Singer and guitarist Adrian Borland led British post-punk group, The Sound, on a promising early 1980s run. After recording a handful of critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums and touring to the point of exhaustion, their moment passed, and the band split. Borland soldiered on with a solo career. Then, on April 26, 1999, on his way home from a recording session, he threw himself under a London train. The event went mostly unnoticed.
Within a few years, however, The Sound’s albums would be remastered, reissued and reappraised. A new generation of critics would begin asking aloud the same question as their forebears: “Why wasn’t this band huge?”
The 2016 Dutch documentary film, Walking in the Opposite Direction, explores that question. You see, in addition to negotiating the standard menu of punk-rock pitfalls, Borland experienced mental health issues throughout his life. So Walking is equal parts VH1’s Behind the Music and A&E’s Biography.
The 96-minute film was conceived by Jean-Paul van Mierlo, a Dutch fan who assumed the mantle of movie producer simply because nobody else would. He drafted a buddy, Marc Waltman, another Dutchman who happened to be a commercial director, and together they launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover costs. The crew is Dutch, too, by the way. Some bands are big in Japan; The Sound was big in Amsterdam. Borland worked in the Netherlands and Belgium extensively during his solo years. He also spent time in a Haarlem institution.
As editor of the anthology, Book of (Happy) Memories, Mierlo was already in contact with many of the story’s principals, notably Bob Borland. Adrian’s now-late father figures prominently in the film, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Until his last days, Bob Borland still lived in the family home in which young Adrian’s early bands rehearsed and recorded demos. Indeed, Borland the Elder became an amateur sound engineer to produce those sessions. Over the next 20 years, he would be witness, caretaker and occasional victim of his son’s schizoaffective disorder. Bob Borland’s running commentary is the heart of the film. He helped get the thing made, too, by donating Adrian’s guitars and flight cases to Mierlo’s crowdfunding effort.
The first portion of Walking describes the roller-coaster ride that was the music industry in the early 1980s. The first wave of punk had kicked open the doors and allowed working class Londoners like Borland to imagine mainstream success. Bandmates Michael Dudley, Bi Marshall and Graham Bailey tell the story of The Sound’s rise ... and fall. Despite glowing reviews and a cult following, the band ultimately stalled and disbanded.
The ‘90s were Adrian Borland’s lost years. There’s a giddiness in the belly every young musician on the ascent, every artist who feels their future before them. Without that tonic to buoy his spirits, Borland hit bottom. He cursed his washed-up fate. He grumbled that Bono had ripped him off. He heard subliminal messages in U2 records, in which the Irish singer thanked him directly for the assist. Finally, in a bid to recapture his creative inspiration, he stopped taking his prescribed medication.
Walking premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 2016. It has since screened across Europe. Folio Weekly and The Corazon Cinema and Cafe are bringing the film to St. Augustine for its U.S. premiere. The two-week run marks the 20th anniversary of Borland’s passing as well as the start of Mental Health Awareness Month.