Monday 5 July 2021


Part of the 'Northern Focus' strand at this year's Sheffield DocFest, I Get Knocked Down sees retired radical and former Chumbawamba frontman Dunstan Bruce reckon with his role in taking the group - temporarily - into the mainstream by signing with major record label EMI and achieving chart success, well away from their anarcho-punk roots that had served the band for the previous 15 years.

Sheffield DocFest has a history of offering great docs on forgotten or unheralded figures from the world of music (such as an infamous early screening of Searching for Sugarman where they surprised the audience by bringing the presumed dead Rodriguez out on stage), but if you'd have told me one of my favourite docs of the festival this year would be fronted by the former lead singer of Chumbawamba, I'd certainly have been surprised. Sure, I bought their anthemic single Tubthumping back in the late 90s (and still own a copy), but would a documentary about the rise and fall of the self-proclaimed anarchist pop stars really offer that much? As it turns out, yes, as I Get Knocked Down was an energetic ride through life on the outskirts of stardom, with that brief moment before the millennium where this little band from Leeds exploded onto the world stage and could lay claim to have the biggest song in the world.

Co-directing with Sophie Robinson, Bruce serves as our guide through the history of the band, visiting his former bandmates (drummer Harry now works in a family friendly musical variety show, singer Alice Nutter - interviewed doing her ironing - is now a successful writer) and their most infamous exploits - like when guitarist Danbert Nobacon became front page news by dumping a bucket of ice over MP John Prescott's head at the 1998 Brit Awards, leading to his parents receiving the best piece of hate mail I've ever heard of, "I hope Burnley get relegated". All the while Bruce is shadowed by a mysterious baby-headed figure (taken from the cover of their breakout 8th album, Tubthumper), who stalks his every move to offer withering putdowns about the now 59 year old Bruce's ego and desire for artistic recognition. I Get Knocked Down is a documentary that isn't afraid to get a bit surreal.

Asking the question of whether the band's contribution to political causes absolves them of forever bearing the Scarlet Letter tag of 'sell outs', it's a film that will have many ageing activists asking if they've done enough, particularly after the year 2020 was when the power of protest was so evident. Bruce still clearly has activism close to his heart (he laments that "once upon a time I really thought I could change the world"), and this film is a loving tribute to all former radicals who may have had some of their rough edges sanded off over time, but are still able to stand with their principles intact. This year's hidden gem from DocFest's selection of music docs, I Get Knocked Down is madcap, witty and formally inventive - what else would you expect from the frontman of Chumbawamba?



This review is expanded from my write-up for this year's festival, which can be found here.

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