Here’s a 2004 British-Canadian mockumentary that’s stuck with us over the years. It features a noteworthy performance from Paul Kaye, of Dennis Pennis and Game of Thrones fame.
It’s All Gone Pete Tong
The film starts with the life of superstar DJ Frankie Wilde (Paul Kaye). He lives in Ibiza and specialises in sick beats.
Leading a wildly hedonistic lifestyle, he’s a bit of a prick and completely self-absorbed.
However, as he goes about his work and social life he begins to notice strange issues with his hearing. All the signs signal he’s starting to go deaf, but he goes into immediate denial.
Continuing his gigging life, whilst working on a new album, he finds his hearing loss rapidly affects his work.
This hits a nadir during a gig in a club one night, when he fails to do his DJ stuff correctly. Booed by the crowd, he angrily tosses over his equipment and is ejected from the club.
He goes to a doctor the next day and is stunned to find he’s deaf in one ear, with 20% hearing left in the other.
During a recording session with his colleagues, he acknowledges the nature of his issue. But is then permanently deafened by excruciating feedback from an amplifier.
After this, his life quickly unravels. He can’t work, so loses his recording contract. His manager leaves him. And his wife, Sonya, also walks out on him.
In a depressive fit, Wilde begins drinking heavily and taking excessive amounts of drugs. He becomes a recluse and locks himself in his home.
Eventually, he tapes fireworks around his head and attempts to commit suicide. But dives into his pool before they can go off.
He flushes his remaining drugs down the toilet and contacts a deaf organisation. There he meets Penelope (Beatriz Batarda), a deaf lip-reading instructor.
There he finds someone to confide in and the two quickly become close, somewhere he can mourn the loss of music.
However, Penelope inspires him to perceive sound in new ways—visual and tactile methods, such as listening to thumping bass vibrations.
Using some initiative, Wilde then fashions a system for mixing songs—observing an oscilloscope trace whilst he rests his feet on thumping speakers.
This enables him to keep on time, which helps him finish a new album.
He takes this to his manager, Max, who’s delighted and sees an opportunity to exploit Wilde’s disability as an inspirational story.
Wilde performs one final set using his new tactics which goes very well. But afterwards he decides to leave Ibiza and follow a new life.
The film closes with Frankie and Penelope starting a new life together, with the former providing lessons to deaf children about how to perceive sound.
There we go! It’s All Gone Pete Tong in summary. We watched this randomly one night on TV not expecting much, but the handling of the subject matter impressed us. And has stuck with us!
We particularly find Kaye’s performance effective. As Wilde, he’s an obnoxious and self-absorbed prick in all his pomp and glamour.
But after his hearing loss, he comes to appreciate more important things in life. Curbing his excess, he becomes magnanimous and finds his humanity.
His relationship with Penelope is touching, with the lip-reading teacher remaining a humble and inspiring presence in his life.
For us, that’s what we took most of all from the film.
It takes a comedic approach that doesn’t always work, but the real essence of the film for us was Wilde overcoming his disability to lead a better life.
As soon as he meets Penelope, the film becomes something else entirely.
There’s one scene where Wilde and Penelope are having a lip-reading discussion in a kitchen. The former’s manager, Max, turns up wildly banging on the porch window behind them.
The duo continue their discussion, blissfully ignorant to the man feet behind them.
It’s a subtle moment, but one we liked a great deal. Especially with Wilde’s story ending on a charitable and uplifting note.
The film is far from perfect and some critics hated it (more on that below). But for what it is, we found a surprisingly thoughtful account of loss.
A Pete Tong Production
Michael Dowse directed the film. Off the $2 million budget, at the box office it went on to make its money back. But only just.
For Paul Kaye, it didn’t launch his acting career in the way he perhaps hoped. Despite showing considerable range in the second half of the film.
However, he’s since starred in Game of Thrones as Thoros from series three in 2013 to season seven in 2017.
As for his leading man role in It’s All Gone Pete Tong—on release the film wasn’t a hit with film buffs, but has since gained a cult following of sorts.
It received generally positive reviews. Famed US film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3/4 and wrote:
“There is a kind of desperation in any club scene (as 24-Hour Party People memorably demonstrated); it can be exhausting, having a good time, and the relentless pursuit of happiness becomes an effort to recapture remembered bliss from the past.”
We find the nod to 24 Hour Party People spot on. It’s a better film than It’s All Gone Pete Tong, but there are notable similarities.
Even if this film is a fictional account of a DJ, whereas the Madchester romp is based on truth.
Other reviews were more sniffy. The notoriously contrarian Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film 1/5 in a bit of a ridiculous review. It’s not a classic, but to take no merit from the film is absurd.
Dr. Mark Kermode of the Church of Wittertainment also thought it was terrible, providing an utterly scathing review.
Certainly, the film’s title isn’t as clever as whoever came up with it thought.
And some of the comedic elements don’t really work. The depiction of hedonistic Ibiza life (the Brits abroad) is also pretty stomach churning to behold.
But that all gives way to It’s All Gone Pete Tong’s second act, which we found memorable and uplifting. That’s the note we want to end on.