Swagger of Thieves

by Toby Woollaston

swaggerIt seems ironic that such an agile and articulate documentary can be born from the burnt out husk of a drug-addled rock band. But that is exactly what first-time documentarian Julian Boshier has produced. The aptly titled Swagger of Thieves chronicles the fortunes of the “almost” iconic kiwi hard rock band, Head Like a Hole (HLAH). Their misspent potential is a schtick that is perhaps a well-trodden path of many bands, yet Boshier has managed to show an exceptionally candid side to HLAH’s story.

Disagreements, fall-outs, hedonism, poor management and finances that went up in smoke (or more accurately, intravenously up the two founding member’s arms) are all laid bare here—it’s classic stuff of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll and Swagger of Thieves expounds on a band who, at the time, unapologetically claimed it as their rite of passage. 

The film joins the reforming band after a ten-year hiatus and recounts their formative years that held so much promise.  As frontman Nigel “Booga” Beazley admits “There was a lack of respect. We were poohing in our own nest.” His slightly unhinged charismatic charm provides this doco with some genuinely hilarious moments, but it is the band’s other founding member, Nigel Regan, whose sombre tones capture the beating heart of HLAH’s darker side and the crippling effect that drugs had on the band. 

Whether their legacy is a lost cause is still up for conjecture, but Swagger’s final words, “thank my cock, let’s go get wasted”, hint at an ongoing problem. And because the film is so ruthlessly uncompromising in its honesty, it is difficult to feel much admiration for a band that naively let so much talent go to waste. Nonetheless, their story operates as a valuable piece of NZ social history and Swagger of Thieves is a tragically engrossing doco to watch. It’s kind of like watching lemmings jump to their death—you just can’t look away.

Moreover, without HLAH’s story we wouldn’t have the burgeoning talents of Boshier, who has delivered a shining example of vivid filmmaking. That Boshier shot, produced and directed Swagger of Thieves suggests he’s one to keep an eye on … let’s hope he doesn’t go the way of his subject matter.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald and NZME here.