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MUSIC FILM WEB: Jeanie Finlay and Vinyl on Film

February 2nd, 2011  |  Published in Reviews

Original article on Music Film Web

Sound It Out is the last independent record store in Teesside, and almost certainly the first to be immortalized on film. Jeanie Finlay grew up in this corner of northeast England and is a longtime habitue of the shop in Stockton-on-Tees, run by her old school pal Tom. A nonfiction filmmaker best known for the popular IFC doc Goth Cruise – which is about exactly what the title suggests – Finlay decided during a lull in another project 18 months ago that Sound It Out and its clientele of obsessive (and overwhelmingly male) wax junkies needed to be captured on camera while the store still lived.

Having wrapped filming on Sound It Out, the movie, Finlay is crowdfunding post-production costs on IndieGoGo, with an eye toward a December 11 sneak peak as part of the Sideshow cultural season in her current base of Nottingham, UK. (The campaign runs until November 15 and you can contribute here.) MFW caught up with her on opening day of Sheffield Doc/Fest to talk about telling the story of a region and a community through a vinyl prism. You seem to have a personal relationship with this store. How did that become a film?

I grew up three miles from the shop, and Tom, who runs the shop, is a school friend of mine. So I always visit the shop when I go home and see my parents. Eighteen months ago I got married, and we funded our wedding through selling our vinyl collection. I wanted new memories! And then when I went and saw Tom and told him what we’d done, he was horrified and said, “How can you do that?” And it made me think about what vinyl records mean for people. It’s so much more than music. It’s kind of the signposts of your life, and how other people’s lyrics can tell the story of your life.

So that was the genesis, and then every time I went home and I went in the shop I just thought, this is a microcosm of the North East, a place I love and loathe. [It’s] a strange and funny place. It’s very distinct, it’s got a very strong accent, and it’s got a very kind of dry sense of humor. As Tom says in the trailer, “It’s a hard area. I sell hard music.” It’s stuff of legend – people talk about crime, and things being hard, but in a quite humorous way.

I think of that as having to do with the industrial legacy. When people say the North is hard, that’s what I think about.

I thought that the vinyl, the analog vinyl, was a really good analogy for the industry that’s died in the area. There’s so many people who are now unemployed. It’s the area where, when the [UK] government announced their [budget] cuts two weeks ago, Middlesborough, which is Stockton’s glamorous older brother, was the town that was cited as going to be affected the most by the cuts, because it’s a poor area. So yeah, I like the idea that you buy a record and you get to escape. For 10 pounds you get to visit somewhere else, in your head and your living room. It’s a portable dream.

You’ve talked about this being a very male milieu. How did that fit in to how you approached the project?

I just made the film the same way I made any other project. As a female director I’m very often the only woman in the room. I like making films about men. I like this kind of strange tension of being a woman in a man’s world.

What do your subjects have to say about record collecting as this intensely male activity, as immortalized by Nick Hornby?

I guess everyone’s got a different way of dealing with it. Everyone has a signature style, whether it’s labeling A to Z, or it’s the 16-year-old who’s just started his collection, or it’s the Status Quo fan who’s had every picture disc signed. Record collections are never finished, and each addition to the collection makes people feel more like themselves.

Are you familiar with the film I Need That Record?

I’ve heard of it but not seen it.

It’s the highest-profile American movie that covers the same ground, but it’s much more of a film about the death of the indie record shop as a concept. So it’s a bunch of stores, they bring in a lot of icons to talk about their record collections. And watching that film I thought, Wow, I’d really like to see a film about one of these stores. It seems like you conceived this much more about a place and less about a grand theme.

Yeah, I think you can focus small to tell a big story. Since I started making this a lot of people have suggested that I should talk to this record-shop owner and go and visit this record shop. I’m really not interested. I’m much more interested in my Status Quo fan who, you know, music means a massive amount to him, than getting some celeb on a stick, talking heads kinda thing. I think by doing that, by focusing small, you can just have much more emotional impact.

What was the response with your friend and his customers to your presence, to you suddenly being there shooting?

The people coming in and selling bags of stolen goods to buy drugs, they were not particularly happy about it. But to be honest, they just got used to me. I just became part of the furniture.

I’m thinking more about your eccentric record collector types, not so much about your fencing drug dealer types.

They all got used to it. And people who’d said they would refuse to be on camera then came back in, and I ended up filming them at home. They ended up donating to the film. Some people are phobic about cameras, and I’ve been respectful to not film them, but people love Tom and they love the shop. It’s a cultural haven and they recognize that. People know how special it is. So they like the idea that it’s being captured. And captured as an ongoing concern, not like an in memoriam.

I wanted to ask you about that. It’s almost a cultural cliché, the disappearing independent shop, especially the disappearing independent record shop. Is it hard to make a film like this and not have it seem like an elegy? Is there something about Tom’s shop that makes the story different?

It’s pretty much thriving, but it’s very precarious. The rent is pretty cheap. If anything changed, like the landlord sold the shop, or the rates massively increased, or if the cuts announced by the government hit home and hit hard, he’s fucked, basically. But for the moment, he’s there, and he’s where he’s most happy. I don’t know whether it’ll be there in 10 years, but I think it’ll be there in five. It’s important that it’s a film about a shop that’s thriving in precarious circumstances, rather than on its last legs.

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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.