There’s something endlessly romantic and alluring about the seaside, not least those seafronts fortunate enough to be blessed with a pier. The combination of engineering prowess required to elevate such structures and the variety of entertainments available makes them a focal point for seaside visitors, and Hastings Pier on the Sussex coast has had as long and varied a career as any in the country. What documentarian Archie Lauchlan couldn’t have foreseen when he set out to chart a year in the life of that pier was that it would take over nearly a decade of his life, and that he would become part of that history.
His initial intention in 2006 was to spend a year charting the life of the pier through the eyes of its visitors and shop owners, from clairvoyants to glass blowers. Instead, the pier was closed down two weeks later and almost completely burned down in 2010, making a return to any of its previous glory days seem particularly unlikely. Undaunted, as were many of Hastings’ residents who were determined to reclaim their landmark and to restore it for modern use, Lauchlan covers in detail the process that the local residents had to undertake to get their pier back, through a succession of charitable trusts and extensive fundraising.
RE: A PIER will appeal not only to fans of the seaside and the sense of a bygone era, but also to anyone with an interest in musical history…
But the first part of the documentary is devoted to looking at why it came to mean so much to so many local residents. This falls into two parts: Lauchlan starts at the beginning of the pier’s history, designed by renowned pier designer Eugenius Birch and opened in 1872. Using CG recreations, RE: A PIER simply and effectively outlines the history of the pier’s evolution as it was expanded, modified and then destroyed by fire in 1917. Despite this setback, within five years the pier was rebuilt and then entered the defining period of its history.
It’s the second half of this historical retrospective which is the most compelling part of Lauchlan’s documentary. The Pier Ballroom, initially constructed as a dancehall, became one of the UK’s most important music venues and hosted in its time performances from The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Hollies, The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Lauchlan has interviewed both historians and those directly involved with the music, as well as some famous names, about the three decades of the best of the UK music scene that came to the venue and the documentary brings this era to life in lively fashion.
The latter stages of the film serve not only as a record of the long process of restoring the pier and raising the funds to do so, but of the evolution of film and digital recording. Advances in cameras and production values (Lauchlan wrote, produced, directed and event edited his own film using Final Cut, some off the shelf editing software) allow films like this to be made today by strong-willed film makers such as Lauchlan but the improvements in film stock and image quality over the production time of the film are readily apparent and serve as a useful underlining of the passage of time – as does the rapid growing up of Lauchlan’s daughter Lola in her occasional appearances.
RE: A PIER will appeal not only to fans of the seaside and the sense of a bygone era, but also to anyone with an interest in musical history – especially the references to the era of mods and rockers, when much of the biggest music first came to be played – and also to anyone who’s ever been passionate about anything. Lauchlan gets detailed access to the pier and to the characters involved in its reconstruction and has succeeded in compiling a comprehensive and eye-catching look at the pier’s evolution and resurrection.
But it’s also personally affecting as well, and what ties the whole film together is Lauchlan’s presence and narration, with moments of lyricism as he describes the palpable sense of loss felt when he visits the smouldering ruins of the pier in the hours after its devastation by fire. The emotional resonance of both the history and the people is clear in Laughlan’s film. Not just for fans of picture postcards and sticks of rock, RE: A PIER will appeal to anyone with a love of the heyday of British music or for a real life story of a resurrection from the ashes.