Oil City Confidential Movie Review
Canvey Island in the Thames estuary is known as Oil City for the refinery that dominates the horizon. It's also a scruffy beach community and home to the members of Dr Feelgood. Lee, Wilko, Figure (Martin) and Sparko (Sparkes) started playing music out of camaraderie and boredom, then realised it might be a way off the island when their distinctive style caught on in 1973. Without trying to build a slick image as a band, they made it onto the cover of NME before they even had a recording contract.
The film pieces together this story through first-hand memories recalled on camera and illustrated by old footage, stills, recordings and hilarious cutaways to archive movies. It charts their rise to global fame and then the issues that pulled them apart; the main problem is a clash between Wilko and Lee, fuelled by rampant egos, plus of course drugs and alcohol. Temple captures all of this with a wonderful sense of the time and place, focussing on the personalities of these guys and the society they lived in.
He also places them carefully within music history, as their style of R&B sounds intriguingly like punk before there was such a thing. And Temple shows us their influences, from the blues masters to the Shadows and the Stones. This is a lively, engaging account told mainly through personal reminiscences, which gives it all a much more intimate tone, drawing out both the wit and warmth of these extremely creative men.
We are also acutely aware of how young they were when they faced their imminent fame, completely intoxicated with the life they were entering after such a dull childhood in a forgotten corner of Britain. For a change, it's also nice to see a film that takes a realistic approach to drug use (it wasn't all bad: shock!) and also puts issues of mortality in context without getting maudlin. Dr Feelgood fans will love this.