Review: Billy Childish is Dead: a film by Graham Bendel

Billy Childish is Dead: a film by Graham Bendel
Cherry Red Films

Street: 2005

This is a full-length documentary film that sets out to offer insight into the life and art of Billy Childish. The film’s director followed Childish around for several months, through art openings, band performances, poetry readings and down time at home. The result is an hour and a half of intimate, sometimes disturbing insight into the daily life and casual conversation of the prolific artist. We are treated to video footage of several Childish bands, including thee Headcoats, the Buff Medways and some really rare video of thee Mighty Caesars. We are also introduced to band members and friends who help to push forward the Childish narrative. Holly Golightly (thee Headcoatees), Bruce Brand (thee Headcoats, thee Milkshakes), and Pogues singer Shane McGowan all throw in their two cents about the reigning king of British garage. There is also input from several music historians and art critics. This multi-person approach at chronicling Childish’s history is the most telling and the most important part of the film. This because, as scholars of garage music will tell you, most of what we know about Billy Childish comes directly from his own writings. Having a fresh and (sometimes) more truthful account of Childish’s life, from his days in the Pop Rivits to his work as a poet and painter, is essential to really understanding how his art shapes his life (and vice-versa). Where the film is its most sincere (and the most like its namesake), is that it doesn’t push the watcher to think one thing or another about Billy Childish. It simply presents all that it can about the man and lets the viewer decide if they are in the presence of a genius or in the presence of a cockroach. In this way it is a solid, true documentary, well shot, well assembled, and full of absolutely priceless interviews and footage. Oh, and the dude from the Pogues is fucking terrifying. -James Bennett