Here is 101 in a nutshell: in 1988, the British synthesizer band Depeche Mode went on a successful concert tour of the United States. The documentary filmmaker D. A. Penebaker (Monterey Pop, Don't Look Back, The War Room) was commissioned to follow the band across country and film them, both on and off stage.
In order to add interest and material to this would be "concert film", a group of late teenage - early twenty something kids, four male and four female tag along on their own tour bus as winners of a "Be In A Depeche Mode Movie" contest. The film inter-cuts between both groups.
But that's like describing Romeo & Juliet as just being a teenage romance. This all culminates on June 18, 1988 in a packed concert at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Part of what fascinates me about 101 is that despite the unpromising elements director Penebaker had to work with, the film is completely fascinating. Indeed, my affection for the film is partly because it succeeds when by any rational standard it should have failed; just like the band Depeche Mode.
I first heard Depeche Mode when an acquaintance found a small briefcase full of cassette tapes on the subway in 1982. Included in this haul were two Depeche Mode tapes, Speak & Spell and A Broken Frame.
I can't explain it, but the doleful, disquieting, yet bouncy, danceable music of Depeche Mode really hooked me. I became an instant fan. So, when I heard there was a film about them, I was intrigued.
After the credits, 101 begins inside the Rose Bowl, with Depeche Mode arriving in style in a classic Cadillac and the handsome, but obviously shy, Alan Wilder announces that Depeche Mode will go on tour in the United States and their final concert will be held in the monster Rose Bowl.
But we soon shift to the "auditions" for the kids who will ride on the bus following Depeche Mode and once they are picked, we have a scene that always makes me laugh. As a "hip" pony-tailed music lawyer explains to the eight kids about the contracts and waivers they have to sign, they gleefully ignore him and confer with each other about the various fake id's they have created to get served booze while being underage.
Meanwhile the kid's bus keeps getting lost on the way to the Depeche Mode concerts, necessitating the asking of directions from numerous passersby and tollbooth attendants.
There is a great bit while the kids are in Memphis and they decide to spend an afternoon touring Graceland, the famous home of Elvis Presley. The kids are shocked to learn that it costs $12.00 to take a tour.
If I didn't love them before, the kids on the bus gained my never-ending respect at Graceland, mostly because they commit the ultimate sacrilege in Elvis-land; they are thoroughly unimpressed. What's the big deal about Elvis? Elvis is boring they claim.
Finally someone had the guts to point at Elvis Presley and correctly identify him as the "King" without any new clothes. Their derision is not against Elvis the man, or Elvis the singer, but Elvis the legacy; the veneration of a pseudo-rebel who simply put a white face to black music and got rich off of their innovation.
It was the film Jerry Maguire that put the phrase "Show me the money!" into the American lexicon. Well, in 101 they literally show us the money. While an armored car pulls into the parking lot of the Rose Bowl, we watch as young workers sell Depeche Mode T-Shirts, Sweat Shirts and other merchandise.
Someone speculates on the amount of money that the band must be making and wishes they could be Depeche Mode's accountant. CUT TO, Jonathan Kessler, Depeche Mode's tour accountant in his trailer now dealing with various invoices and pay-checks for the crew.
Then we see the workers count up their money. And it is a LOT of money; many pounds of cash is literally dumped onto the backstage floor from cardboard boxes and counted into huge piles. It is interesting to note that Warner Brothers executives wanted these shots cut from the film.
They were not worried about the audience seeing the underage kids buying beer, nor were they bothered when they rolled joints in their hotel room, but seeing the actual amount of cash Depeche Mode generated, well, some things are better left unknown by the public.
But 101 doesn't cheat us despite what the Warner Brothers top brass wanted, back in the money trailer, Jonathan Kessler does the final accounting for the night. For the Rose Bowl concert, they had 60,453 actual paying customers and with the merchandise money, the grand total made by Depeche Mode on the night of June 18, 1988 was $1,360,192.50. No wonder they need an armored car to carry the dough away.
The Rose Bowl is their last concert and the film ends here having come full circle. We first meet Depeche Mode in an empty Rose Bowl stadium and now we leave them playing to a packed house. It is actually a nice moment of closure.
How should I defend this film? I don't need to. If you watch 101, you will either plug into its decidedly strange rhythms or you won't. You will either find the kids on the bus charming like I did, or you will just think them flighty teenagers. You will find the musical performances enjoyable or you won't like Depeche Mode at all.
But for me, this film was like actually being on the road with the band. And I liked the kids, they were truly the heart of this film and they gave 101 an original edge that most "concert films" don't have.