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TORONTO SCREEN SHOTS: “Hand­made and intimate”

March 23rd, 2011  |  Published in Reviews

Original article on Toronto Screen Shots

Sound It Out (Director: Jeanie Finlay):

Nostalgia is bound to be a part of any exam­in­a­tion of record shop cul­ture, and there have been a number of recent doc­u­ment­aries on the sub­ject (I Need That Record!, Red Beans & Rice). But nos­talgia works best when it’s spe­cific and per­sonal, and the fact that dir­ector Finlay grew up three miles from the record shop she pro­files in Sound It Out gives it a lovely hand­made and intimate feeling.

Sound It Out is actu­ally the name of the last remaining record shop in Stockton-on-Tees, a strug­gling post-industrial town in England’s Northeast. Amiable owner Tom has been selling records for two dec­ades, often to the same cus­tomers. We meet many of them in the course of the film, and there are more than a few mem­or­able char­ac­ters. All have an opinion as to why almost all record col­lectors are male, although no one really seems to worry about it too much. But the truth is that for people with obsessive and geeky pur­suits, the shop is like liquor store and AA meeting rolled into one. This almost seems like a per­fect descrip­tion, given that it is loc­ated between a job centre and a fishing tackle shop.

It’s clear that Stockton is a rough town, with very few decent jobs and almost no inter­esting activ­ities for young people. The shop has become a meeting place not just for nos­talgic thirty– (not to men­tion forty– or fifty– or sixty– ) somethings. It’s also a hangout for young men with widely dif­ferent musical tastes, from the hard dance types seeking “makina” (a type of Spanish techno pop­ular in the Northeast) to metal­heads looking for obscure sub­genres. Everyone enjoys the per­sonal touch that Tom and his sidekick David provide, along with their encyc­lo­pedic know­ledge. It’s clear that they care about music, not just about selling music. Especially in an eco­nom­ic­ally depressed place like Stockton, this authen­ti­city means a lot.

It might be due to the pres­ence of a female dir­ector in a gen­er­ally male-dominated hobby, but all the lads seem like genu­inely lovely people. Especially the younger set. From the two most sens­itive head­bangers you’ll ever meet, to the goofy but kind-hearted DJs playing music in the shed behind their house, to the more ambi­tious DJ duo of Frankey and John-Boy, their shared love of music and their ability to verb­alize how it helps them express their feel­ings is heartwarming.

The thirtyso­methings are per­haps the most cerebral. Veteran Status Quo fan Shane knows exactly why he col­lects so obsess­ively, pre­fa­cing many of his com­ments with “I know this will sound…” But when he con­fesses that after his death, his will spe­cifies that all his vinyl be melted down and made into a coffin, he knows he’s going beyond the bound­aries of the rational. Longtime cus­tomer Chris, the only one with a well-paying job, deposits money monthly into a credit account at Sound It Out. He knows he’s run­ning out of room to store records, but seems sad at the pro­spect of giving up his reg­ular pur­chases at the shop.

One of my favourite char­ac­ters shows up a few times during the film. Since the shop is loc­ated near sev­eral pubs, he prob­ably rep­res­ents a cer­tain type of cus­tomer who might be enter­taining in a film, but maybe not so much in reality. He comes in early in the film, clearly in the clutches of a few pints, asking for Dire Straits “Sultans of Swing,” which he has just heard on the jukebox. He makes sev­eral more appear­ances throughout the film, and almost every time leaves the staff trying hard to sup­press their giggles.

It’s this sense of “warts and all” com­munity that makes the film so charming. Sound It Out doesn’t try to tell the story of the music industry. It just tells the story of Tom’s little record shop on Yarm Street in Stockton-on-Tees. If I had only one cri­ti­cism of the film, it’s that I’d like to have learned more about Tom him­self. He comes out with some of his own record shop philo­sophy, such as “records hold memories” and “the shop is an escape,” but in the end, I felt I knew more about the name­less man in the pub than about Tom. In that respect, this is not quite the real-life ver­sion of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity that I’d expected, but it remains a lovely and gen­er­ally pos­itive por­trait of life in a pro­vin­cial English town.

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Glimmer Films in association with Sideshow present a film by Jeanie Finlay; SOUND IT OUT.

Over the last five years an independent record shop has closed in the UK every three days.

SOUND IT OUT is a documentary portrait of the very last surviving vinyl record shop in Teesside, North East England.

A cultural haven in one of the most deprived areas in the UK, SOUND IT OUT documents a place that is thriving against the odds and the local community that keeps it alive. Directed by Jeanie Finlay who grew up three miles from the shop.

A distinctive, funny and intimate film about men, the North and the irreplaceable role music plays in our lives.

High Fidelity with a Northern Accent.