Judge Bill Gibron found this fantastic documentary about the former Squeeze frontman's 2001 RV tour of America a great deal more fun than pulling muscles (from the shell).
Just two months after 9/11, former Squeeze frontman Glenn Tilbrook came to the United States with a mission. Dedicated to giving something back to his deliriously dedicated fan base, Glenn came up with a radical performance ideal: he would appear sans backing band, only his acoustic guitar as accompaniment. And he would travel, troubadour style, from gig to gig in that most American of automotive behemoths, the recreational vehicle (or RV, for short). For Glenn, the lure of the land cruiser made him giddy with anticipation. The thought of traveling along the highways and byways of the USA, exploring the country while courting his followers seemed fresh and exciting. When she heard about the idea, long time friend Amy Pickard (who knew the musician from her days as a local Ohio television personality) thought it would make a great movie. When no established filmmaker bit, she bought a digital camera and decided to play director herself. The result is less of a documentary of the resulting tour and more of a tone poem to Tilbrook, his music, and the undeniable connection he has with generations of pop-loving people. While this strange, surreal showcase may have been One for the Road, it was definitely a defining moment for Tilbrook and his talent.
You can even see it plastered across Glenn Tilbrook's slightly puffier face…he genuinely loves what he does. Of course, it helps to be one of the great songwriters of the last 50 years, who along with partner/lyricist Chris Difford helped give seminal rock act Squeeze their enduring ear candy appeal. But somewhere between the MTV fanfare and the crazed cult following, Tilbrook went through a kind of spiritual sojourn. As his band was breaking up (divergent personalities finding life together as an entertainment entity highly problematic), his wife filed for divorce and eventually moved their two sons to Australia. Alone both professionally and personally for the first time in decades, Tilbrook took it upon himself to rethink his career. Endless touring and major label lunacy had split apart his world, and it was time to reclaim it. While Squeeze's fortunes had actually increased over the years (Difford's bout with drugs and alcohol stalled many a major comeback), Tilbrook realized that he had to prove to himself, and his fans, that there was more to his muse than catchy, clever ditties like "Another Nail in My Heart," "Is this Love?" and "Black Coffee in Bed." Upon the release of his 2001 solo album The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook, the RV tour was on. And just looking at the grin smeared across his still impish mug, it was the proper poultice for what had obviously been a sobering sickness of the soul.
One for the Road won't do much to convince you of Tilbrook's compositional skills. Due to that most wretched of independent filmmaking realities—the licensing fee—first time filmmaker Amy Pickard was unable to include as much of the man's music as she would have liked to. Though there are many examples of the Squeeze canon, including old favorites like "Up the Junction" and "Tempted," those hoping to hear entire tracks performed in Tilbrook's signature style may be in for a bit of a disappointment. Pickard realized that she was not making a pure concert film, and she cut numbers and actually had to fudge a few appearances when the material she shot ended up faulty or unusable. Besides, the concept of a Brit boy hitting the wide open spaces of America's asphalt waves of gradients made for a far more compelling conceit. This is the real reason why One for the Road is so much fun. One can go out and purchase all the Squeeze/Tilbrook CDs they want, but they won't offer the joy of seeing a man connect with his own inner desire to entertain, nor will they provide the proof in wonderful sequences of a man making music for those utterly devoted to his designs.
One for the Road really soars when Pickard plays fly on the wall, using her camera as a means of watching Tilbrook take on the US of A. After a false start and a MIA RV, we finally get to see this former '80s icon indulge his seemingly sincere desire to take control of his career. With new partner (and manager) Suzanne by his side, and a songbook loaded with material at the ready, there appears to be a plan to make Tilbrook a talked about talent again, one minor gig at a time. We see Glenn playing before hundreds, but most times, we are watching him entertain a few dozen. All of these intimate shows usually de-evolve into audience participation sing-alongs with Tilbrook smiling politely as people massacre the melodies he was responsible for. Yet there's the ever present smile, one borne out of the sheer magic in personal freedom. Even when the RV breaks down and there's a lack of usual luxuries, like clean bathrooms and working showers, Tilbrook is enthusiastic and content. There will be those drawn to this title because of the chance to see and hear Tilbrook take on his previous works, and there is some of that here. But One for the Road is more the recording of a rebirth than a straight ahead behind the scenes bio pic. It says something about the fascinating footage Pickard captured that the amazing music of Squeeze takes a decided backseat to Tilbrook's adventures in Camperland. And it's the combination of the two that make this a remarkable rock document.
Image is to be commended for the manner in which they handle this release. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer has a few issues…bleeding, flaring…but nothing too sensational. Overall, the picture is crisp, clean, and loaded with colorful images and decipherable details. On the sound side, we get an excellent Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix that does a fantastic job of putting across both the conversations and the concerts. There are several sonically sensational moments here, including Tilbrook's marvelous reading of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" (no…really) and a remarkable rendition of the Squeeze standard "Some Fantastic Place."
In addition, Image has larded the DVD release with tons of bonus features. Pickard first met Tilbrook while working for a local Ohio TV station and their first interview (from 1991) is included, in all its gushing, fan-based unease. In addition, there is a 48-minute interview with the other half of the Squeeze songwriting team, and Chris Difford is very forthcoming about the reasons the band broke up, how much he admires Tilbrook for calling his own shots, and how he hopes to jumpstart the performance part of his own career with a forthcoming album. There is also a hilarious featurette with Tilbrook answering awkward questions from fawning Japanese fans at a screening of the film in Tokyo. Want an excellent recipe for Caribbean squid? Glenn is ready to regale the crowd with one.
The final two added elements are probably the most fun. Tilbrook joins Pickard backstage at a 2004 tour stop in Lexington, Kentucky to record a commentary track, and just to prove they are really speaking pre-gig, Glenn's new band The Fluffers break in with the occasional cacophony from their sound check. Tilbrook is joking and genial, explaining how the RV lived on for almost three more years after the film was made (it finally died during the '04 shows). There is discussion about the various towns visited and conversations about how warm and welcoming the fans were throughout. Equally sunny is Pickard's solo narrative, more of a making-of than the sit down with her old Squeeze pal. Running through everything, from the finances to the final cut of the film (there were many versions of One for the Road, according to the director), Pickard may play the pity card once too often (she mentions her seemingly ever-present state of unemployment throughout the track) but this is still an informative, inviting facet, one that makes this title all the more special.
Tilbrook is still out on the road, selling his songs to a steadily growing collection of converts. He's even bought a caravan (read: RV) for an upcoming tour of Europe. If you want to see where it all began, where this one time icon of the post-punk generation developed his newfound love for the cathedrals of the countryside, give One for the Road a try. You'll not find a funnier, sunnier display of personal happiness and harmony anywhere. And coming from someone who has been in the music business as long as Tilbrook, such a sentiment must be some kind of miracle.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Full Length Audio Commentary with Director Amy Pickard
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