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Feeling Good With The Oil City Hit Men
Spikeopath30 April 2010
Director Julien Temple brings to a conclusion his trilogy of documentaries about three of the United Kingdom's most important 1970s music movers. Preceding this story about seminal pub rockers Dr Feelgood was The Filth and the Fury (2000) (The Sex Pistols) & Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten (2007). Dr Feelgood were one of those bands that had legions of fans yet never hit the big time, they themselves would joke that they were the biggest band on their own island! Thanks to Temple tho, a unique and wonderful British film maker, there is now a chance for music fans with a bent for film and documentaries to find out about this rocking and most influential band that hailed out of Canvey Island in Essex, England, in the early 1970s.

The story follows a familiar trail, from early humble roots in their home town when they were children, to their forming of a band and the inevitable implosion as egos take control. But told with actual film footage and reminisced by the surviving members of the band {frontman Lee Brilleaux sadly passed away in 1994}, Temple provides a fascinating insight into how hard working and talented this lot were. There's also so much to learn, even for fans such as me, every section of the film brings more knowledge to the party. Be it with their skiffle and jug band days, or their explosive switch to maximum R&B, there's a story to be told, none of which is twee or slotted in as a time filler. Temple also has an entertaining knack of using clips from old classic movies to help the narrative flow, that in itself provides a spot of fun for the movie fan to see how many they can name (I did rather well even if I don't say so myself!).

Lee, Wilko Johnson (what a character and a musician), The Big Figure & Sparko, four guys who formed a band and made waves in the music industry. Not by any trickery or cunningly crafted marketing ploys, but by pure raw energy and a love of their craft. As stated in the film, they were punk before punk, with that it's no surprise to find that The Ramones were often found listening to Feelgood albums on a daily basis. There's a reason the likes of Richard Hell, Joe Strummer and Glen Matlock are interviewed in the piece, it's to show that the Feelgood's are the link that paved the way for the punk explosion. The music genre the band belong to was termed pub rock, which while hardly flattering actually speaks volumes for how confined they were, not by choice or design, but a victim of circumstance and era. They were not on their own, The 101ers, Eddie & The Hot Rods & Nine Below Zero, all great great bands deserving of higher accolades. It's hoped that now, with Temple's gritty Canvey Island Noir, that more people will seek out music from this ballsy bit of 70s Britannia. 9/10
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Perfect rock film - intelligent, passionate and lets the band and music speak
glassandbrass27 April 2010
Hard to believe Dr Feelgood had fallen so far below everyone's radar. This is a magnificent film about an IMPORTANT band. I've watched it three times on BBC iPlayer and enjoyed it more each time.

If, like me, you grew up with the Clash, Stranglers, Pistols et al and thought their sound simply emerged from nowhere then think again. The Feelgoods pointed the way and all else followed. They are the missing link between Blues, RnB (the real stuff) and punk. Totally unique, a one off, much like this wonderful, quirky film.

Oh, and without question, Wilko Johnson is a genius - a mad genius, but a genius nevertheless.

If you care about the history of rock then watch this and learn...

RIP Lee Brilleaux
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Feelgood documentary looking at the lives and times of those in and around a certain Feelgood band.
johnnyboyz5 May 2010
At the very end of this 2010 documentary about a popular rock group of the 1970s named Dr. Feelgood, the lead guitarist and appointed guide for the entire piece Wilko Johnson stands outside a casino with his guitar with an aim to seemingly 'play us out'. Just above him and behind him, the word 'amusements' flickers sporadically, advertising the gambling machines within the building behind; it flickers, but it is not entirely unlit – a sort of visual representation of this once great, once famous band on behalf of the maker who's a certain Julien Temple: the members that are still alive are always up for it; they speak throughout the documentary of the band and the days that made them famous in an upbeat and loving manner and everybody in the contemporary crowds still seem to enjoy seeing the guys doing their thing on stage. The 'amusements' sign flickers, it's still going, it might very well be on its last legs but it's still ticking over.

Oil City Confidential is the documentary all about a British band whom ploughed through the boundaries of what was expected of them and became all but household names as they played out in Britain and America to packed and usually somewhat riotous audiences. They were Doctor Feelgood. The best thing about the piece is that it never pretends these people were anything other than normal, everyday guys of whom you feel you could just casually bump into, doing what they loved. Having gone in knowing nothing of the band, I came out rather enthralled and entertained at their story of just over thirty years ago; the tale of what it was that made each of them who they are today and most of whom have carried on with degrees of success since. Temple keeps everything low-key and understated, there's a knowing sense about their humble beginnings, a location on the Thames known as Canvey Island; a place that is shot through grey hues but is adored by those that came from there and made good accordingly; the documentary isn't so much into selling a downtrodden place as something that it isn't as much as it is interested in looking at the beauty and the goodness amidst all the other stuff most people would use as fodder against it. Oil refineries on the distance spewing out flames from its funnels; grey, unwelcoming beaches and caravan parks set up in the oddest of locales: it's all part of the charm.

The anchor of the piece is a certain Wilko Johnson, the band's guitarist. Later on, we'll come to learn of his stage exploits; a free-roaming and somewhat eccentric figure whom waltzed around the stage in a flurry of creative mannerisms, his most iconic moment being the one in which he supposedly riddled the audience with bullets out of his machine gun-come-guitar. Nowadays, he seems quite humbled by what it was he did; such an attitude capturing what most of the guys feel. Nobody really knew what they were doing or where it would lead them, they just went with the flow and loved it – the watching audiences loved it as well. These days, there seems to be a knowing sense of what was then and what is now. Johnson stands, guitar strap around his neck, at a lonely bus-top on Canvey Island; he plays a few cords and you can see the school boy-like glee it fills him with as he begins to jolt and move around to the tunes he creates. He seems sweetly embarrassed.

