By John Adamian
11:30 AM EDT, September 25, 2013
Morrissey fans are true fanatics. The former Smiths singer is the kind of artist — with the kind of voice (unusual, prone to falsetto warbling), lyrics (emotional, death-obsessed) and personality (outspoken, sarcastic) — that you either love, love, love, with an almost religious fervor, or else you kind of hate him, and perhaps consider him an art-damaged whiner. The fans, those with Moz tattoos and license plates, those that know every word by heart, who have seen him dozens and dozens of times, will possibly have to make do with the select screenings of Morrissey 25, a concert movie that was filmed in March of this year in an intimate show at the 1,500-seat auditorium of Hollywood High School. (Tickets for the concert sold out in 12 seconds.) The film is showing at three theaters in Connecticut on Sept. 29.
Shortly after this show was filmed, Morrissey, 54, canceled the rest of his 2013 tour dates, in part because of health problems. And earlier this month it was announced that the long-awaited publication of Morrissey's autobiography had been postponed because of a dispute between the singer and the book's publisher. Adding to the sense of Morrissey-related doom — which is never far from a man who sings over and over again about longing to die, urging on Armageddon and other endtime fixations — the singer suggested earlier this year that he might retire in 2014.
Few artists have captured better than Morrissey that sense of isolation, alienation, confused longing, anger and hopelessness that characterize the high school and college years for some sensitive souls. And even though he's filled out in the face, gone gray, and has a slightly more barrel-chested physique, Moz is still in touch with those feelings. After some opening scenes of fans testifying to their love of the singer, and glimpses of him shaking hands and giving a few hugs backstage, Morrissey takes the stage, in a printed shirt and jeans, Elvis-like with his hint of a pompadour. A few songs in he alludes to the setting, "You never ever, ever, ever escape from school," he says. "No matter how old you are it crushes, and crushes, and crushes you down, well it did me anyway."
Morrissey is subdued as a performer. This film marks Morrissey's 25 years as a solo artist. There's not a ton of on-stage banter or dramatic stagework. His most rock-star move is to slash his microphone cord like a bullwhip, making graceful undulations. Oh, and he tends to take his shirt (one of several very nice pink or patterned button-ups) off at every show and throw it to the audience, though he doesn't remain topless for long, heading backstage for another crisp shirt. Morrissey inherited the punk contempt for rock's bombastic gestures, and yet he still conjures a level of emotion and vulnerability that many more gritty rockers find perplexing. With a kind of bemused curiosity, Morrissey hands off the mic to the adoring crowd at a few points, "Would you like to speak?" he asks. Fans basically profess their love for him and thank him for existing. It's awkward. There's a strange tent-meeting feel at these moments.
But Morrissey has always understood the zeal of fanhood. Before he was a star he famously wrote numerous letters to British music magazines extolling his favorite acts (T. Rex, the New York Dolls) and criticizing those he considered inferior (the Ramones). His band is workmanlike and efficient. There are no showboats. They're all there to back Morrissey, who is the clear star. The players even wear matching T-shirts, uniforms really, to stress their secondary roles. Morrissey even has them perform a strange act of loyalty, a declaration of faith, introducing themselves: "I am Jesse Tobias; I play guitar for Morrissey."
The most solid material in the show is the pre-solo stuff. (We have Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to thank for that, in part.) Smiths songs like "The Boy With the Thorn in His Side," "Still Ill" and "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" still sound fantastic. As does Morrissey's solo masterpiece "Everyday is Like Sunday." His voice has held up, though he clearly avoids a few high spots. His mock-operatic falsetto doesn't soar like it did in 1986. With 25 years as a solo artist, Morrissey has plenty of post-Smiths material to choose from, and much of it is strong. He does an admirable job here of avoiding the full-on nostalgia-act effect, though I could have done without non-stellar solo tunes like "You're the One For Me, Fatty," but that's just me. Super-fans don't much care for such qualifications. A chance to gaze at Morrissey — older and maybe less agile, but still with those brows and that chin — and to hear him croon will bring the devoted to the theaters. It may not be the same as spying a vision of the Virgin Mary, but it will hold fans over at least until that autobiography comes out.
Criterion Cinemas 7, 86 Temple St., New Haven, (203) 498-2500
Criterion Cinemas at Blue Back Square, 42 South Main St., West Hartford, (860) 523-4600
Majestic 6, 118 Summer St., Stamford, (203) 323-1690, (all three, bowtiecinemas.com)
Fairfield Cinemas at Bullard Square, 41 Blackrock Turnpike, Fairfield, (203) 339-7149, showcasecinemas.com
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