Mental Illness Nearly Ended Adam Ant's Career. A New Film Chronicles His Return
Adam Ant and Jack Bond in The Blueblack Hussar.
Courtesy of Jack Bond
More than three decades after Adam Ant (born Stuart Leslie Goddard) first made hearts throb with his new romantic Prince Charming persona, he found himself starting anew, on the comeback trail and working a different flamboyant guise — a less smooth but no less seductive pirate-esque provocateur called the Blueblack Hussar. It was common knowledge that the singer suffered from bipolar disorder and other psychiatric issues, which kept him out of the public eye for many years. But his talent was obviously still there, slowly simmering until the time was right to unleash it once again in a bold new way.
The comeback was impressive, too. His sixth and latest album, 2013's Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter, saw the new-romantic knight turn raw and nasty, with a collection of bodacious, hard-rocking numbers showcasing his gifts for songwriting and vocals. In his live act, he proved he was more than a new wave nostalgia act, re-interpreting old hits (his new version of "Physical (You're So)" is downright illicit) and turning in raucous, sometimes very weird but great performances. That, coupled with the Captain Jack Sparrow garb and refusal to do interviews (we tried!), kept him somewhat of an enigma to the public.
How did Ant fare while returning to the live circuit, and what was his mental state at the time? Filmmaker Jack Bond followed Ant's comeback, and the result is his 2013 documentary, The Blueblack Hussar, which screens for the first time in the L.A. at Cinefamily this Wednesday. It’s a fascinating character study, spotlighting an eccentric artist at a make-or-break moment in his career, filled with visceral music, charismatic depth and some good laughs.
We asked revered U.K. TV producer and filmmaker Bond, who has also chronicled the lives of everyone from Salvador Dali to Warner Herzog, a few questions via email about his experience and process, and what it was like behind the scenes working with the usually reclusive music star.
Why did you want to make this film?
I wanted to make the story of Adam's life, [and show] that moment that had the elements and structure of a classical drama. Here was a man struggling to recover much of his former self — the rock god of the '80s from whom everything had been taken. He had lost his health, his career, his self esteem, and was seemingly a figure alone wandering in the dark. It was the story of his endearing struggle to redefine himself, to recreate himself with whatever tools he still had to hand. Amazingly, and to my delight, he still had it all after 15 years in the wilderness.
What surprised you about Adam once you started to tape?
Nothing surprised me about Adam once the camera started filming. I intrinsically knew that once we started to roll he would startle us, which he did. All the genius of his past was still at hand. It became a classic story of recovery and the rediscovery of himself in a new form.
Filmmaking is a bit like weaving a tapestry where all the fragments add up to a historical portrait. Obviously for this process you need a fascinating individual on a personal quest. Hence, Adam Ant as the Blueblack Hussar, who certainly provided the ideal subject. The film is … an exploration of his artistry and the human condition which kept me entranced all the way through.
What made Adam Ant a great film subject?
His complexity and his intellect. He had an uncanny and psychic sense of the camera following him, yet didn't bend to it and always seemed to be several jumps ahead of us. He was like a fast-moving train. All we had to do was make sure we had a ticket to ride.
Some of the greatest fun of being with him in Paris was his constant acquisition of antique objects that inspired him and touched him in some way. He has a great knowledge of history and respect for the unique figures that have inspired and affected his life. When placed against characters that interested him, such as actress Charlotte Rampling and artist Allen Jones (who had taught him art as a young student), he pays due to their influence on his life and music, which led to two magical and memorable scenes in the film.
A scene from The Blueblack Hussar.
Courtesy of Jack Bond
Did he have input into the editing or choosing what to include in the film?
With me, my subjects always have to take it or leave it. Adam understood from the start that he needed to trust me. It's always been that way. From Salvador Dali, Werner Herzog, Roald Dahl and Patricia Highsmith — all high-powered creatures of their art. They've had to put up with it and so did he. If you ever make the mistake of opening your film up to the input of others, even if they're key to the work, then all is lost.
What were the challenges overall?
Surviving the process with independent filmmaking is always hard. These documentary films are difficult to make. First off, you have to deal with the finance and the inevitable explosions of temperament that occur from all angles along the way. It ain't no easy ride. I don't wish to discourage others from doing the same, but you do need to be tough and up for the fight.
How do you think this will affect his legacy? What is he up to these days and what did he think of the doc?
I feel Adam's career was at a turning point. We caught him at an integral stage of his return to music and re-forging an identity and creative path for himself.
Ideally, both subject and filmmaker should emerge from the process to find some sort of redemption. I made this film to capture a moment in time and that moment has now passed. I would like to think it will affect Adam's legacy in a positive way, but this is also beyond my intention. This was not a PR job. When I declare a film to be finished, that's it, I have stopped and in that moment the film has to live on its own. I tend to never see or think of it again. It's like being a painter. Once you've signed the picture, it's finished. Turn out the lights and don't inhabit my dreams or nightmares anymore.
Adam is still performing. He's doing an upcoming festival on the Isle of Wight, headlining with Iggy Pop.
The Blueblack Hussar screens at Cinefamily on Wednesday, Jan. 20 as part of their "Don't Knock the Rock" film series. More info at www.cinefamily.org.