Poly Styrene: Special screening for Sheffield-made film of punk legend at Showroom Cinema

A Sheffield film company is celebrating the success of its documentary about legendary punk singer Poly Styrene with a special screening at the Showroom Cinema.

By Julia Armstrong
Friday, 8th April 2022, 12:46 pm
A still from new documentary, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche, showing the punk star frontwoman of band X-Ray Spex. The film was made by Sheffield's Tyke Films and has a special screening at the Showroom Cinema
A still from new documentary, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche, showing the punk star frontwoman of band X-Ray Spex. The film was made by Sheffield's Tyke Films and has a special screening at the Showroom Cinema

Tyke Films will be screening its documentary Poly Styrene: I am a Cliche in collaboration with the Showroom Cinema on April 20. Box office: www.showroomworkstation.org.uk.

BBC Radio Sheffield presenter Sile Sibanda will host a Q&A about the film with its directors, Paul Sng and Poly’s daughter Celeste Bell, and Sheffield producer Rebecca Mark-Lawson.

The company, based at Warp Films in Park Hill, won the British Independent Film Award for best documentary for the film, which is due to be released on Blu-Ray.

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In the 1970s, Poly Styrene was the first woman of colour in the UK to front a successful band, X-Ray Spex, who had hits with Oh Bondage Up Yours! and Germ-Free Adolescents.

Her Anglo-Somali heritage helped inspire the riot grrrl and Afropunk music movements but subjected her to racism.

Neneh Cherry says in the film that she only began singing because she saw Poly, a bi-racial woman like her, on Top of the Pops. “She was a very inspirational woman,” said Rebecca.

She said Tyke Films was approached to make the documentary when its film Irene’s Ghost was shown at the London Film Festival. The directors were looking for someone who could make personal stories.

Celeste Bell, who stars in and co-directs a new documentary about her mum, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche. Sheffield-based Tyke Films made the documentary, which has a special showing at the Showroom Cinema on April 20

Tyke Films specialises in telling real-life stories through documentaries and drama.

Celeste made the film after she was unexpectedly given an archive of her mother’s artistic work after her death from breast cancer in 2011, aged 53.

It follows her travels across three continents to make sense of her life with her mum, who had battles with mental health, as well as her artistic legacy.

‘She was an incredible writer and performer but not always a great mum’

Celeste Bell travelled three continents to make a film about the life of her punk star mum, called Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche. Sheffield-based Tyke Films made the documentary, which has a special screening at the Showroom Cinema on April 20

Rebecca said: “When they came to me, we could have been making a band documentary. I was more interested in the mother-daughter relationship and looking at Poly’s life through that lens.

“That turns it away from looking back at the past and gives it more depth. Celeste is so good on camera and she was trying to come to terms with her often difficult relationship with her mum, who was an incredible writer and performer but not always a great mum, but she was the only mum she had.

“We were able to go to some quite interesting places and it was done from a place of love.”

Rebecca Mark-Lawson of Sheffield-based Tyke Films produced documentary Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche, which has a special screening at the Showroom Cinema on April 20

Rebecca said the film looks at Poly as a complex person who had mental health problems that were affected by her surroundings.

“She was a bi-racial woman from Brixton who was in the public eye,” she said.

“She was undercut by the media and not celebrated for her amazing writing abilities. She was a female at the time when she wasn’t expected to be out of the box.

“She was very forward thinking and prescient in that way – her writing and her songs are about identity. Oh Bondage Up Yours! is about misogyny.

“She was writing some interesting things and definitely ahead of her time. Celeste went through a lot with her mum.”

Rebecca said the film-makers were careful to support Celeste in coping with her emotions in making the film. She is very proud of the finished product, which won her a nomination in the British Independent Film Awards for best debut director.