Typically, music documentaries feature high-profile, big name bands. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you’ve never heard of Heavy Load – I hadn’t until I saw it at the Cornwall Film Festival a few years ago. It’s one of those films that’s best viewed if you don’t know much about it; but if I want you to see it, I’ve gotta write a blog post, right?
Heavy Load is a band made up of five men, three of whom are disabled and/or have learning difficulties. Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell found out about them while he was at a low point in his life and, seeing how happy and enthusiastic they were, decided to help them and himself by following them with a camera for two years for the purpose of this film. And what a film it is!
The band started out playing at community centres to audiences primarily consisting of disabled people. When they began to play evening gigs at local pubs, they found that most of their audience buggered off early, not because they didn’t like their music (mainly cover versions of classic punk hits) but because their carers had to get them home before they finished their shifts. The band decided to do something about this and launched their Stay Out Late campaign, fighting for their right to party. Despite their learning difficulties, Heavy Load are just like any other punk band; as bass player Paul points out, all they want to do is ‘stay up late, get pissed and get shagged”.
Rothwell’s film charts the band’s success as well as the musicians’ personal lives. Drummer Michael is at the centre of the film and it’s him we sympathise with when he decides to go solo. He just wants to play music and be happy – something we can all relate to to some degree!
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a ‘serious’ documentary. It is laugh-out-loud funny, whilst also being incredibly moving and uplifting; it’s an inspired piece of filmmaking.
Named Heavy Load: A Film About Happiness, there are moments where you are left wondering if the band really are happy and question the filmmaker’s motives. Rothwell often turns the camera on himself and talks about how unhappy the band seem when the cameras are rolling. Without the added storyline of the filmmaker’s own issues, Heavy Load is truly an exceptional piece of filmmaking, but the moments where Rothwell delves into his own life seem selfish and detract from the main issues of the film.
This is an original band and an original film. If you’ve had a crap day, Heavy Load will perk you right up.