Why is ibiza: the silent movie so loud?

By Nick Clayton

Ibiza Unlocked boss Howard Boyle is proud to have been closely involved in the making of Ibiza: The Silent Movie as its island ‘fixer’ providing background support. As the documentary receives its television premiere, we ask: How did the documentary come to be made and why is it so different from any other film about the White Isle? The exclusive insights come from the film’s three main players, director Julien Temple, musical director Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) and executive producer, Malcolm Gerrie.

When Julien Temple was first asked to direct a documentary about Ibiza he was far from enthusiastic. ‘Club music is not the sort of music I’ve really been that connected to,’ says the filmmaker who first gatecrashed the movie business as the punk director behind the 1980 Sex Pistols’ Great Rock and Roll Swindle.
It was the start of a film career that’s always had music at its centre, including countless videos for everybody from Janet Jackson to David Bowie who he also directed on the big screen in Absolute Beginners. Acclaimed documentaries followed, featuring the likes of Joe Strummer, Keith Richards and The Kinks. House music is notably absent from his CV.
‘I didn’t want to make another film about Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Johnny Walker and Nicky Holloway, you know, those guys,’ Julien says. ‘I wanted to have a concept for the film that would keep me amused. So, the silent movie was my way of talking myself into making the film.’
Anyway, as he explains, the original silent movies were anything but silent. They just lacked spoken dialogue. There was always a musical score, usually played as loudly as possible by a live band. It echoes the experience of an Ibiza club where the deejay doesn’t speak, but lets the music do the talking. However, silence was anything but an easy option for director Julien.

A Cast of Thousands

Without the benefit of dialogue or voiceover, he had to create a movie encompassing more than 3000 years of Ibizan history including, amongst others, Romans, Phoenicians, Ibicencos, Egyptians, farmers, artists, musicians, the Spanish Inquisition, Hannibal, Christopher Columbus, podenco dogs, bankers, hippies, draft-dodgers, communists, fascists, tourists, gays, hoteliers, assorted gods, fishermen, clubbers and rock stars.

The vast scope of the movie wasn’t originally Julien’s idea. It came from executive producer and boss of Whizz Kid Productions Malcolm Gerrie. For a decade or more he’d been trying, almost to the point of obsession, to make a film encompassing the whole history of the island. It’s never been done before.

That’s a major omission, believes Malcolm, whose love affair with the island dates back even beyond 1987 when he filmed Freddie Mercury and opera singer Montserrat Caballé performing Barcelona on the stage of the Ku Club, or Privilege, as it is now. The unlikely event arose from the friendship Malcolm had developed with Queen when he was the producer of the not-to-be-missed music show of the eighties, The Tube.

Back then, every music star from U2 to Duran Duran made their way up to Newcastle to appear in the show. One of the bands making their first TV appearance was The Housemartins with its young bass guitarist Norman Cook. Malcolm went on to produce many more music shows as well as the TV coverage of the Baftas and the Brits. Norman, of course, reinvented himself in various guises including Pizzaman and Fatboy Slim.

Music is the Answer

Meanwhile, Malcolm was still looking for a director for his Ibiza film when he went over to Detroit to work with Aretha Franklin. On his return to the UK he happened to catch a BBC documentary, Requiem for Detroit.

‘The opening sequence is basically driving round Detroit looking at all this dereliction and poverty to an amazing Eminem track. It blew me away,’ he says. Maybe Malcolm had found his director.

In retrospect Julien may seem an obvious choice to direct Malcolm’s movie concept. In recent years the director’s developed a reputation as a ‘poet of place’ putting music at the centre of films about locations as diverse as Cuba, London and, er, Canvey Island in Essex.

Once Julien was given free rein to make the Ibiza movie he wanted, he quickly signed up. According to Malcolm the deal was done before the starter at their first lunch together.

