Anyone looking for a comprehensive, chronological Pretenders documentary might want to pass on "Alone With Chrissie Hynde." It’s neither a nostalgic, post-punk Reagan / Thatcher-era retrospective on post-punk shenanigans nor Hynde’s retelling of the ups and downs of her influential British / American ensemble. No rock star romances blossom (and implode) here: There are no break-ups or make-ups, no descents into drugs addiction or second chance sobrieties to tug heartstrings. No touching upon the tragedies of original (and departed) Pretenders members Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott.
But for fans who’ve always wanted to share a little recreational (or metaphysical) down time with the sultry Pretenders singer, "Alone" is just the ticket: An all-inclusive holiday romp through the homes, hangouts, and head-space of one of rock’s most intriguing leading ladies.
Originally aired on BBC’s TV Arena series, the Nicole Roberts-directed film eschews The Pretenders’ tumultuous past in favor of creating an up-close, personal portrait of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2005) ensemble’s Ohio-born front woman.
True to its title, the ninety-plus minute pseudo-musical tasks a team of camerapersons with shadowing the sexagenarian superstar, who’s moved away from her adult children, ex-husbands, and all possible sources of music biz bullsh#t to enjoy some well-deserved “me time” in single-bed apartments, art galleries, and arboretums around the globe.
“There are lots of songs about relationships…but not so many about being on your own,” speculates Hynde in one of several informal couch-chats anchoring the narrative.
“Maybe that’s because it’s crap to be alone.”
But maybe it’s not.
That internal debate fuels several pieces on Chrissie’s latest Pretenders platter, "Alone."
Yea or nay to being by oneself, it’s certainly not a drag hanging with Hynde as she decides for herself whether a detached, solitary, partner-free existence is her cup of tea. It’s a Learning to Crawl video memoir for Centrum Silver boomers coping with the transition into their golden years. And nobody does it better than our feisty femme fatale, who makes semi-retirement and solitude look not only inviting, but intellectually and spiritually invigorating.
Whether it’s standing her ground against a literal con-artist on the streets of Paris, commiserating with waterfowl in a London park, enjoying girl time with actress / radio hostess Sandra Bernhard in New York, or strolling through cemeteries in her native Akron, Hynde makes for a fun (if finicky) follow.
Which in turn makes "Alone" a fascinating biopic.
There’s Chrissie doing the same things we regular schmucks might do on any given day, like treating herself to an ice cream cone or food truck falafel. There’s the “Don’t Get Me Wrong” rocker claiming baggage at an airport and snacking on popcorn in Summit Mall, unrecognized and unnoticed as the rest of us. Now there she is ambulating through a rose garden, commenting on the “romantic names” of the botanical varieties. See Chrissie shop for vests at a French clothier (“You’ve got a great figure, madam”) and buy Elvis tees at a Tennessean tourist trap. Hear her muse on the dystopian imagery of weeds breaking up the concrete (pun intended) in a parking lot, where the urban foliage is stubborn, determined, and resilient.
Not unlike Hynde herself.
At her London flat, Chrissie shows off samples of her latest passion: Painting.
“I like to choose colors that I’m not naturally fond of,” she confesses, displaying a predominantly yellow acrylic abstract.
At Sirius-XM in New York, Hynde sings Delaney & Bonnie / Carpenters hit “Superstar” with Bernhard, ponders the ongoing vegetarian / vegan debate (“It’s all about nutrition now, not compassion”), discusses her signature “Chrissie cut” hairstyle, and shares insight on the importance of style.
“The people who are careful about not looking like they don’t care really have a whole other level of caring,” she posits. Later, she cites Willie Nelson, Johnny Thunders, Jimi Hendrix, and Johnny Cash, Amy Winehouse, and even Bob Dylan as original rock ‘n’ roll fashion icons.
“Immaculate!” she beams.
“It’s all about being yourself in rock. You have to look the same way on stage as you do on the street. You can’t change.”
Hey, Chrissie, how about those cool earrings?
“They’re just padlock keys,” Hynde tells Bernhard. “I can get you some at the hardware store for $4.99.”
Later, Hynde dismisses notions of “empowerment” and deflates old-school feminism. Yet she belays a (female) interviewee’s fear of violent reproach after querying Chrissie’s “rock chick” status.
“It’s okay,” She smiles. “I don’t mind being a ‘rock chick.’ Not everyone gets to be a rock chick! Boys are just called ‘rockers.’ So it’s more just a question of language.”
See Chrissie chill out with a reggae album (Peter Tosh’s “Stepping Razor” blares over her apartment speakers) and study the sleeve artwork on an old Julie London LP. Join Chrissie as she relaxes at George Harrison’s Bhaktivedanta Manor and Krishna Temple…and milks a cow in the late Beatles’ barn. Marvel as the “Middle of the Road” siren shopps for “not leather” leather boots, meditates under Siamese twin trees in a secluded forest, and guest-stars with a friend’s band (Mama’s Little Helper) in a West London pub in the middle of the afternoon. Go behind the scenes with Hynde as listens to playback of the new album with producer pal (and fellow Akronite) Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys), who references ancient Slim Harpo and Lazy Lester blues tracks for inspiration.
"Alone" is artfully intercut with live concert footage of Chrissie jamming on tunes from the new disc, including “Alone,” “Let’s Get Lost,” “I Hate Myself,” and “Gotta Wait” alongside vintage Pretenders cuts “Tattooed Love Boys,” “Thumbelina,” and “Hymn to Her.” There are also archival T.V. clips of Hynde performing “Brass in Pocket” and an unplugged “Back on the Chain Gang.”
Flanked by forever-young Honeyman-Scott and Farndon on guitar and bass, Chrissie (in ruffled white top and pleather pants) rocks through “The Wait,” “The Adulteress,” “Message of Love,” “Birds of Paradise,” “Private Life,” “Brass in Pocket” and a dozen other masterpieces from the now-classic first two LPs. And there’s original drummer Martin Chambers bashing away behind his kit.
“We’ve been together for thirty years,” remarks Hynde in the main movie.
“You only get twenty for murder!”