Marianne Joan Elliott-Said was one of the most influential musicians and artists of the late 1970s. After watching an early Sex Pistols gig on Hastings pier, she put an advert in Melody Maker looking for ‘young punx who want to stick it together’. She became Poly Styrene and they became the X-Ray Spex. As a mix-raced woman from a working-class background, she was refreshingly unique figure within the punk scene and had a highly unconventional mindset.
Whilst the rise of X-Ray Spex was fairly meteoric, their end was even swifter. During a gig on their first national tour, Poly saw a strange light and was subsequently sectioned. A year later, she left the band. However, although today they have a certain cult status, her influence and impact on the music scene was much more extensive. Filmmaker Paul Sng teams up with her daughter Celeste Bell to make the documentary Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché.
Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché tells the tale of a troubled artist whose influence lives on years after her death. Bell, who also co-authored her biography, narrates her mum’s life, with the aid of archive interviews, footage and excerpts from Poly’s diary read by Ruth Negga. This approach slightly grates at first, but ends up being the strength of Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché. We’re given the inside track, warts and all, which affords us a much greater understanding of a remarkable woman.
The World Premiere of Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché is at Glasgow Film Festival. It is out in virtual cinemas on 5 March.