaries’ into the narrative, to-camera confessions in which, during one of them, she owns up to wanting exactly this kind of casual, empty encounter: “some big fucking idiot to fuck me hard.”
The disdain with which these words are uttered is hard to ignore. And it makes me wonder whether Figgis, and by extension Love Live Long, possess that same level of disdain. It’s been easy to dismiss the previous Gumball 3000 films simply because of the people they portray: rich kids at their most indulgent, ie to a point where any sympathy or connection with them is entirely removed. They’re flaunting their wealth in a mostly distasteful fashion . Why any audience would want to revel in that is completely beyond me. Figgis’ rich kid seems to be cut from much the same cloth - there’s nothing particularly likeable about him and he’s the heir to a fortune as opposed to a self-made millionaire which only serves to make his actions all the more detestable; he makes his living from “attending parties” we are told. Later on we see him cheat on his wife, whilst on the phone to her, during that nocturnal encounter. It’s a fascinating scene, fully living up to that desire to be degraded expressed by Winkelman’s character. Needless to say, he only comes across as all the more loathsome as a result.
So is the film that was financed by Gumball 3000 simply a critique of the Gumball 3000? Admittedly it contains little of the actual racing, but then it does portray its driver as a complete arsehole and what on-road footage it does show results in a crash. There’s also mention of the Macedonia fatality that year, which would lead to Nick Morley being found guilty of “endangering traffic, leading to death”, plus there’s a Lynchian nightclub scene, one that again straddles fact and fiction, in which Winkelman is leered at by various men whilst non-diegetic rumbles occupy the soundtrack. In other words this is hardly a ringing endorsement of the brand and certainly not a film to place alongside any of the DVD documentaries. Indeed, part of the appeal of Love Live Long is the fact that Figgis seems to have gotten away with it. Of course he’s done so in a low-budget digital feature that remains little seen (this particular disc is finally appearing three years after the film’s 2008 London Film Festival screening) so arguably the impact isn’t that great, but there’s nonetheless a subversive streak to be admired. It also lends some weight to the drama which, admittedly, it needs. There are some wonderful moments contained within - and that central scene is electrifying - though never quite enough to make Love Live Long match its potential. But then I’m sure Figgis would simply shrug and acknowledge that the film was just an experiment, and an interesting one at that.
Love Live Long is gaining a UK DVD release via Verve. Encoded for Region 2, this is a somewhat basic release adorned by just a trailer. The presentation is a similarly simple affair, complete with basic stereo soundtrack, though in truth it’s hard to determine its qualities. We get an anamorphic transfer of the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, but given the digital origins there is little way of discerning which flaws are inherent in the production and which are the result of the transfer. Figgis utilised a number of different cameras (and camera settings) whilst filming prompting an unavoidable inconsistency in image quality. He also wasn’t using high end digital cameras and as such we shouldn’t expect pristine visuals. What we get is as rough around the edges as the film itself and, for all I can tell, the disc may very well be a perfect representation of that. Likewise the soundtrack composed of mostly scoring and sound design (those rumbles in the nightclub crop up elsewhere) with the occasional snatched piece of dialogue. Again any issues with clarity or volume would appear to be inherent in the production, though there isn’t the means of assessing just how correct a claim would be. The bottom line is that any ‘flaws’ do make sense in the overall scheme of things and could be justified from this viewpoint. In other words they’re part of the film and as such shouldn’t spoil any enjoyment. Those hoping to find optional English subtitles, or indeed any additional subtitling, will be disappointed.