Memoirs of a Spectrum Addict is a full-length documentary by Andy Remic, chronicling the life of the humble ZX Spectrum through the eyes of its designer, journalists, games, developers and fans. After a successful Kickstarter in 2015, two years of filming and editing, the digital version is now available to purchase and download, with the physical release to follow.
The film’s chapters are introduced by a neat Spectrum LOADing SCREEN$ display of the title – which sounds clichéd but works quite well. What doesn’t work so well is the 80s intermissions, or “dramatic re-enactments” such as swapping games in school or going to bed thinking about the Spectrum. I can see the attempt to set the scene better than a voice-over, but they end up being very distracting and somewhat more like am-dramatic re-enactments unfortunately.
Each chapter contains a nicely edited sequence of interviews from the main protagonists. There are plenty of familiar and knowledgeable faces – including the eccentric and ever-green Oliver Twins (who I believe are still linked via serial cable), the restrained Simon Butler, football star Kevin Toms, the statesmanlike Roger Kean (alongside Oli Frey whose amazing artwork adorns the film), and the effervescent Jim Bagley. What does ensure that the same Speccy paths aren’t retrodden is the introduction of other contributors that are somewhat unique on screen: The velvet Mevlut Dinc, forthright Mark Jones, cheeky chap Richard Stevenson, Clive “Pint of Bitter” Townsend and the clever use of fans such as Mark “Lord Arse!” Howlett.
There are few niggles though:
The technical information voice-over at the start is so very dry. I’m not sure it’s needed, or adds anything. Maybe a more flowery introduction would have been better suited and the technical jargon kept for the booklet to accompany the physical release?
Secondly, the contextual display of games and other information is very sporadic. Random characters walk the screen and you occasionally see the games in discussion (but why the sound effects are kept to beep over voices is strange) but in other places these aide-mémoire are missing altogether. The biggest example of this is when Rick Dickenson discusses the design elements of the machine, each nuance, curve, and reason for its shape and construction – and we never see the computer at all.
Thirdly, the chronology of the film seems to have slipped from the structure offered in the Kickstarter. This was something that From Bedrooms to Billions did brilliantly – plotting the timeline, the rise and the fall and the rise (ish) of the British industry. From discussing piracy (a nice chapter) and the magazines, Memoirs jumps back to the start and asks how each of the talking heads actually got into the industry. The main runners and riders, and the twists and turns of the machine are never really discussed. Imagine? Ultimate? Gremlin? Ocean? US Gold? The Amstrad purchase? The decline? All missing.
Finally, there’s one major issue. The games. Where are they? That’s really what the Spectrum was all about, and the main focus for all these chapters throughout the film. It was fundamentally a games machine and it’s why we loved it, why it was such a huge success and why it retains such a fondness and following. I really wanted to see and hear more about those titles that we played, swapped, pirated and coveted.
All in all though, I really enjoyed the film. There’s a distinct variation in picture and audio quality, and I have my gripes but we must remember that this is a fan production at the end of the day. Andy and team have poured a lot of their persona and soul into the making of it and there’s some lovely touches; the out-takes, for example, and the wonderful Steve Turner playing an acoustic rendition of the Dragontorc theme tune.
There’s also the promised additional material to look forward to, hopefully with some edited-out contributors (more of Simon Butler too please) and more of the “Making Of” content. But, with the standard film at just over 2 hours long it’s well worth the money.
Oh, and I want to meet the Oliver Twins elder brother and find out what happened to Ocean’s unreleased Batman: The Adventure!
Memoirs of a Spectrum Addict is available to buy now from Remic Films.
If you need convincing further, then a 12 minute taster is also available here.