That singer-songwriter Martha Tiltson stars, directs and writes The Tape is fact that might set alarm bells ringing for it’s potential audience. Musicians really don’t have the greatest track record on the silver screen with Tom Waits, Lady Gaga and Frank Sinatra being a few notable exceptions.
When you add writing and directing into the mix, unintentional humour is usually the only entertainment to be found. Fred Durst’s Travolta vehicle The Fanatical being a particularly hilarious example. Friday, written by and starring Ice Cube is the only really solid example I can think off but he didn’t direct.
The Tape gets off to a bit off a shaky start with Martha’s initial comic scenes seeming a bit broad and Miranda Harty. Early dialogue is also pretty clunky with down on his luck corporate lawyer Leo (played by Lee Hart) declaring “I don’t know whether I’m losing my mind or finding it right now”.
The film finds itself on firmer footing when Tiltson’s character, the self-styled worst cleaner in Cornwall, discovers a four-track tape recorder in house where she is working. Previously a songwriter, she rekindles her songwriting muse, improvising mic stands out of broom’s and gaffer tape and the story really takes off from there.
The diegetic soundtrack is performed live by Tiltson and is a really appealing set of songs. As she writes and refine them I’m reminded of a scene in Gus Van Sant’s Last Days where a character based on Kurt Cobain rattles around his mansion creating a piece of music from scratch, layering drums, bass, guitars and vocals. The music here has a similar sort of immediacy.
The dialogue surrounding music is also a lot more authentic and convincing. Discussions surrounding commerce in music and the old analogue versus digital debate (“all the best stuff in life happens between the naughts and the ones”) are much more compelling then they sound.
The final act finds the film back on more conventional and slightly predictable ‘A Star is Born’ territory but it has the momentum and charm to carry it off. It’s not a wholly successful film but it’s certainly entertaining and thought provoking and as such can be added to the tiny list of musician/actor/writer/director films worth your precious time.