Join Ensemble at an exclusive Auckland screening of Spice World on the big screen - dress ups and a sense of fun, essential. Ensemble Presents: Spice World at the Hollywood Cinema, Avondale, on Friday May 6 at 7.30pm. Tickets available here for $15 each. Ensemble Members receive a complimentary double pass. For more on the Ensemble Membership program, click here.
I grew up in the eighties, under the refrain of ‘girls can do anything’; a Department of Labour campaign to encourage women into non-traditional employment like the trades. By the time Girl Power exploded in Aotearoa in the late nineties, along with the third wave of feminism, I was studying women’s studies and art history at Auckland University. I was more invested in the Guerrilla Girls and Barbara Kruger than the Spice Girls, and admittedly outside the age demographic.
When Sporty, Ginger, Scary, Baby and Posh first drew my attention in 1996, via the video for their first single Wannabe, I smugly noted that they were a marketing gimmick, with their various personas designed to appeal to all (unless you were fat; the music executives behind them weren’t ready to be that inclusive or revolutionary). I summarily dismissed them the way I did similar bands, like *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. Until suddenly, they became impossible to ignore.
By the time the band’s film Spice World was released at the end of the following year, I was a fan. Not so much a fan of the music (I told myself I was still more of an Elastica, Hole or PJ Harvey girl), but a fan of the girls and their ‘Girl Power’ mantra that was both infectious and fun. About as far removed from an academic treatise as one could imagine.
Sure, one could argue (and many did) they were a manufactured pop brand controlled by the patriarchy. But the film indicated that the girls, like me, were in on the joke. They knew they weren’t the most talented, or the best at what they did but they gave it everything they had and had a blast in the process.
The film is a masterfully scripted (and executed) spoof comedy and those who deride it clearly don’t know how to have a good time.
Forthwith are five reasons Spice World is a truly important and criminally underrated masterpiece, and still stands strong 25 years after it was first released...
1. They’re in on the joke
“That was absolutely perfect, without being actually any good,” praises the musical director (a cameo appearance by Jools Holland) during rehearsals for the band’s upcoming concert at Albert Hall. At numerous points in the film, the girls show that not only are they aware of what’s being said about them, they embrace it. Just one example: after Scary recounts a nightmare where she had no head, Posh responds with a signature pithy remark. “I had the same dream, only mine was much worse. You see, I had a head, but there was no makeup on it."
2. It’s dark and surrealist
While on the outside it’s frothy and fun, with an amazing soundtrack, there are subtle sinister tones to it, through Roger’s Moore villain and the media constantly trying to bring them down, through to an alien encounter in the woods. The darkest of all? A deleted scene involving convicted paedophile Gary Glitter.
3. It provides cutting commentary on the lack of power and huge expectations around female artists and fame in general
As the film works towards the girls' big concert, they realise they aren’t in control of their own destiny and they fight to reclaim the narrative. They demand creative control of their performances and identities and show an important awareness of the fickle nature of fame.
In one imaginary flash forward, they see a judge (played by Stephen Fry) sentencing them as such: “Emma, Victoria, Mel C, Mel B, Geri. You've been charged with releasing a single that was no more kicking than your previous ones. Nor does it have such a phat bass line. You are sentenced to having your next record enter the charts at 171 and having it fall completely out the following week.”
4. The guest stars are incredible (with the exception of the aforementioned Gary Glitter)
Roger Moore, Jennifer Saunders, Alan Cumming, Meatloaf, Kiwi Richard O’Brien, Elton John, a little-known Dominic West, Stephen Fry, Bob Geldof and many more.
5. Ultimately this is a film about friendship and valuing it above all else
This rings true even today when you consider that guest star Elton John is godfather to Posh Spice’s eldest child and the ‘girls’ continue to support each other. Even if Posh is very happy to never sing and dance again, having realised it was never her happy place.