“When I wrote the book, initially it was 800 pages — a bit long. I had to chop it, chop it, chop it, get it to 350. I cut away a lot of stuff that didn’t need to be there. I left out certain uncomfortable things,” The Police guitarist Andy Summers told Indiewire in 2012 about his memoir, “One Train Later,” which serves at the basis for “Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police.” “Some of these rock books — they grovel in it. Like Keith Richards‘ book, which I found awful, personally. It’s like, ‘We’re going to read about thirty years of heroin abuse?’ It’s just so fucking boring to me. I don’t really want to hear about it. If I wanted to read that, I’d read William S. Burroughs.” While I can’t speak for the book, when it comes to the documentary, that kind of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll grit would’ve been a welcome addition to what is an otherwise dull, sometimes navel-gazing look at one of the great bands of all time, who certainly deserve a more comprehensive cinematic treatment than this.
When it comes to The Police, it can be easy to forget their accomplishments: five albums in six years, in a trajectory that saw them going from London’s punk scene to band that filled massive arenas. They helped usher in the age of MTV, carved out their own unique musical space that was unequalled, and when Synchronicity was released in 1983 it momentarily knocked Michael Jackson‘s Thriller off the top spot in the charts, which is no small feat. And remember, this is all in half a decade. So what was the secret ingredient to the chemistry of their success? What musical influences did each bring into the band? How were band dynamics shifting internally from record to record, from tour to tour? These are all valid queries for a band who in its brief existence made a tremendous contribution to the world of music. But you won’t find much in the way of answers here.
The main issue is the presence of Summers himself, who doesn’t know enough to get out of his own way. Not only is the film based on his book, he provides the oftentimes overwrought voiceover and the only perspective on the band to a fault. There are no interview segments with anyone else — producers, record industry executives, pop culture icons — to provide an outside observation of the band. But more egregious, Sting and Stewart Copeland, who allow themselves to be filmed during the 2007 reunion concerts and rehearsals around which the film is structured, aren’t interviewed either. The story is told completey from Summers’ viewpoint, which certainly allows him to control the narrative, but the problem is that his insights and recollection of the history of The Police are told in a perfunctory, almost bullet point style.
The film documents Summers’ career from his days as a gigging guitarist in London, through a couple stabs at fame, before finally landing a gig in The Police (though he gave them an ultimatum — they had to fire the guitar player they already had, and it’s an anecdote that certainly could’ve used a bit more detail). That’s true for much of the film which politely skims over the surface of the band’s career, skipping quickly through every major highlight. While band turmoil does surface, Summers never elaborates any more deeply on the internal struggles The Police faced, except to say that they happened. Instead, Summers dully notifies where the viewer is in the The Police’s timeline, and then refracts it through his own personal experience. If you’re a huge Andy Summers fan, ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ will be a treat, but for anyone who is a fan of a band or wants an honest, detailed account of their trials and tribulations, the documentary is a disappointment. Indeed, even though the film doesn’t even run 90 minutes, it still takes time to focus Summers’ passion for photography, watching him shave or have makeup put on before an appearance. Which again, is a great thing if that’s what you’re looking for, but I’d wager few are.
Following the 2007 and 2008 tour, The Police haven’t played together again. And yet, each member of the band is pursuing various other musical and artistic outlets. Clearly, there are demons that remain that can’t get them in a room together to create new material, but what exactly they are, and how they manifests with each member, remains a mystery. Being in a band is like being a relationship, and The Police was a marriage between three dynamic, creative, and independent musicians who somehow distilled each of their best assets. But ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ lacks that sense of the three dimensional when it comes to documenting the band, presenting a sanitized, bird’s eye view of their history. [D]