It was also Malcolm who suggested Norman Cook for the vital role of musical director. There were, however, some misgivings about using the deejay best-known as Fatboy Slim as curator. The fear was he would fill the soundtrack with big room dance anthems that would turn the movie into a sort of extended clubbing promo video.

They needn’t have worried. He was the perfect choice. From the days of punk, Norman had been a huge fan of Julien. With their shared passion for music, the two hit it off immediately and were soon swapping mix tapes of potential tunes. The result’s a soundtrack full of surprises. What the audience doesn’t know is what a fiendishly complex process it was to select music for a film without plot or dialogue.

Lawyers’ Delight

‘Normally in a film you have like 10 or 12 tracks which are used with variations for key scenes or people,’ Norman explains. ‘It’s usually the way soundtracks work.

‘In this film the music had to really tell the whole story. So, when we went into clearance we had 94 tracks.’

To explain, ‘clearance’ is a showbiz lawyer’s delight. In a film or TV show you have to get written permission and pay fees to multiple licence holders for every piece of music. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a couple of barely audible bars in the background of an interview. Get it wrong and the result can be a bankruptcy-inducing legal case.

Tracing the ownership of more obscure tracks requires the forensic skills of a detective. While payments for well-known tunes can be exorbitant. There was a real danger that the silent movie concept could create a soundtrack so prohibitively expensive that the film could never be made.

Fortunately, Norman, Julien and Malcolm all have extensive contacts books. As Norman explains, ‘In the end a lot of it came down to me phoning artists and saying please, please, can you waive your royalties or at least get your publishers to do some kind of deal with us. We kind of went in through the back door.’

Sid Vicious and Bez

Norman feels that almost as important as his musical curator role were the introductions he was able to make to key island players such as Manumission’s Claire Davies. She provided part of the solution to a major problem in making a documentary covering 3000 years of history. Video footage from the days of the Romans, Carthaginians and Moors is in somewhat short supply. Somehow, back in the day, they all managed to travel without smartphones.

Instead, for the movie, ancient scenes were recreated using, for instance, Claire as the goddess Tanit. Opposite her was the Happy Mondays’ Bez as, appropriately, the god of dance Bes.

It’s not just deities from thousands of years ago who are undocumented on video. No film of some relatively recent events exists either.

Who knew, for example, the Sex Pistols had an Ibiza connection? Well, in the late 1950s Sid Vicious spent a good part of his childhood on the island with his mother, a sort of early hippy.

To recreate this period Julien needed eight Moroccans and a vintage American motorbike. Watch the film to see why. Finding them was a job for Ibiza Unlocked’s Howard Boyle, the movie’s Ibiza ‘fixer’.

The Eighth Moroccan

Howard had come on board as fixer on the recommendation of Norman who’s known him since their Manumission days.  Fixer is a vital role for any media crew working on location. Using extensive local knowledge, the fixer basically oils the wheels of the production machine. That covers everything from introducing people to be interviewed, knowing which permits are required to film, suggesting locations, finding accommodation for the crew to, well, tracking down eight Moroccans and a vintage motorbike.

By then Howard had discovered being a fixer requires a skillset not far removed from much of usual work running the Ibiza Unlocked concierge service. In both jobs you have to be able to think quickly on your feet and be ready with a solution. Either way, if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.

‘The night before filming was due I got a tragic phone call from the head of the Moroccans saying sorry, but one of them had died in a car crash,’ says Howard. ‘He told me, in the Islamic faith we have to bury our dead within 24 hours so we can’t come tomorrow.

‘That meant I had a vintage 1960s motorbike, but no Moroccans,’ continues Howard. ‘So I had to go round the kebab houses of Figueretas at midnight to try and round some up.’

He almost succeeded. But, if you look carefully at Ibiza: The Silent Movie, you’ll see the eighth Moroccan farmer is actually Howard with a stick-on beard. It’s one of his three appearances in the finished film along with a scene of him as Elvis and another of him taking a selfie.


