‘Schemers’ is a Rock and Roll Autobiography With No Introspection

A still from 'Schemers'. Davie (Conor Berry) is shown to the left of the frame, propping himself up on wooden crutches. It is Thatcher era Scotland and he is wearing a black elather trench coat with black leather gloves and black polo neck. He is chatting with two friends, a young, Parisian inspired dressed woman in the centre and another young man on the right.
Strike Media

The best part of cinematic autobiography Schemers comes very early, during its opening credits; as a college-aged Davie (Conor Berry) and his peers revel in misspent college years, dancing in harshly-lit clubs to rock and roll, the camera occasionally cuts back to Davie’s dad, bopping along to some more old-fashioned, traditionally Scottish music in his sitting room chair. It might be a cheesy device, but the joy of music as a uniting force, in all its forms and audiences, comes through tangibly. But unfortunately, the film loses life from this early moment as it fails to foster the same love for the humans behind the true story. 

Considering the framing of Schemers, this primary, insurmountable stumbling block is somewhat baffling. The mega-successful rock promoter David Mclean wrote and directed this film, based on his early years, friendships, and music industry ambitions in 1979 Dundee: Davie grows up to be David, and the closing title cards remind us that he is successful beyond most youths’ wildest dreams. This could be a remarkable story of a young, passionate man rising to the top, but the hustle, grit, and self-discovery that makes these films so engaging and inspiring is missing. 

A series of storytelling shortcomings hamper Davie’s coming-of-age, rags-to-riches tale. Mclean is far better at describing his exploits on paper, in the first person, than he is in translating them to the screen. He borrows the language of Boyle and his post-punk cinematic colleagues – freeze frames, voiceovers, and bursts of electric activity from static montages– but with a script that lets Davie fall into his situations and opportunities with the haziest planning, each step leading to the Iron Maiden concert and the launch of his career has little dramatic weight. Mclean’s characterisation of his younger self —extraordinarily carefree, using his friends, family, and partners almost to the point of exploitation, and getting off with little more than an eye roll— does not help this lack of consequence. The stand-offs with local gangs as he finds venues for his headliners feel onerous rather than exhilarating. 

The plotting and cinematic laziness could be forgiven had the human connection not felt tacked on as an afterthought. It does not feel like Mclean remembers his friends and co-conspirators aside from the vaguest sketches; more in terms of what they did for him rather than who they are as people. The women in Schemers are particularly ill-served. The love interests are so thinly characterised that it is hard to see why Davie breaks a leg in pursuit of one, and why his girlfriend keeps forgiving his missed dates and under-delivered promises. Davie’s long-suffering, practical mother could have formed a foil against her impetuous son, yet the action makes one question why she put up with his antics in the first place.The film does a better job of establishing place, establishes the economic and social tensions at play in early Thatcher-era Scotland, often exposing Davie’s impression of Dundee as a dead-end city through humorous juxtapositions. But without the humanity and weight of changing the world –and to the youths balancing their schooling with forging their path in the arts, this passion is its own world– Schemers feels half-baked.

Schemers is available on DVD and VOD from January 25th

by Carmen Paddock

Carmen is an American living in Scotland. She holds a Masters in International Film Business from the University of Exeter / London Film School, and while now working in technology she keeps her love of film alive through overenthusiastic writing and an unhealthy amount of time spent at the cinema. Favourite films include West Side Story, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ever After, and Thor: Ragnarok. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenChloie

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