Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche

The gripping story of how this punk icon went under pressure.

If anyone has a device that can beam every movie, show, and song into my mind, now is the time to tell me. I mostly learn musicians through the radio or movies, and in this case, I’ve learned the name Poly Styrene through the documentary “I Am A Cliche.” She was a songwriter, singer, and the frontwoman for the punk rock band X-Ray Spec, who has lived her life as a woman of mixed race, a rocker under pressure (dare I say it), and a mother of only one.

Poly’s only daughter Celeste Bell directs and narrates this movie, as she reflects on her mother’s life: born in 1957 and died in 2011. It’s supposed to discuss about their relationship, regarding her neglecting motherhood and overwhelming fame.

Poly Styrene used to deal with the stereotypes and segregation, because she was of mixed race. Back then, it would leave kids confused, and both races wouldn’t approve of that particular individual. In fact, Poly felt less British and more Somalian, which is why she wanted to visit Africa to find her roots. And as a woman of color, she performed in an all-white industry, but still had her own tastes in music and styles. Ruth Negga provides her narration through her stories and poems.

  • Even though she was in the punk rock band X-Ray Spec, she never considered herself a punk rocker.
  • She could barely hold on to a romantic relationship with anyone.
  • She was insecure with all her fame.
  • When she and her band visited New York City, she was able to see a future where plastic and consumerism are celebrated and transcended. This would inspire some of her latest hits.
  • Like the best musicians, she got exposed to the “fascinating world” of drugs.
  • In an act of defiance, she shaved her head.
  • She had a number of acute bipolar disorder episodes.
  • And she had to break away from X-Ray Spec, thus ending the band.

Celeste didn’t really get the kind of motherly love from Polly that she deserved. Mommy was more focused on her music, and her baby was left to her own devices. But she also acknowledged how her mother had to deal with the life of a celebrity. Even Polly’s sister Hazel Emmons (who is among the interviewees) agreed she needed a break from her work.

I don’t know what it was like for her, but Polly did understand how she had to balance her life as a breadwinner and celebrity. She knew that her daughter was the best thing to happen to her, but her issues have forced Celeste to run away and be removed from her custody. It was a hard and angry life for them.

I didn’t get every detail in the documentation, but “Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche” examines the punk icon’s life through her attitude, stress, and sadness. With help from co-director Paul Sng, Celeste Bell does a fine job at trying to figure out her past with her mother, and her mother’s past as a singer. It’s the kind of spiritual journey that cuts back on the doubts and cynicisms that “Half Brothers” displayed. It’s about how time can heals all wounds, and Celeste is able to forgive her mother for all the troubles she caused for her.

I’m not recommending this doc, because she’s cast in it, but Ruth Negga still provides some charismatic narration as Polly, and even she is of mixed race (“Loving” and “Passing” are marvelous examples). It’s more about the true nature of this singer’s life, and how her daughter was affected by it.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Special One-Night Showings in Select Locations Tomorrow

Streaming on VOD This Friday

Categories: Biography, Documentary, Music

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