A docu account of the hard-scrabble challenges facing young musicians, Brit-made “Let Us Be Golden” indirectly offers a refreshingly honest counterpoint to the plasticky version of pop success shilled by TV talent contests like “American Idol” and “The X Factor.” The three acts featured rep engaging subjects with strong musical identities, each very different from the others, while the crisp, pellucid HD lensing adds extra color. Lack of narrative momentum or a broader sense of the music biz feels like a missed opportunity, but this could still satisfy specialty auds in ultra-niche settings, particularly at music festivals.
Fatima, who just goes by her first name and was brought up in Stockholm but is of African descent, sings jazzy, hip-hop-inflected soul. She has a big, beautiful voice and has received many invitations to perform and collaborate with others, but she still has to work in a shoe store to make ends meet in London. At home, a flood in the cruddy apartment she shares with her musical collaborator and partner, Steve Julian, destroys some precious possessions, but Fatima takes it all in stride with good humor.
Indie band the Cheek seems further down the road to success, since it has a contract with Universal, but the Suffolk-based lads mostly still live with their parents and are slogging away in small venues, managed by Ollie Cottam, lead singer Rory’s brother. With an assist from producer Ed Buller (who has collaborated with Suede and Pulp), they work on a debut album and film a musicvideo.
Quirky folk-rock songstress Beth Jeans Houghton, who manages herself under an assumed name, comes across as the savviest and most confident of the lot, even though she’s only 19 years old. With support from her band the Hooves of Destiny, she travels down to London from her hometown, Newcastle, to play a crucial gig at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where several record executives will be in attendance. Later, she records the titular single, “Let Us Be Golden,” produced by Ben Hillier (Depeche Mode, Doves, Blur), and gets a new tattoo.
Helmer Colin O’Toole clearly has a knack for putting his subjects at ease and getting them to open up about their feelings, hopes and fears, but the level of discourse never goes much deeper than what you might find in a good newspaper interview. Emphasis is placed more on personalities and career experiences than on musicianship itself, which might frustrate some of the specialty auds who are most likely to seek out the pic.
Likewise, the docu offers little insight into the nitty-gritty ways and means of breaking into the industry; interviews with, say, music executives or at least some A&R people might have added a deeper perspective about the challenges facing young hopefuls like those profiled. Since the end titles reveal that only one act has moved up to the next level of success, it would have been useful to know why things haven’t worked out quite so well for the other two.
All the same, “Let Us Be Golden” offers enjoyable enough viewing, especially since the three acts are all compelling performers, with Houghton the strongest personality of the three, repping a standout for sheer originality alone. Sound recording meets the requisite standard for perf-based material, while lensing by Jonas Mortensen is well above average.