Placing Johnson at the heart of the film sees us guided through the life and times of Doctor Feelgood by a force of great charisma; a sort of knowing eccentric, a man who it's established even the other members were somewhat in awe at when they first met him. One other member gives a roaming tour of some Canvey Island coastline; documenting some of the band's exploits but most of the other members, or people connected to the group, are kept away from any sort of limelight to proceedings. One is shot in an enclosed and relatively low-key barber shop; another inhabits the confides of a darkened public house bar area while Johnson's mother sits in her living room and recounts her experiences at some gigs. Each person chips in with their own musings on the band and its history but each are kept to a far more routine documentary infused interview technique as opposed to Wilko. Johnson leads proceedings; the tale of the group, of which various members have come and gone, and his eventual feud with a certain Lee Brilleaux, the lead singer. These guys were most certainly with the crowd they performed to; never pretending to be anything they weren't and that comes out in the documentary.

They were never into psychedelic music or modifiers. This wasn't a case of having hordes of dumb kids turning up to scream at the latest singer that rolled off of the production line, dopily churning out the latest track of old to be covered by way of synthetics, this was a case of guys grabbing those microphones and instruments and belting out what they thought was good, fun music to play to a good, fun time. The film is curiously inter-cut with footage of various gangster films, but done enough so as to not annoy or distract; films about young guys ploughing on ahead with what it was they were good at, but having a blast in the process and always coming home with the swag and a bit of a reputation in the process. While Doctor Feelgood were never criminal in that sense, although one American thought they turned up to a gig once looking a bit like gangsters, that same carefree sense of getting on with what comes naturally to oneself is present, hovering above all involved, and it would seem the world is better off because of it.
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Just Brilleaux!
jd-11617 January 2012
I don't listen to a lot of popular music so I was late discovering the Feelgoods... by the time I found out about them their best days were over. This film sets out what I missed.

It would have been much easier to have produced a talking heads bio-pic using interviews with the musicians and their connections, but instead Julien Temple gives us a clever narration tracing the history of Canvey Island (with newsreel clips from the devastating flood of 1953), the way the guys met each other and (this is the clever bit) inter-cutting it with entertaining and illustrative clips from black and white gangster films from the golden age of British film-making. I spotted Payroll (1961), The Criminal (1960), Brighton Rock (1947), but I am sure there are others in there too.

The main narrative is given by Wilko Johnson, a seminal figure in British music of the 1970s, who tells us about his personal history before and during his time with Dr Feelgood, the band which he joined and helped to make great in the early 1970s. It covers the early success with their first three albums, and relates how personal differences led to him leaving after their fourth album, "Sneaking Suspicion". The surviving members of the original line-up, Wilko Johnson, Big Figure, and Sparko are all featured and it's nice to see that they are all remain great friends.

There is archive footage of the band performing as well as interviews with Lee Brilleaux who died of lymphoma at the tragic age of 41.

If I make any criticism of this film at all, it is that we are not shown more of Gypie Mayo, who replaced Wilko Johnson as lead guitarist in 1975. He was another top-drawer guitar player whose sound drove the Feelgoods in a slightly different direction, leading to great popular success. But the film is basically Wilko's story, and let's take it as that. Big thumbs up, top stuff.
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Saved Rock'n'Roll from corporate dictum
jingster66612 November 2014
I was fortunate to have seen Dr. Feelgood on several occasions in the mid-'70s featuring the original lineup. I was excited when I found out about this documentary and ordered it right away. I was concerned that it might not capture the spontaneous nature and in-your-face, high energy of the band live, nor the uniqueness of its key members, Wilko Johnson and Lee Brilleaux. I needn't have worried because this is without doubt the best possible reading of these lads from Canvey Island. I had always wondered what happened to these Punk precursors and why Wilko Johnson so abruptly left the band at the zenith of their popularity. I had also wondered about the dynamic between Wilko and Lee Brilleaux, the front man and blues harp player. Anyway, these questions and a world of others were answered in watching this remarkable documentary. It is not only the history of this particular blues rock band but also that of a transitional historical moment when rock'n'roll shifted so radically to a harder and more basic paradigm, opening up a world of new musical possibilities for a genre which had become stagnant and boring. Dr. Feelgood were truly avatars helping to save rock'n'roll from a certain death by corporate dictum.
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An Extraordinary Film About an Extraordinary Band
rickcadger-6763524 November 2015
What can I say? A real band from the unparalleled reality of the British pub rock scene. Dr Feelgood were raw, biting, cutting and sincere. For me they ended when Wilko left: for others they ended when Lee died. For other others they're still going strong.

For me, the heart and soul of the band was always the eccentric, mesmerising guitar maniac, Wilko Johnson: he of the red scratchplated Telecaster and the totally unexpected, post-cancer resurrection. This documentary movie is presented, narrated, almost curated by Wilko himself.

If you were there you'll love it to death. If you weren't then you may wish you were. If you don't get it then look up videos and MP3s of Dr Feelgood at their 70s peak.

Welcome to rock and roll reality in all its surreal, mundane strangeness. I will never understand how anyone could live without it.
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