Monday, October 3, 2016

Sting Appreciation Day ’16: Review of 'Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police'

Every October 2nd (Sting’s birthday), I try and watch a Sting-related movie—usually a concert. This year, I decided to watch Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police, a relatively new documentary, released on DVD in 2015. Can’t Stand Losing You is really a memoir of Andy Summers, the guitar player from the Police, based on his book memoir One Train Later (2007). Interspersed with Summers’ narrative of his time with the Police in the '70s and '80s is footage of the 2007 Police reunion tour. So really today ended up being more of a Summers appreciation day instead of a Sumner appreciation day, but that's okay with me.

There are elements of what you’d expect in a Police documentary—origin stories for the bleached blonde hair, the aviator sunglasses, and "Roxanne"; and lots of footage of live concerts. But the movie gives a different perspective than Sting’s own memoir, Broken Music (2003)—Summers emphasizes the collaborative nature of the creative process of the Police, who did much of the production for their albums themselves, but also how this creative process sometimes devolved as Sting took more and more of the creative power. There is some critiquing of Sting and acknowledgement of the contention, though mostly without vitriol (the biggest critique comes from the editing and juxtaposition of Sting's own Police-era interviews).

What Summers chooses to focus on, though, is a tale of alienation that ran its course over the lifetime of the band. Not only the alienation of the Police from each other, but Summers from his second wife, Kate. In some ways, the title (which has to be a song title) is not so much about losing the band, but losing himself. It seems to be scripted as cautionary tale of what might happen with too much drugs, sex, money, and egos.

Other extras are scattered throughout the film, such as a 2007 Summers strumming his guitar while making coffee or running into a karaoke bar in Japan where someone is singing “Every Breath You Take.” And of course there are copious amounts lots of Summers’ black and white photography (he’s a frequent exhibitor).

Can’t Stand Losing You is not a critical or "serious" documentary. The movie was made for fans, or possibly just because Summers wanted to tell his own version of the story. I would have appreciated more critique and viewpoints; the only interviews were Police-era and mostly focused on Summers. And those old Police interviews could have used some analysis—it’s really hard when to tell when they telling the truth or lying (especially Copeland). I also would have liked more treatment of the creative process (especially Summers’ part in it), which seems to take a backseat to touring, Summers’ personal life, and concert footage. But it was still interesting to get another perspective (I still have not seen Stewart Copeland’s version).

One final note: I saw the Police reunion tour when it came through Salt Lake City in 2007. We had some cheap seats and I was very disappointed with the sound system, which I’m still a little angry about. Besides the bad sound quality (I think it was just the speakers close to us), what I do remember is that Sting and Copeland did not look especially happy to be there—but Summers was on fire. He took extra-long solos and exuded energy, even though he was the oldest on stage by 9 years. In both the concert and the film, I could see that he missed the Police and was sad the band split when they did. Even though Summers is the least flamboyant of the trio, his contributions to their success should not be underestimated, and
Can’t Stand Losing You gives him a voice, albeit a somewhat shallow one.