When the Police ceased recording in 1984, rumors swirled as to the cause. Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland became infamous for their constant fighting, sometimes ending up in fisticuffs (such as during a 1983 MTV interview with Martha Quinn). Summers and Copeland’s intense jealousy of Sting’s notoriety was cited as another factor. The new documentary Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police presents Summers’ side of the story, suggesting that the Police’s dissolution resulted from a multitude of complicated reasons. As hard on himself as on the other band members, Summers provides narration while archival footage as well as video from their 2007 reunion tour punctuate his anecdotes.
Based on Summers’ book One Train Later: A Memoir, the film traces his beginnings as a guitarist, touring London with bandleader Zoot Money’s groups the Big Roll Band and Dantalion’s Chariot during the late 1960s. Recruited to join Eric Burdon’s New Animals in 1969, he relocated to Los Angeles, but the band dissolved a year later. After living in L.A. for three years, Summers moved back to London and met two musicians who traveled in the same circles: Sting (nee Gordon Sumner) and Copeland. The two friends expressed an interest in joining the burgeoning punk scene, one which Summers had little familiarity. When they eventually joined forces, Summers states, their chemistry was undeniable.
Once they released their debut, 1978’s Outlandos d’Amour, the Police’s story officially begins in the UK. Their first single, “Roxanne” (originally written with a bossa nova rhythm) was released, followed by “Can’t Stand Losing You.” Their subsequent television appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test, included in the film, provided further exposure. Determined to break into the American charts, they embarked on a grueling U.S. tour where they played small clubs throughout the country. As the film shows fuzzy footage of their CBGB performance, Summers reflects on how the U.S. regarded the Police as musicians, not focusing strictly on their punk credibility.
As the group records their followup albums Reggatta de Blanc, Zenyatta Mondatta, and Ghost in the Machine, the band’s star rapidly ascends as they score numerous hits in the UK and America. The rigors of recording and touring take their toll on the band, illustrated by numerous moody photographs Summers shot during those times. As Sting became a media darling (watch Summers and Copeland squirm during an early interview where the reporter asks the singer “now, you write all the songs, right?”), Summers and Copeland found themselves relegated to the background. Tensions rose in the studio as each band member wanted their instrument turned up just a bit higher in the mix. On tour, hard partying took its toll on the group’s personal lives, ultimately resulting in the breakup of Summers' marriage. He details how they grew distant with each other, no longer functioning as a cohesive unit. By 1984, Sting was ready to embark on his solo career, and Summers and Copeland felt confined by their sidemen roles.
Mixed with the archival interviews and live performances is footage from the Police’s 2007 reunion tour. Their early rehearsals make for fascinating viewing, as old tensions surface and nerves threaten to derail the tour. Just before the group takes the stage on the tour’s opening night, Summers looks on the verge of passing out; Copeland fondly rubs his bandmate’s back, a welcome sign that the musicians retain some affection for each other.
Alternating between old clips and 2007 footage can result in disorienting storytelling; occasionally it is not immediately clear whether a particular segment is a flashback or occurring in present day. It also ends too abruptly, with Summers celebrating an exhibition of his photography as Sting and Copeland look on. One of the bonus features on the DVD features an interview with Summers around the time of the 2007 tour; hearing him discuss how the band had to initially walk on eggshells with one another (and how the tour came very close to being canceled) would have been a more appropriate conclusion.
Despite its minor shortcomings, Can’t Stand Losing You will satisfy Police fans who want to learn more about the group’s rise and ultimate demise. The rare footage and Summers’ brutally honest reflections paint a fuller picture of a band that stands as one of the defining bands of the 1980s.