I’ve Been Trying to Tell You
Being simultaneously nostalgic and relevant is a difficult balancing act. The recent trend towards 80s-themed media (exemplified best by Netflix’s Stranger Things) has never quite managed to do both, often being held back by its lack of a distinct identity. In the case of I’ve Been Trying to Tell You, a new collaborative film from Saint-Etienne and filmmaker Alasdair McLellan marking the release of the album of the same name, that certainly isn’t the case.
Drenched in sun-soaked summer vibes, the film moves from one location to another in the form of short vignettes, with sparse dialogue connecting the sections. It focuses on the lives of young people in the 90s across England, highlighting their carefree nature and independent lifestyles.
It’s a visual treat and McLellan deftly captures the hazy wonder of a British summer. Repeated use of slow motion and dolly shots give the scenes a dreamlike quality, which is accentuated by the excellent music. Even without the music however, the piece would still manage to stand on its own two feet as an example of excellent visual storytelling and, despite the lack of dialogue, it is easy to draw interesting narratives from the images.
Luckily, the music that accompanies these vignettes is also excellent. Returning to the sample-based production that made Saint-Etienne a household name three decades ago, this new material is the perfect accompaniment to McLellan’s dreamy visuals and is a wonderful listen. The use of samples alongside wonderfully engaging synthesiser melodies and some excellent singing from frontwoman Sarah Cracknell creates an atmosphere of immersive nostalgia, a particular highlight being the track Penlop.
It is this nostalgia that really makes I’ve Been Trying to Tell You a success. It would be possible to take the images from the film and find comparisons in today’s visual or fashion cultures; vintage and retro clothing has become a staple of current youth lifestyles, and there is a tendency for today’s photographers or artists to ape the tangible visual grain that McLellan captures here. The result definitely feels like a look back, but also doesn’t feel out of place in modern society, acting as a bridge between the remembered past and the lived present.
For fans of the band, it’s a must, and for fans of visual art, its short runtime and engaging visuals make it well worth a watch.
I’ve Been Trying to Tell You is released in select cinemas on 10th September 2021.
Watch the trailer for I’ve Been Trying to Tell You here: