A Tale of The Unsatisfied in the Underground Rock Scene
Filmed over the course of 15 years, Ambition Withdraw charts the history of Tennessee rock band, The Unsatisfied.
This film is also a bit of a departure for me as the films I’ve reviewed to date have all been fiction which allows me to discuss both style and content without any need for separation. Documentaries are a bit different in that the subject of the film exists outside of the context of the film. This is all a long way of asking you to bear with me a bit as I, probably inappropriately, go on to confuse the subject matter with its presentation.
On the other hand, a well made documentary about a dull subject isn’t going to grab a lot of attention.
The Unsatisfied are certainly not a dull subject – a small town band with a huge well of ambition that keeps on going and continues to plug away in the face of setbacks, disappointment, adversity and internal tensions.
With linking segents provided by Chiller Cinema’s Dr. Gangrene, Ambition Withdraw uses a combination of original footage, home videos, concert performances and interviews with friends and family as well as the band members themselves to compile a picture of the unglamorous world of trying to combine practice and performance with the day to day necessity of holding down jobs and raising families. The combination of subject and presentation makes for a gripping couple of hours.
The main focus of the film is front man Eric Scealf who comes across as a passionate yet very down to earth and essentially likeable individual. Watching the film, it is impossible not to recognise his talent and commitment and to find yourself wanting to see him achieve the success that he richly deserves.
Of course, this film is also a rockumentary and, as such, the music is integral to the film.
This comes in two forms, the first is in the concert footage from the various stages of the bands career and is lively, entertaining and does a good job of illustrating how The Unsatisfied have progressed and matured over the years.
More interesting however were the ‘dream sequence’ performances which were shot for the film. I’m loathe to describe these in rock video terms as they go way beyond the sort of footage that passes for music video these days.
The dream sequences have a very surrealistic nightmare quality and are undoubtedly make up the best parts of the film.
The only real criticism I have of Ambition Withdraw is the number of interviews with friends and family of the band. While some of these did add some background to the character of the band members, the number of them meant that we were eventually being told things that were apparent from the performances and other footage.
That said, it’s a great film which provides a fascinating insight into the unglamorous life of a band always on the cusp of bigger things.