Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Soho Story (promoting The Promoter)!

THE PROMOTER (76 minutes)
Friday 5th October 2012

Preview screening – Soho Sanctum Hotel – first showing @ 7.50pm

The first ever public showing of The Promoter was preceded by a frenetic, barely scripted introduction given by the subject of the film himself – wherein Robert Pereno (pronounced 'Pear-Eno', just in case you've always wondered) gave out quotations to be read out by selected members of the audience, many of whom where close friends at this first screening (a second followed later the same night).

After a few technical hitches at the start, the subsequent documentary might best be described as a study in how to avoid the pitfalls of the entertainment industry. Produced by the husband and wife team of Ed and Sam Edwards for their own Jagged Crow company, their latest documentary is both funny and poignant in equal measures; and sometimes at the same time too! It’s also extremely personal and revealing, allowing the singer/club promoter/raconteur to tell his own story (mainly seated, cigarette in hand, in several long B&W sequences), supported by talking head cut-aways – with some noticeably tightly shot close-ups – as well as by selected photographs as the story unfolds. And what a story it is!

Born in Calcutta – which he notes was the same year that Seve Ballesteros and Osama Bin Laden were also born (musings on the single-mindedness of dictators being an occasional, running theme in this particularly narrative) – the young Robert found himself organising parties for friends as a way to gain the attention it seems he craved. This extended through into his adult life, through an interchanging mix of bands (such as Shock, and later Pleasure and the Beast) and club promoting – "the money was far better", he wryly notes at one point – with various tabloid encounters, breakdowns, fall-outs and abandoned projects detailed along the way. Indeed, towards the close of the film – shot during a tumultuous year when his latest marriage collapsed suddenly – Robert reveals some self-awareness of being the agent of much of this misfortune. "Did I dedicate myself to being in a band?", he asks. "Not really. Did I dedicate myself to being an actor? Again, not really" admitting that, after so many years of doing so "I can't run away anymore, I'm so stuck with myself".

The film closes with one-time protégé Old Fashioned Daisy (Daisy Tallulah Johnson), performing a soulful version of Hotel California on a miniature acoustic guitar. It seems a rapprochement must have occurred, as Daisy features strongly in the latter half of the film. Several full song performances are showcased, along with clips from a dub-heavy reggae take on Anarchy in the UK film at the Soho Festival back in 2011, a soul-tinged acoustic guitar version of that Sex Pistols classic, and a duet of the same song between herself and Adam Ant shot in the same film club that this screening was being held in – a venue that Robert ran for some years before walking away from the club last year (and considering this is also where this screening was held hints at another significant clearing of the air). Possessing a strong voice, and with audiences still hungry for this style of music, she clearly has a future and given the tight focus of the documentary this film very generously gives her plenty of space to shine.

The Promoter was well-received by the audience, garnering both warm laughs and applause both from friends and acquaintances of Robert and other interested parties. Quite how this film will play to audiences not so familiar with Robert Pereno or his work is less clear, although the documentary is certainly absorbing enough to keep the viewer anticipating what the next unexpected twist in the journey might be. One can only commend Robert for allowing such a deeply personal look at his life an airing. It's a genuinely brave act to endorse such a candid expose, and I did find myself wondering alter what other stories couldn’t be included in order to keep within the film's running time.

In my walk back through Regent Street in the Friday night drizzle I came away with the impression that, in reality, it isn't that Robert doesn't care enough about the most important things in his life, it could well be that he actually cares far, far too much. Perhaps it’s this thought that scares him enough that he pushes those things away lest they get too out-of-control, leading to a repeating chain of regret, despair and eventually new-found enthusiasm for another new project. It explains a lot that Robert only recently discovered that he suffers from a degree of Bi-Polarity, and one can only hope that the rollercoaster life he's led so far has finally levelled out on to a more even path.

If you get a chance to catch The Promoter at a future film festival, and hopefully eventually on a download or commercial DVD release, I'd definitely recommend you take the time to sample it, although I think I’d make sure that any impressionable youngsters were kept well out of the way, not only due to some of the riper language, but the mild nudity in the dream sequence towards the end (some surreally out-of-place models imitating Old Master poses). Thanks to Sam for very kindly inviting me to sample an evening in the company of Robert Pereno. It's a night I shall never forget. We’ll update you on future plans for the documentary as and when they're firmed up.

(A longer version of this review will be printed in #18 of re:VOX magazine, due in December 2012)

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