Last night I was lucky enough to be part of a sold out audience at the Glasgow Film Theatre for a preview screening of The Possibilities Are Endless, a documentary that tells the remarkable story of how Edwyn Collins survived two brain haemorrhages, a coma and MRSA and went on, against the odds, to re-establish his reputation as one of the country’s finest songwriters, releasing acclaimed new albums and touring extensively in Britain and abroad.
Opening with a clip of Collins performing on American chat show staple Late Night With Conan O’Brien, at a point when his biggest solo hit, A Girl Like You was climbing pop charts around the planet, the documentary quickly swerves off in a more experimental direction using fragmented voice-overs from both Edwyn and his wife, Grace, who explain the circumstances of his devastating health problems.
It’s a technique that cleverly mirrors the jumbled mind of Edwyn at the time – his memory had been just about erased in the wake of the strokes and he could only utter a couple of words, yes and no; a name, Grace Maxwell; and one phrase: ‘the possibilities are endless’, a line from the Velvet Underground song Some Kinda Love, that somehow lodged in the singer’s brain (without him recognising the source) and which he kept repeating while hospitalised.
There’s some stunning, sometimes almost abstract cinematography in this section of the documentary, much of it shot in and around the small coastal village of Helmsdale in the far north of Scotland, where Collins’ family have owned a home for generations and where Edwyn and Grace are now living.
Here the skies are often grey and the winds harsh but the landscape always remains beautiful. At one point a tree falls in the middle of a small forest for little discernable reason, a direct reference perhaps to the apparent randomness of what happened to Edwyn.
Encouraged every step of the way by Grace, Edwyn slowly – sometimes agonizingly slowly – relearns how to walk and to draw, how to read and write, how to sing again and even how to compose new songs – and it truly is amazing that he’s not only remastered the art of writing pop tunes like Down the Line from last year’s album Understated (which also crops up in the soundtrack here) but that he’s also composed much of the wonderfully atmospheric score of The Possibilities Are Endless.
Images of present day Edwyn and Grace are accompanied by sequences of a young couple played by Edwyn’s son Will – a dead ringer at times for Edwyn in his early Orange Juice days – and Yasmin Paige, the star of Richard Ayoade’s 2010 film, Submarine and, as Edwyn pieces together more and more of his past, we increasingly see more and more archive footage of an impressively quiffed ‘Pop Star’ Edwyn.
Interestingly, the documentary eschews the talking heads approach but is content to proceed at a relatively slow pace throughout to better reflect the very gradual improvements in Edwyn’s health. It also seldom strays anywhere near sentimentality, Grace, for instance, admitting that sometimes she misses the old Edwyn, explaining there’s no point denying the fact, and here I should say that Grace is an absolutely integral part of the film.
Inevitably, you’ll find yourself wondering how you would cope in a similar situation to Collins. Hopefully if you ever do have to deal with relearning walking, talking, reading and the rest, then you’ll have a Grace too.
A Q&A followed the screening, with playwright David Grieg also interviewing Edwyn and Grace (a fantastic double act) and one of the directors, Edward Lovelace. My favourite question being from a guy who asked Edwyn how sore was it when Grace cut his nails. The answer being: ‘Very sore.’
You have to have seen the film. Honestly.
Edwyn then performed a short set of four songs which included Home Again and Don’t Shilly Shally, ending the evening on a perfect note.
The singer obviously has close links with Glasgow – the Art School, where Orange Juice played their first ever gig is only a minute’s walk from the GFT and the old home of Postcard Records in West Princes Street is just a relatively short walk away too and yes, there’s busloads of goodwill towards Edwyn just now and a lot of old pals had trooped along to see the film; everybody desperately wanted to enjoy it, in fact, it received two rounds of applause before it even started, one just prior to when some assumed it was about to begin and then one for Stephen Pastel’s introduction. Almost inevitably, it received another during its end credits too but it did definitely deserve it.
More than a few tears were shed by some across its eighty two mesmerizing and moving minutes, believe me, but afterwards I’m sure that the abiding feeling for a big majority of the cinema-goers as they stepped out the foyer into a damp Glasgow night was one of optimism and amazement at the resilience of the human spirit.
It’s obviously a must-see for Edwyn and Orange Juice fans and indie fans generally but should surely also speak to a much wider audience. Along with All This Mayhem, it’s a contender for my favourite documentary of the year.
Here’s Edwyn, with an ex-Pistol on drums, performing A Girl Like You on the Conan show mentioned earlier:
The Possibilities Are Endless is due for release by Pulse Films in UK cinemas on 7th November 2014, although it can be viewed before there on iTunes.