The trouble with a film like this is that you’re only getting one side of the whole story.
When guitarist Andy Summers eventually passes away, every headline around the world is going to associate his name with one band: The Police. There might be a brief discussion of his work in the ‘60s with artists like Zoot Money, The Animals, and The Soft Machine. And if music fans are lucky, there will be a mention of his post-Police association with guitarist Robert Fripp and his New Age-leaning jazz solo albums. Beyond that, copy editors are going to stick with the meteoric rise and ignominious collapse of the trio he was in with Sting and Stewart Copeland.
The same line of thinking is followed with this documentary based, in part, on Summers’ memoir One Train Later. The early part of the film touches on Summers’ youth during WWII, his love affair with the guitar, and his great love for his wife Kate. The bulk of its brief running time is given over to another recitation of the story of The Police, including plenty of footage from the band’s ballyhooed 2007 reunion tour.
The trouble with a film like this is that you’re only getting one side of the whole story. We can pretty easily take Summers at face value during his discussion of how neglectful he was of his family during his former band’s most active period. We can even see how much he and his wife still enjoy each other’s company, years after repairing the wounds that caused them to split up for a period. As for his experiences within The Police, no one but Summers really gets a word in about the group’s history, legacy, and the combative egos that tore it apart at its commercial peak.
You get some sense of these still lingering issues during the rehearsals and soundchecks that director Lauren Lazin was able to film. Sting actually does come off like the pompous prick that Summers portrays him as. It’s even worse when looking at archival interviews with the band, like the oft-repeated MTV interview during the Synchronicity tour that ended when Sting and Copeland starting tossing drinks at each other.
Even with those small glimpses, Summers maintains his authorial voice in a manner akin to Mike Doughty’s strange and snide tone throughout his memoir The Book of Drugs (the book where the former Soul Coughing frontman refused to even use his bandmates’ names). Through that lens, we miss out on quite a bit. We don’t know why Sting and Copleand decided to choose Summers over The Police’s former guitarist Henry Padovani. There’s also no one around to hold the film’s subject (potentially) complicit in the intraband squabbling and gamesmanship that went on seemingly throughout their entire history together. Summers dips his toes close to the fire at times but never holds them there for very long.
Much of that nuance and self-deprecation is likely within the pages of One Train Later, but gets lost in its filmic version. Can’t Stand Losing You does provide some interesting details to the Police story. Even a fan like myself forgot just how blatantly opportunistic all three men were being by embracing punk and new wave after years of playing in prog rock acts. And if you weren’t aware of Summers work as a photographer, a hobby he picked up to fill the dead hours of long tours, the film features a great deal of his arresting black & white images.
Can’t Stand Losing You will only ever be one-third of the story. And when you start to see what an impressive and almost heartbreaking tale it is, you’ll likely wish that this were even more comprehensive and more detailed. Unless someone is willing to tackle that project, å la the impressive Sum of the Parts, about the evolution of the band Genesis, we’ll just have to wait for Copeland and Sting to make their solo documentaries.