Brave (DVD)


EMI, 1995

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


After writing reviews of Marillion’s music for the life of this site, I am well aware that their albums are not the kind of discs that someone can give a cursory listen to and just fire off an opinion on. I have had to spend months (or, in at least one case, a year) listening to them to even begin to comprehend the layers of the stories that make up some of the songs.

So, when watching Brave, the Richard Stanley film that corresponds to Marillion’s album of the same name, I knew it was going to be multi-layered as well. But, I have to admit… I don’t have a fucking clue what this film was supposed to be about. Unfortunately, I think one could say the same thing for Stanley.

Marillion fans, take note: while I am well aware that the music is a central part of this film, this review is not – repeat that, is not – a review of the album. At the time of writing this, I am aware this is still an album I have yet to review of Marillion’s, and I hope to do this soon.

Here’s what we know: the album is based around an actual tale of a woman found walking along the Severn Bridge, taken into police custody, and who refused to tell the authorities anything. Based on an appeal to the public, vocalist Steve Hogarth came up with the seed of an idea that turned into a full-blown concept album, featuring Hogarth’s imagery of what this woman’s story might have been.

What we don’t know is whether Hogarth’s vision matches up with the tale that Stanley tells – or, in many cases, doesn’t tell. All we can figure out is that, in the beginning, the woman is being questioned by the authorities, under hypnosis, to try and get a history of who she is and how she ended up under their watch (more on that in a minute). From the initial scenes of the film, it seems like the girl (Josie Ayers) has a normal upbringing, and the story actually seems to start when she is wandering aimlessly through London. One would assume from the song “Runaway” that she has, in fact, fled her home – but for what reason? Was there a poor relationship, or even a sexually abusive one, with her father? What makes her fall in with the crowd she meets up with in a seedier side of the city?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Again, relying solely on song titles, one has to assume that Ayers’s character falls prey to drug use/abuse. (Her boyfriend, played by Russell Copley, is seen at one point with a hypodermic needle, but one never sees into whose arm it is plunged.) It also seems that sex is a form of abuse, where the face of the boyfriend changes into that of her father… then to Hogarth himself.

The problem early on with Brave is that not enough of the backstory is told. Maybe it’s left for the viewer to make up their own minds as to what’s going on… but there is so much information missing that we’re left scratching our heads, asking just what in the hell is going on, and why the girl has such a fascination with the characters in the masks. (As far as I can figure out, the appeal of this faceless character is that it equals her escape from a hellish existence – thus, the faceless character is death itself.)

In the film, Ayers’s character is hospitalized / in police custody due to a suicide attempt, made when she and her friends took over her father’s house while he was away and trashed it (though there never is an explanation here, either, for why this is done). The scene where she is discovered, frankly, is disturbing…as it was most likely designed to be.

The allure of the faceless character is enough to cause Ayers’s character to escape protective custody, and to return to the slum she shared with her friends, only to discover her boyfriend in the throes of passion with another of her friends. In a fit of jealousy and rage, she appears to kill him, leading the social worker (played by Anthony Story) who has studied her case to discover she is heading to the Severn Bridge. Finding her there, he makes an attempt to prevent her from leaping to her death, only to arrive a fraction of a moment too late.

To be blunt, it is only the music of Marillion that makes Brave a film worth watching, and is the sole key to understanding this fractured, half-told story of a film. Look, I understand that there was a budget, and coming up with an hour-long film in lieu of separate music videos was groundbreaking at the time. But I’d have rather had them take the time to flesh out the story with some concrete details, and have them explain just what is going on – mental illness? Drug abuse? Sexual abuse? A little from each column? – and make the music almost secondary to the story, becoming a pleasant backing track providing just a little more color to the scene. As the film is, it’s a mess.

The making-of documentary tells more of the story of who Marillion is and how the album Brave came to be than it is a tale of the film itself. In a way, this tends to be a good thing, and it does provide a little more insight into the band (as well as a lighthearted look behind the scenes – something a rare few actually get to witness). Honestly, I’d have rather had this be an hour in length and just a few music videos interspersed (though I do understand that Brave is an album whose story needs to be told in full, not in five minute snippets). But, what’s done is done.

One day, a full-length movie will complement a concept album and tell its tale in striking, sometimes shocking, detail. One day, too, I believe a proper film will be made to tell the story that Hogarth outlined through his lyrics on Brave. As it sits now, this film falls short on both counts.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


Okay, so I had a brain fart and forgot about "Pink Floyd: The Wall" in my last comment about movies based on concept albums. Thought I should point out my stupidity before everyone else does.
One could also say the Sgt Peppers movie was a film based on a concept album. But of course, the movie is crap. And the album really isn't much of a concept album. So never mind. Then there's Tommy. Or Jesus Christ Superstar, which was an album first. Ok, I'll stop.
I knew that someone was going to call me on "Tommy"... that's the last time I write a review via text message while driving. What I want to know is, when will someone be brave enough to try and put WASP's "The Crimson Idol" on the big-screen?

© 2011 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI, and is used for informational purposes only.