I know that we are supposed to be on a blogging break but I feel compelled to write. On Thursday, I went to a screening of Depeche Mode’s documentary, Spirits in the Forest, with my friend, Kristin. When I saw this advertised, I knew that I wanted to go even though I didn’t know much about the film. After all, I would list Depeche Mode as one of my favorite bands of all time. They were, in fact, the first concert I ever attended. Anyway, I went into the movie theater with a drink in hand and figured that I would just sit back and enjoy the music. I hadn’t even watched the trailer as I didn’t want any real expectations. Well, I was in for a treat.
Right away, I found myself surprised as I assumed that it would be mostly concert footage with maybe some interviews with the bands or random shots of fans. I did not expect that the film would focus on the personal stories of six fans from around the world. Almost immediately, I thought about other films that focus on fans. I did reviews of the two that popped in my mind instantly, which were Trekkies about Star Trek fans that you can read about here and Something You Should Know about Duran fans with the link to it here. In both cases, I had such high hopes for them. I wanted to see films that celebrate fans and fandom. Instead, I found both of them relying on common stereotypes about the extreme behavior of fans. It wasn’t enough to just shows fans but they needed to show fans who have collected personal items from band members or fans who love it so much that they create offices with their fandom at the center. I felt like if non-fans watched those films, they would assume that fans are all a little obsessed, maybe a little crazy. They wouldn’t be able to relate to them at all. If fans watched it, they might have a similar reaction, differentiating themselves from the images on the screen, thinking about how they are fans but not like that. There is a lot of stigma out there in the world about fans and presenting just the extreme behaviors feed or reinforce those stereotypes. So, when fans appeared on this Depeche Mode documentary, I worried.
As I watched the stories of these fans, I found that this is the exact opposite of those other documentaries. These fans were people I found myself connecting with. They were people that I wanted to meet or be around. I loved hearing about each one of their stories and, more importantly, how their fandom played a role in their lives. Then, as we learned more and more about them and their fandom, the film beautifully interweaves concert footage. These fans were not the ones with the biggest collections or the most concert experiences, although they might have been. No, that information wasn’t important. They were just people who loved Depeche Mode. People might not view them as the biggest or best fans (whatever that means anyway) but they were people who have connected to the music on a personal level and have found or kept personal connections as a result of being fans.
Throughout the film, these fans described how specific songs meant something to them and why. They explained how these songs hit them, emotionally. For example, one fan described how the song, Precious, reminded him about his divorce and his relationship with his kids. Another fan talked about how Enjoy the Silence was so fabulous to him that he tried to remake the video. In some cases, this personal sharing either brought tears to one’s eyes or laughter from the humor of the situation. You found yourself feeling what they are feeling. I know that I personally found myself connecting to the fan who listened to Depeche Mode during treatment for breast cancer as my mom was recently declared cancer free for four years. While she was undergoing chemotherapy for the same kind of breast cancer, we spent a lot of time listening to songs from women with strong, empowering messages. Music matters.
If all that wasn’t enough, the film also described how the music did more than just allow people to connect to songs but brought or kept people together. The fan with the kids created a silly cover band with his kids, bonding them for life. The fan from Romania discussed traveling to go to shows and meeting other fans that he now toured together. The woman with breast cancer educated her children about the music and more.
The film showed the absolute best part of being a fan. Fans fall in love with the music but they join a fan community to share that love with others. Some people might argue that the film should have focused more on a band. It should have had more concert footage or band interviews. Yet, the live shots brought it all together as the viewers could see that the band created this. Their music matters to people and has been the conduit between people. In this way, it celebrates Depeche Mode in a way that just a concert or interviews with the band could not. Fans are the results of producing material that matters.
Here’s the trailer if you are interested. If you get a chance to go, I definitely would.