When I moved to Stuttgart – 24 years ago now – the local Pop Stars were die Fantastischen Vier, four white men who made their living shouting in German. They were pretty good, but nothing you’d expect lasting very long.
Well, here we are in 2019 and the Fantis are preparing for a stadium tour to celebrate their 30-year anniversary. Adverts are showing in the cinema offering discounted tickets, some for as little as €50. As part of the celebrations, this documentary, or should I say rapumentary, is now in German cinemas.
The film starts with a series of talking heads explaining the uniqueness of the Fantastischen Vier’s music. Members of the band then explain how the secret of the band’s success is how they are such very different personalities. At that point my heart was sinking as I was anticipating a film full of similar claims without any evidence to back it up.
I didn’t have to bother on that count. The film makes a serious attempt to introduce us to the different performers. So here’s Smudo (sensible beard, affable) flighing small planes, driving rally cars and playing pinball in his man cave. There’s Michi Beck (perfectionist, most dressed like a teenager) explaining how his early shyness made him appear arrogant – “which I guess, I was”. And And.Ypsilon (normal looking), the one who does more producing that rapping and spends his spare time teaching in a music school.
And here is Thomas D (tattoos, straggly beard, head shaved apart from a small mohawk), who says he’s just the same when he’s not being filmed, but the one that’s most obviously playing a role – mugging for the cameras and wandering around with his top off. As befits their allocated roles, we hear most from Thomas and Smudo, while Andy and Michi are more thoughtful and reserved.
Although there is some archive footage, most notably from the breakthrough show in Heidelberg show when 1,500 people turned up to a venue for 500 people, the film mainly consists of interviews with the artists about growing old gracefully, and how they maintain the motivation to stay together. They are gleefully excited when Clueso – a rapper half their age – agrees to play on their next single, and bring in co-writers for the first time, so that their lyrics don’t get stale.
We hear that they feel that their survival is down to them each having a separate social life – Smudo now lives in Hamburg, Michi in Berlin and Thomas in the middle of nowhere. Andy tried leaving Stuttgart for a while, but has been drawn back.
Watching the film, I see an increasingly compelling argument for the Fantastischen Vier as the German Spice Girls – with song titles like Zusammen (Together) and Troy (Treu – loyal), they convey a sense of what its like to be in a gang despite their different personas. This is a very male (though not particularly macho) gang. We get occasional shots of children and possibly partners, but they are neither interviewed nor discussed.
The same goes for the rest of the band. Unlike many hip hop artists, the Fantastischen Vier tour with a full band of proper musicians, most of whom have been together since last century. The musicians take part in the big curtain call at the end of concerts, but they also are not interviewed for the film, nor do we hear anything about them. That’s a shame, as this would have been an interesting perspective.
Its a very workmanlike (workpersonlike?) project, with plenty of scenes of rehearsing and performing songs, old and new. There’s more than enough there to keep fans on board, though I’m not sure if there’s enough of interest to hold people who are new to the band. I’m somewhere in between – I know and like most of the songs, but won’t be rushing out to buy the expensive stadium tickets.
Ultimately, I’m not sure whether the Vier are interesting enough people to warrant a documentary about anything other than their music. This may, of course, be the fault of the questions asked by director, but in the end they come across as ordinary blokes, whose opinions are no more or less profound than anyone else’s. To be honest, that’s not unlike the impression given by their dependable but unspectacular music.