THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"CAN'T STAND LOSING YOU: SURVIVING THE POLICE"
If you weren't around in the 1980s, it can be hard to understand just how massive it was when The Police arrived on the music scene. Their first hit, “Roxanne,” was a punk/New Wave/reggae hybrid unlike anything else on the radio – and it was about a prostitute, no less. The band's early songs gained popularity for their energy and catchiness, but it was also apparent that they were consummate musicians with some inventive musical ideas. Those ideas bore their fullest fruit with 1983's “Synchronicity,” an album inspired by the ideas of psychologist Carl Jung. Bolstered by the smash hit “Every Breath You Take,” it spent four months atop the Billboard album chart. The Police never made another record after it. The documentary Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police tells the story of how this band got together, soared to great heights, and ultimately fell apart.
The tale is told from the POV of guitarist Andy Summers, on whose memoir, One Train Later, it is based. Providing his own narration, Summers gives a brief history of his musical career in small bands, then segues into the series of astonishing coincidences that brought him together with drummer Stewart Copeland and singer/bassist Sting. (Synchronicity, indeed.) Once they figured out what their sound would be, the results were magic. Success on both sides of the pond came quickly, thanks in part to massive exposure on MTV. But there were also pressures: the rigors of touring, tabloid stories, and Sting's ego. Although still clearly respectful of his band-mate, Summers lays a great deal of blame for the breakup at Sting's feet, citing his “moody arrogance” and desire to have control of their increasingly ambitious projects. (“After a few years and unparalleled success together, the fragile democracy has become a dictatorship,” Summers explains.) Some vintage interview footage captures the tension between members. Interwoven with the main narrative are scenes of The Police on their 2007/2008 reunion tour, an event that, at one time, seemed impossible.
While there is plenty of “dirt” in Can't Stand Losing You, including an amazing story about the band's encounter with John Belushi, the documentary doesn't play as sour grapes. Summers is very matter-of-fact in describing the issues The Police faced, including his own contributions. Director Andy Grieve takes a similar approach in the way he paces the telling of the group's history. There's no fat here, just a straightforward recitation of the facts as Summers sees them. It helps that the guitarist's voiceover is so personal; you can sense how he feels about the things he's discussing. Some of the clashes he clearly recalls with amusement, while others illicit a sense of melancholy. The intimate nature of the film is what makes it so special.
Beyond The Police, this is really a doc about Summers himself and how he felt being in one of the biggest bands in the world. The most magical sequence in the film comes when he's visiting a foreign country and stumbles past a karaoke bar where someone is singing “Every Breath You Take.” Summers wanders in and begins singing with the unsuspecting gentleman. His pride in the enduring musical accomplishments of The Police is especially apparent in this moment. In his earliest professional days, he wondered if he would ever amount to anything. He did, and it turned out to be more amazing than he could have predicted. The reunion tour brought a sense of closure that he – and Police fans everywhere – had long been denied.
Of course, the music here is great, and the reunion sections show that, despite past clashes, Summers, Copeland, and Sting still maintain deep affection and respect for one another. There has never been another band quite like The Police, nor will there ever be. Lots of bands have been influenced by them, though, and their records have a timeless quality that will ensure people seek them out well into the future. Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police is an insightful peek into how the intersection of ambition, creativity, and ego can yield both brilliance and heartache.
( 1/2 out of four)
DVD Bonus Features:
Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police hits DVD, Blu-Ray, and On Demand July 14.
The DVD comes with a few bonus features, the most substantive of which is audio commentary from Andy Summers. The rest of it is fairly scant. There are two different versions of the trailer – the theatrical cut and Andy's personal cut. (His is actually better.) There are additionally three-and-a-half minutes of interview segments with the guitarist, who talks about reuniting with the Police and making individual egos work within the band. There's also a minute-long photo gallery featuring some of his behind-the-scenes pictures.
The Blu-Ray is scheduled to include exclusive features, including a Q&A from the Los Angeles premiere, as well as a more comprehensive photo gallery and a longer Andy Summers interview.
Can't Stand Losing You is unrated, but contains language and some nude imagines in artistic works. The running time is 1 hour and 19 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!