Inside The Smiths is possibly one of the most difficult types of product to review. On the one hand yes, it's perfectly true that this is nothing more than the vanity product of a Smiths obsessive. Full marks to Stephen Petricco, though, for successfully using it as an excuse to hang around with his favourite band's rhythm section and interview some other luminaries of the Manchester post-punk scene while he's at it.
On the other hand, if you didn't already know absolutely every minutiae of The Smiths' history and culture already, due to being as much of a Smiths obsessive yourself, there's a chance this might give some genuine insight from the less-well documented members into one of the seminal bands of the 1980s. But if you weren't a Smiths obsessive already, why on Earth would you be remotely interested?
Which means that anyone likely to buy Inside The Smiths is automatically going to be disappointed by it. Even if the interviewer asked hard-bitten questions delving into the bitterness around Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke's court case against Morrissey and Marr, which it doesn't, you'd still hate it because then they'd have slagged off Morrissey and - be honest - you really wouldn't put up with that, would you?
But let's start with the basics, pretending that we're (re)viewing this from the objective point of view of a student of rock/pop history. For those of you not yet aware of such facts, Inside The Smiths is an extended interview with Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, respectively the bassist and drummer in The Smiths, one of the most important bands of the early 1980s.
After The Smiths split, Rourke and Joyce successfully sued former bandmates Morrissey (singer) and Johnny Marr (guitar) for a fairer share of the royalties, having been paid previously as little more than session musicians; Joyce was eventually awarded £1 million, while Rourke settled out of court for a much lower amount. The case was long, protracted and Morrissey hates their guts for it (though considering that Morrissey hates the guts of all but seven people in the world, perhaps they shouldn't take this too personally).
Unfortunately, the DVD doesn't really cover this in any great detail. Instead, it's just Joyce and Rourke fondly reminiscing about how great it was being in The Smiths - which is, of course, what both the producer and the audience really want to hear.
There are some plus points. The cinematography is heavily influenced by Derek Jarman's Smiths videos, which means it looks right, and there are some good anecdotes you might not have heard before, such as Morrissey refusing to go in a helicopter laid on by the BBC to transport the band from Top of the Pops to a concert in Manchester, forcing them to take the train instead.
Matt Osman, former bass player with Suede, makes a good point about how Joyce being a punk drummer and Rourke being a funk bassist (albeit in "the whitest band in the world") contributed to the uniqueness of the Smiths' sound. Mark E Smith comes over with more affection for Moz than you'd think: "he used to ring me up, Steven, I never knew what he was on about half the time! I have a lot of respect for the man, don't get me wrong".
But on the downside, there's no actual Smiths music on the soundtrack (bar a few seconds of the drum intro the Queen Is Dead, and some actually quite clever jangly guitar bridges that sound the part even though they're not) and while there are lots of celebrity talking heads - including Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks and all of Kaiser Chiefs - most look as if they've just been ambushed rather than set up.
There are also gaping holes - Rourke's temporary eviction from the band for heroin problems is covered, but without any mention of his replacement, Craig Gannon, who stayed on even after Rourke's return. It's irritating that Matt Osman is interviewed without mentioning that Mike Joyce was an early Suede drummer; the fact that he chose to leave because he thought his previous fame might detract from the interest the band deserved to be getting is an interesting insight into his personality that could have worked well in this context.
In the end, the documentary is little more than Rourke and Joyce saying basically: "we had fun while it lasted and then it wasn't so much fun", which is more the interviewer's fault for not asking the right questions than theirs. Poor Mike Joyce, you do get the feeling that he was the biggest Smiths fan in the world and couldn't believe his luck that he was actually in the group but then somehow it all went wrong. At times, he comes across as being quite haunted.
Rourke and Joyce both make the point that they'd jump at the chance of a Smiths reunion (in fact, Rourke might be happy if he could just meet up with his old mate Johnny for a pint now and then) but unfortunately it's not up to them.
Inside The Smiths is released in the UK on the same day as another DVD, 'Smiths - Still Ill', which promises rare footage of the band. Do you need them both? Of course not, but it won't stop you buying them, will it?