The road they take may be ‘one less travelled by’, but Czech disabled band The Tap Tap pack as much energy and vitality into their performances (and their lives in general) as any Mick, Jimi or Slash combo.
Director Radoban Síbrt was never interested in making a full-length movie about the Czech band The Tap Tap, until the malign intervention of a commercial TV enterprise underlined its necessity.
“I hate films about people with disabilities because usually we feel pity, and they are full of sentimental emotions where we blame ourselves for being healthy and they are poor because they are living with disabilities,” says Síbrt.
Short sharp shock videos? Yes, and one that he made with The Tap Tap for a song called Boss Driver was seen by over 15 million Czechs (out of a population of 10 million) and helped change public transport policy in terms of disabled access.
But Boss Driver wasn’t appreciated the same way across all quarters. “We brought it to commercial TV and they loved it,” says the director. “They were like ‘guys, this is amazing. The music is great, the video is great, but do not put the disabled people in next time. Nobody wants to watch them on TV.’
“And we were like, ‘fuck you’,” Síbrt adds.
So that was how the feature film came into being, in which the band’s disabilities were presented without compromise, as well as their humanity (by the bucketload), savage humour (that gloriously plumbs the depths of non-PC), hard work, dedication and musical abilities.
“Some of them are arseholes, some are amazing people, some are funny, smart, stupid,” Síbrt underlines of the disabled community in general, before adding of the band. “I am just letting them show their lives. I think what is making people nervous is that these people are politically incorrect. They are living that life, they don’t need to be PC. They say it the way it is.”
Two Roads starts off, as one would imagine of a film about a band, on the road. They are on their way to Glastonbury in the West of England, home of the legendary pop festival. The festival isn’t on this year, but they are there to record a song with the magical Arthurian Tor in the background.
En route we are introduced to the main band members, all of whom have severe disabilities, such as female vocalist Jana, lead man Láda, percussionist Jiri and singer Petr, who must overcome his head-beating ‘freak-out’ reactions when faced with moments of stress and anxiety. And when the bus arrives we meet manager Simon, able-bodied, complex, devoted and serious, and a fully signed-up devotee to tough love.
Two Roads throws up dramatic and comedic highs. Throughout the film the deterioration of Petr’s confidence threatens his ability to perform a solo at the closing concert, which adds considerable tension to the film as Simon threatens to throw him out of the band if his ‘freaking out’ continues. On the other hand, the on/off romance between Láda and Lenka is very funny, as much because the pair of them can barely remove the smiles from their faces as they trade insults.
“They do not feel any pity for themselves,” says Síbrt of his cast. “They are not complaining. Of course they have difficulties. They cope with things we cannot imagine, but they have to live, and they have to live in some cases as fast possible, as some of them have progressive illnesses, and they never know if they will wake up the next day.”
“It [the film] is a celebration of life, I don’t care about their illness, I don’t deal with it. It’s something that wasn’t important for me. I care about their energy. I care about the way they approach life, how they deal with things.”
The marriage of wheelchair-bound Jiri is particularly moving, even if the cynical Simon states outright that he doesn’t find weddings interesting. “That guy (Jiri) is basically living longer than he is supposed to live. His prognosis is so difficult,” says Síbrt. “Nobody expected him to stay alive so long. We were really happy when he got married. He is a classic middle-class caring [man]. We all know these guys, but we don’t expect to meet them in a wheelchair.”
A constant theme in the film is that of a reactionary president who is resistant to progressive policy change towards people with disabilities. Things may have begun to change for the better in post-Soviet times, as exemplified by Láda’s involvement in the 2018 general election as advisor to the losing presidential candidate Drahos, but there is still a long way to go, the film stresses.
“The Czech Republic is on its way to being a developed nation,” says Síbrt. “Because before 1989 all the people with disabilities were put into institutions and you would never see them.”