15 Apr 2023

'When they were good, they were so good' - Behind the scenes with King Loser

From Music 101, 3:30 pm on 15 April 2023
Celia Mancini, King Loser, captured at Bodega in Wellington, September 2016

Celia Mancini performs with King Loser. Photo: Stella Gardiner

A new documentary is being made about the legendary New Zealand band King Loser's reunion and final tour in 2016.

Originally directed by Andrew Moore, its release was delayed due to disagreements in the band - but now a new team of people have come on board, including Cushla Dillon who is editing the film.

Cushla joined Charlotte Ryan on Music 101 to talk about the film.

The band's mesmerising mix of snappy surf guitar, sloppy drones, reckless rock'n'roll and croony covers stood them apart from their local contemporaries in the early to mid-'90s.

The nucleus of the group - multi-instrumentalist Celia Patel (a.k.a. Mancini, ak..a Pavlova) and guitarist Chris Heazlewood - had five prolific years making music together, but volatile chemistry and self-destructive tendencies took their toll.

Describing Celia as a "style icon", Cushla says she didn't really have a choice when it came to working on the film.

"We were just told to make it, because Celia thought it was a good idea," she says. "And she has such an incredible creative mind that is full of danger and excitement and craziness and love and driven by this incredible passion for not only rock n roll, but also rock n roll mythology."

It was Celia who asked Andrew Moore to come on tour with the band and document the experience when they reunited in 2016.

"Now the thing is, this was all Celia's idea, the whole thing was Celia's idea," she said.

"In fact, kind of everything about King Loser was always driven by Celia, all the music videos, everything."

Moore's film was completed after the tour, but not everyone in the band agreed with how they were portrayed.

King Loser

King Loser were together for five years. Photo: Serena Stevenson

"[Andrew] put together quite an amazing film that was really pushed by what Celia wanted, she wanted warts and all, she wanted the dirt of what happened on that tour," Cushla said.

"But unfortunately when the film was seen by various members it was not seen that way."

Things were further complicated when Celia died suddenly in 2017, aged 50 - and "it was no longer such of a fun film anymore", according to Cushla.

"There was a general feeling that there was a much better, kinder film in there, that it didn't quite need to be so harsh," she says.

And so Cushla came on board to re-edit the film into something everyone could be happy with, while focusing on Celia's songwriting and musical talents. However, the band's messier aspects still make the cut.

"I mean this really was a band that you would turn up and you really didn't know whether you were going to get King Loser on a good night or King Loser on a bad night," Cushla says.

"And when they were good, they were so good. And when they were bad it was really scary, I mean you were sort of right up front of some pretty scary dynamics."

King Loser's original breakup is also covered in the film.

"We do tell the story in the film, in fact both Chris and Celia walk us through the events of that day, but again as they sort of slightly contradict each other, it's really up to the audience to decide who was the good guy and who was the bad guy really."

Celia Mancini

Celia Mancini. Photo: Brigid Grigg-Eyley

While Celia could be a polarising character and was in bad health at the time of filming, Cushla hopes the finished product will show her complexities and vulnerabilities.

"You will see a person who maybe in the first five minutes you go, 'Man she's scary, I don't know if I like her'," she says.

"But then in the next 20 minutes there's so much logic that comes in to why she's doing what she's doing and then the past which is just so full of incredible stories of what she did for her art that you cannot help but respect.

"We hope there's a sense of love for all of the members of King Loser and for people who go out there on a limb and make music."

Cushla says the documentary will be released this year and a Givealittle page has been set up to help fund the project.