As with years of Rooftop Cinema’s recent past, the outdoor series tends to favor an annual account of an iconoclastic musician or a groundbreaking movement in punk or avant-garde. Last year’s selections have included Tony Conrad: fully in the present in 2019 to desolation center in 2020. This year Styrofoam: I’m a cliché is a multifaceted portrait of the titular British-Somali poet and vocalist (born Marianne Elliott-Said), who fronted X-Ray Spex in late 1970s London.
While Poly’s DIY flair for fashion and distinctively defiant punk rock influenced riot grrrl acts in the 1990s and Afro-punk in the 2000s, this documentary ultimately revolves around a family affair, as it is co-directed by the daughter of famous singer Celeste Bell (with increasingly prolific documentarian Paul Sng).
In the opening seconds of the film, Bell considers a question she’s often asked about Poly being a good mother. Over the course of 90 minutes, Bell tries to answer and reconcile the faces of public and private life. Reconstructing and tracing Poly Styrene’s artistic roots through artifacts that predate Bell, while also examining her earliest memories (or those created in her absence) as a child, this biographical documentary becomes a look surprisingly psychological and unusual about identity. —Grant Phipps