Another introduction could have put the director in jail. Howard had taken Julien to see about shooting a scene in an Amsterdam-style cannabis association. All went well until they left the building. Then, undercover police pounced in full ‘up against the wall’ mode.

‘We were clean,’ laughs Julien. ‘But, I’m not sure that always matters.’ The two were released after a search. It’s a shame the cameras weren’t rolling. It would have made a memorable scene.

Other introductions to some of Howard’s collection of contacts built up over his 21 years in Ibiza didn’t attract the forces of law and order. For instance, he took Julien to meet somebody who ended up being an important part of the film, Alex the Caveman.

‘It’s a surreal situation,’ says Julien. ‘He really is living in a cave surrounded by all these multimillion euro villas. It’s just one of the amazing contrasts and weird contradictions that exists on a very small island. It’s full of really fascinating people.’

Dark Side of Ibiza

You’re in for a shock, however, if you expect Ibiza: The Silent Movie to be a tourist-board-style travelogue. Beauty has always brought beasts. The film touches on, for instance, the dark days of the Spanish Civil War and the fascist rule that followed.  Now it’s Ibiza’s popularity that’s the danger.

‘It is a celebration of the island,’ says Julien. ‘But, it should also help people who go there to have a little more understanding and respect for the culture and beauty of the island.

‘It needs some loving care because, otherwise, it’s in danger of being overwhelmed by the numbers of people going to such a small island. There are people beginning to do something about it.’ Some of their work is shown in the documentary.

Meanwhile, there are still some very real threats to Ibiza’s environment and way of life. Many are a direct result of the island’s tourist boom which has taken it from being one of the poorest parts of Spain to one of the wealthiest.

The film touches, for instance, on Ibiza’s shrinking water supply and the way irreplaceable  archaeological remains have been destroyed by hotel builders. The movie is not afraid to point the finger at some of those who may have profited from damage to the island. Some powerful people could be upset by Julien Temple’s view of Ibiza. It is controversial.

But, it’s a vision driven by love of Ibiza. The movie will undoubtedly draw people to this uniquely fascinating and beautiful island. It’s already happening.

Enter the Critic

Britain’s leading film reviewer, Mark Kermode, BBC regular and chief critic of The Observer newspaper, has been fulsome in his praise of Ibiza: The Silent Movie on the basis that a good documentary is one where you become interested in something in which you hadn’t previously been interested.

‘I’ve never been to Ibiza and I’ve never been to a nightclub,’ he told Norman recently. ‘You’re talking to a complete idiot who knows nothing about it.’ Well, that used to be the case.

Within weeks of seeing the movie he’d booked flights for his family to come to Ibiza. We met up with them at Norman’s birthday at Pikes. They were already talking about coming back.

Your Chance to See…

We’re sure they’re not the only ones who’ll be inspired by the film to come and visit the White Isle. You only had to see the response from the thousands of people who attended the world premiere  followed by a special Fatboy Slim set at Glastonbury’s Carmageddon Cinema in June. Norman arrived with festival-founder Michael Eavis in a vintage Cadillac.

‘It was pretty surreal,’ says Norman. ‘We mixed the film for cinema surround sound. And then we played for a load of drunken people sitting wearing headphones in old American cars in the middle of summer.’

An even larger audience will have the opportunity to watch Ibiza: The Silent Movie when it receives its television premiere on Friday August 2, 2019 on BBC4 at 10pm. It’s followed by the first TV showing of Everybody in the Place, a film by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller looking at the birth of acid house and rave culture in the 1980s. After that it’s time for the first of a three-part series Can You Feel It – How Dance Music Conquered the World.

It’s almost tempting to stay in on Friday night to enjoy that musical triple bill. Fortunately, they’ll all be available to stream afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

Howard would like to thank Norman Cook for introducing him to Julien Temple and the opportunity to work on Ibiza: The Silent Movie.  He’d also like to thank Richard Conway for being his main guy on set. It was, he says, a pleasure to work with him and the crew.