I am a twenty five year old technophile. I’ve never brought vinyl in my life, my last CD purchase was in 2007 and the very thought of me stepping into a shop in the year 2012 leaves me colder than Joseph Fritzl’s love for his family. Why on Earth should the plight of the independent record shop owner cause me any sleepless nights? Why should I care about this subject enough to go out of my way to buy this film? Alas that is the biggest problem this documentary will face, the problem of finding a broader audience. Simply put without an invested interest into the subject matter, how are you going to get anyone immersed in 20th century internet culture to care enough about the independent record shop to see the one piece of filmmaking that will convince you this decades old institution is worth saving?
Created as a companion piece to the book of the same name by Graham Jones, Last Shop Sanding (directed by the awesomely named Pip Piper, appropriately the kind of name you’d expect to see on the front of an old Rockabilly LP) was created as the latest in a long line of documentaries chronicling the plight of the independent record shop. The difference between them and Last Shop Standing however is that this film isn’t tolling the death knell, it’s announcing the resurrection.
Split into three parts the film takes us through (in it’s own words) the Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the small time local record store. We are treated to interviews with the owners and workers of Britain’s oldest and most notorious dens of musical rebellion. Some are eccentric, some are wacky, some are even famous, but most importantly (and perhaps this is to the filmmakers credit) none of them are boring. Each has a joke, an anecdote, a story or an opinion. These might not be much on their own but when you put them all together you see that they are the threads that come together to form a rich tapestry. The story of the independent record retailer is a long and dense one, fortunately Pip Piper is talented enough to skilfully weave the humour and likeable personalities of his subjects throughout the film so it never strays too far from entertaining.
As such, Last Shop Standing wins you over. It convinces you that this institution is worth keeping around. Whether it’s Richard Hawly teaching you about Captain Beefheart or a 60 year old presenting you the joys of Staying Alive played entirely on a Kazoo, Last Shop Standing endears you to (if nothing else) the idea of what a independent record shop can bring to the musical community. The diversity of sounds, freedom from the shackles of the mainstream music industry, the feeling of discovery with a tangible reward at the end of it; the independent record shop must be preserved as a sanctuary away from the demons of commercialism and Justin Beiber.
But whilst it is entertaining and informative and most certainly gets the job done, who are they getting the job done for? Pip Piper never has a bad word to say about his subjects or the subject matter. The film has an overtone of chumminess, of camaraderie that others might find difficult to penetrate. To me I thought of this as evidence that the director has made this film not to convert the non-believers, but to preach to the converted. This film is a love letter to the independent retailers of the UK, almost to the point where I felt uncomfortable watching it, like I was infringing on someone else’s privacy. So if your cause was to celebrate the contribution this troubled community has made to the music industry, but only for the benefit of those already in love with it, what real purpose is this movie expected to serve?
Well whatever that purpose is Last Shop Standing achieves it admirably. But who it achieves it for might be the more important question and unfortunately, not as easy to answer.