More than a punk rock icon

Poly Styrene: I’m a cliché is an insightful look at the often overlooked punk rock icon. Styrene was the lead singer of 1970s British punk band X-Ray Spex. Directed by Styrene’s daughter, Celeste Belle and Paul Sng, the documentary examines the legacy she left behind and the hardships she faced. It looks like it will be another standard documentary about a musician, but there are stark differences. Most notable is the lack of talking heads. i’m a cliche has its fair share of interviews, but all are done in voiceover. Styrene appears in archival footage and through readings by actress Ruth Negga.

i’m a cliche tries to separate the artist from the person and connect the dots between Poly Stryrene the singer and the woman behind the act, Marianne Joan Elliot. It’s a familiar balancing act for this type of film because it’s a way to humanize the stars and make them easier to relate to. Thanks to Bell’s directness, it carries more emotional weight here and ends up feeling more authentic.


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The film charts the rise and fall of X-Ray Spex in the public eye as well as the similar trajectory in Elliot’s private life. The end result is a story that goes beyond a band that had long term effects. While other movies tend to contemplate the what ifs, i’m a cliche highlights the positive influence of Styrene while openly discussing the sadness that filled Elliot’s life.

Poly Styrene: I’m a cliché manages to pull off a nice trick. It tells the story of a revolutionary character whose influence is perceptible today. At the same time, it ensures that she always stays down to earth. Even those unfamiliar with Styrene’s music will enjoy the story told.

Poly Styrene: I’m a cliché opens in theaters nationwide for one night only on February 2 and arrives on demand on February 4

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Diana J. Carleton