From the content of John Ross’ documentary, Bill Bailey’s statement that “You’ve either never heard of him or you love him”, certainly seems to ring true. Evidently… John Cooper Clarke chronicles the life and work of the titular Salford-born performance poet, who having supported the likes of Elvis Costello, The Sex Pistols and Joy Division, has been on the peripherals of popular culture since the mid-seventies. Looking like a caricatured figure from a Tim Burton movie and leading a somewhat eccentric lifestyle – Cooper Clarke refusing to “employ the use of any artificial intelligence” (mobile phones, computers etc) – it’s a surprise the performer hasn’t become the subject of a documentary before (well, assuming someone was able to track him down).
Working in close contact with the poet himself and despite a mere hour’s running time, director John Ross does remarkably well to achieve such an extensive coverage of John Cooper Clarke’s extraordinary career. Ross’ debut project conveys how Cooper Clarke’s work has transcended the generation gap, achieving an enduring popularity over four decades and becoming an influential presence for a diverse range of performers. Ross’ impression of Cooper Clarke as a dynamic, influential force on popular culture is supported by a variety of talking head testimonials, amongst them comedians such as Steve Coogan and Bill Bailey, and contemporary musicians such as Alex Turner and Plan B – the latter pair supporting the timeless quality of Cooper Clarke’s work that has become the recurring mantra of this documentary.
The documentary’s style and cinematography aid our insight into the eccentricities of Cooper Clarke. From the outset, Ross paints the well-established image of the poet as an enigmatic figure; and rather than expose the man behind this persona, Evidently… preserves the mysticism. Interspersed with footage featuring the obscure references of Cooper Clarke’s own digression, coupled with the documentary’s breakneck pacing, Evidently… captures the essence of its subject. Perhaps its only flaw is in the idolisation of the figure. The more contentious elements of Cooper Clarke’s past, such as his history of substance abuse, are only touched upon briefly or are reduced to humourous anecdotes by Cooper Clarke himself. However, this criticism could simply be the product of Cooper Clarke’s oversight during the filmmaking, and this is perhaps reflective of his own interpretation of events.
Although some audiences may fault Evidently… John Cooper Clarke for its overt praise of its subject matter and the omission of certain elements of his past, for any fan of the stick-thin northerner any qualms with John Ross’ debut should be ignored. Evidently… functions as an almost autobiographical account of its elusive subject, showcasing the poet’s phenomenal wit alongside various compilations of his most famous works, and as such Evidently… John Cooper Clarke shouldn’t be viewed as a documentary, but as an homage to an artist.