❉ A fabulous documentary about Flowered Up’s great pop video and its legacy.
“It’s difficult to talk about ‘Weekender’ without raving about it (pun intended). One interviewee describes it as being as if “Ken Loach and Ken Russell met up to make a rave film”. It’s a film you can watch repeatedly and notice little details that can lead to endless discussion.”
Late one night in 1992 Channel 4 screened a short music film called Weekender. A promo film based around Flowered Up’s 13-minute track of the same name, Weekender had been banned by the BBC and ITV, the only two other major TV stations of the time. It seemed to capture the hedonistic ups and downs of a night out in London at the tail end of the rave scene. It was daring and edgy, and it was magnificent.
I saw the film when it was shown on that late night screening and it made an immediate impression. Now, thirty years later, Chloé Raunet’s fabulous documentary I Am Weekender details the making of the film, the euphoric but sometimes tragic lives of some of its participants and the effect that it had on later popular culture.
Originally filmed by successful film maker Wiz (Andrew John Whiston) Weekender was based on a song which was originally 20 minutes long and of which an amazing 40-minute version reportedly exists. Cut down to a perfect 12 plus minutes the song was also remixed, in his usual “smash it to pieces” way, by Andy Weatherall as Weatherall’s Weekender (Audrey is a little bit partial mix). Weatherall and Farley’s iconic Boys Own magazine were early supporters of Flowered Up and the remix permeates the beginning of the film as well as being played almost in full at the end.
Sometimes dismissed at the time as a North London version of the Happy Mondays, Flowered Up were a lot more than that. From a Camden council estate, the band included the ragamuffin brothers Liam and Joe Maher, various musicians and a dancer called Barry Mooncult. Appearing on the front cover of the Melody Maker before they had a record out, the band and their manager Des Penney led a hedonistic lifestyle. The song’s lyrics are actually disparaging of the 9 to 5 working, part-time “King or Queen for a weekend” clubber. By their own admission the band went clubbing seven days a week for nearly two years, so they were no lightweights, and of course drugs were definitely a part of the culture. At the time the song was recorded heroin was creeping into the singer’s lifestyle. Liam and Joe would sadly both die from the drug in later years.
Weekender was a fabulous track that blew the head off record label owner Jeff Barrett of Heavenly when he first heard it. It also blew the mind and inspired the director Wiz. When Barrett sat him between two speakers in his apartment and played it to him in full after a chance encounter he declared. “I’ve got it…I know exactly what to do”, visualising the whole film immediately.
What Wizz created was one of the great “going out” films. In doing so he took inspiration from and quoted from those other celebrations of the working class night out: Quadrophenia, Letter to Brezhnev and Saturday Night Fever. The do-it-yourself vibrant filmmaking of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was also a big influence. The full version of Weekender (see below) is included on this Blu-Ray release.
The documentary itself is a full-length feature and includes interviews with surviving members and friends of the band. It also includes interviews with actors Lee Whitlock and Anna Haigh, members of the Heavenly staff and fans of the film. The fans of the film are an impressive list and include Irvine Welsh, Lynne Ramsey, Mark Moore and David Holmes all interviewed on Zoom. Danny Boyle, who doesn’t actually appear in the documentary, is also quoted as saying that there wouldn’t have been Trainspotting if not for Weekender. The documentary includes film and images from Wiz’s archive, and the Blu-ray has excellent sleeve notes from Wiz himself, journalist Miranda Sawyer, writer Adelle Stripe and Flowered Up manager Des Penney.
One of the most poignant interviews in the documentary is with the main actor Lee Whitlock. The two main characters in Weekender are Whitlock’s character the weekend clubber “Little Joe” and the (hallucinatory?) love interest “the E Queen”, played by ex-Bocca Juniors singer Anna Haigh.
A professional actor with an impressive career before and after the film, Whitlock was an active participant in the clubbing lifestyle, as were most of the cast. Chosen to play “Little Joe” after the band’s Liam Maher was unable to play the part himself, Whitlock is absolutely perfect in the role. Sadly, Lee died from cancer at almost the exact time this documentary was finished and the interview here is a touching epitaph.
It’s difficult to talk about Weekender without raving about it (pun intended). One interviewee describes it as being as if “Ken Loach and Ken Russell met up to make a rave film”. It’s a film you can watch repeatedly and notice little details – the way the supermarket, club and toilet scenes are shot, the meaning of the Hari Krishna and penguin scenes and why Barry Mooncult has got a bandage on his hand can lead to endless discussion!
Weekender ambiguous in its depiction of the lifestyle. The comedown after the imaginary love scene has Joe emerging into the morning light, to a soundtrack of laughter and motorcycles revving, and leads to scenes that seem to suggest the character is returning to the 9 to 5 from birth to death cycle. The last scene quotes Phil Daniels’s speech from Quadrophenia: “You can take that mail and that franking machine and all that other rubbish I have to go about with, and you can stuff them right up your arse!”
This documentary is, at heart, a celebration. Finishing with Weatherall’s brilliant remix, it ends with the words…
“Dedicated to sufferers of Saturday Night Fever everywhere. May we never be cured.”
It’s a great documentary and a great film.
Blu-ray special features:
❉ Weekender (1992, 19 mins): the film itself, remastered from the original camera negative and presented in a new 2K restoration
❉ New audio commentary by director WIZ, recorded and produced by Adam Dunlop
❉ Rushes Revisited (Adam Dunlop, 2023, 9 mins): four sketches made from unseen rushes featuring previously unheard isolated tracks from the original recordings
❉ Take It (1991, 4 mins): Flowered Up promotional video directed by WIZ
❉ Phobia (1990, 4 mins): Flowered Up promotional video directed by Paul Cannell
❉ It’s On (1990, 4 mins): Flowered Up promotional video directed by Pinko
❉ Raise (1990, 4 mins): Bocca Juniors promotional video directed by WIZ and featuring Anna Haigh
❉ Nish (1990, 4 mins): a short film about early acid house culture by WIZ
❉ Turn It Up! (2023, 27 mins): Chloé Raunet discusses the making of her documentary
❉ Strictly limited to 2,000 copies featuring a slipcase, postcard and a 36-page illustrated booklet with newly commissioned essays by Miranda Sawyer, Adelle Stripe, Des Penney and WIZ
UK / 1992 + 2023 / colour / 131 mins (including extras) / English language with optional subtitles for the Deaf and partial hearing / original aspect ratios / BD50: 1080p, 24fps, Dolby Digital stereo audio (48kHz/24-bit)
❉ BFI released ‘I am Weekender’ Limited Edition Blu-ray (Cat. no. BFIB1487), iTunes and Amazon Prime on 19 June 2023. Cert 15. Run time: 131 mins (including extras). Blu-ray presentation RRP: £19.99. Pre-order from the BFI Shop: https://shop.bfi.org.uk/i-am-weekender-blu-ray.html
❉ James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre. His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1