19 Aug 2013

One Direction documentary is all pop and no punch

The idea of sitting though a documentary about One Direction would doubtless horrify many discerning adults or music purists. Not me.


I love a bit of pop music and know a good deal more about One Direction than is perhaps wise to admit in the intellectual hotbed which is the Channel 4 News office. My kids are big fans and my husband chased them down the road once (for the aforementioned children, he always claimed).

But the fact that the documentary was directed by Morgan Spurlock – the critically acclaimed film-maker – made the prospect of the 90 minute One Direction: This Is Us 3D genuinely appealing – intriguing even. Spurlock, is best known for Super Size Me, when he ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days. It was a pointed and fascinating look at America – the power of corporations, the threat of obesity, the devastating consequences for huge numbers of people living lives that were slowly killing them. Spurlock ended up with an engorged liver, depressed and 25 pounds heavier for his trouble but also with an Oscar nomination and a reputation as an innovative and surprising director.

So what would Mr Spurlock tell us about the boy band phenomenon which is One Direction, a band manufactured by X Factor but seemingly destined to be bigger than The Beatles?

Well they’re a phenomenon make no mistake. Despite losing in the final of the X Factor their fan base grew like wildfire. spreading inexorably across the UK then Europe and America. Simon Cowell – oh yes, he is the producer and makes a beautifully-shot appearance – explains how in every sense they have been created by their fans. Post X Factor it was their fans who were promoting them, creating their success through social media even before they had cut a record.

Spurlock has insisted he had total access to the boys, 24-7 but there’s little evidence of off-guard moments. Virtually all the interviews are painstakingly-lit sit downs. There’s plenty of boyish mucking about; dressing up in disguise to fool the fans or driving buggies with gay abandon but there’s no falling out of nightclubs, falling in love with the wrong girl, bad language, drinking or depressed moments. Maybe it’s because the boys are exactly as painted – five lads from working class backgrounds who are living the dream and are wise enough not to throw it away?


All of that is fine and as far as it goes it makes an entertaining piece of telly – as long as you’re a One Direction fan. But what’s not clear is why Morgan Spurlock directed it? As every minute of concert footage passed, or the camera followed them on yet another rooftop waving at a sea of screaming girls below, you are left wondering, when is Spurlock going to do the big reveal, when am I going to learn something new or truly unexpected here?

What did I learn? The boys seemed nice, pretty ordinary. In fact. It was amusing – though vaguely depressing – to see that even when teenage boys become superstars they still can’t focus enough to get dressed by themselves or get out of the house on time without manhandling of some sort.

More from Channel 4 News: One Direction fans vent anger over Channel 4 documentary

Some of the most poignant – but annoyingly brief – insights came from the snippets of interviews with their parents. They’d sent their boys to the X Factor audition more than two years ago and barely seen them since. One mother talked about her son coming home only five days in those two and half years. One contented herself with a cardboard cut-out of her boy – all of this and much more One Direction merchandise is available worldwide. A dad looked on the edge of tears as he described how fame had taken his relationship with his son away. It was the closest the film gets to any suggestion that One Direction’s story might have some negative possibilities.

And what of the fans who create and sustain the band’s popularity? I won’t say they remain silent – they appear hysterically crying or screaming most of the time. But there’s precious little of just why these boys mean so much to them: why they – as one brief vox pop suggests – they fill a void for the girls that “real” boys/life doesn’t?

I’d like to have heard much more from them but this was all about the boys. And it all looked pretty perfect. Like a very expensive pop video but not much more – which, from Morgan Spurlock, was the biggest surprise in this documentary.

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