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Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979): American Indie #14

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A human sized female mouse is flabbergasted about recent events at Vince Lombardi High and she’s squeaking angrily to the Principal. On her cutesy dress is embroidered ‘I Hate Mousework’.

On first seeing Rock’n’Roll High School in 1979 (it was shot the year before although it’s set in the very near future of 1980), I wasn’t entirely convinced by it. I’d wanted something that resembled producer Roger Corman’s biker flicks from the 1960s but with punk rockers. Or maybe a social realist film shot in the streets surrounding CBGB, featuring a bunch of desperado Ramones fans behaving badly.

This is a very different beast. A teensploitation flick that focuses on comedy as much as it does on music, some of it gloriously silly.

Then there was the fact that the schoolkids were all so old. As filming took place I was still at secondary school myself. On screen, The Ramones’ biggest fan and leading Vince Lombardi rebel Riff Randell is played by P.J. Soles, who was over a decade older than me, albeit she was a very young looking 28.

The movie kicks off on the day when Riff’s soon to be nemesis, Miss Evelyn Togar takes over as Principal. Her main aim is to improve discipline. She’s a prim and proper authoritarian and vehemently opposed to modern music. And this uptight woman is played wonderfully by Mary Woronov, former dancer with The Velvet Underground!

The problem between the pair is later summed up by Togar as: ‘I am a reasonable, well educated, mature, adult member of society and you are a spoiled, heathen punk.’ Randell, though, isn’t dressed in black with spiky hair and there’s not a safety pin in sight. Instead, she wears bright colours. When we first see her, she’s wearing a red satin jacket patterned with musical notes. If the movie had been named Disco High, she would have fitted in just as well.

Okay, a little background and something of a spoiler. Roger Corman was initially keen on the movie being called Disco High to cash in on the success of Saturday Night Fever. Director Allan Arkush, though, had other ideas. A man who’d worked for years at the Fillmore East, where he’d seen the likes of The Who, Doors and Led Zeppelin, Arkush wanted a rock band to feature, a wise decision, as by this point disco was absolutely mainstream, with clubs like Studio 54 employing an elitist door policy. The climax of the script was to be the pupils blowing up their school and a disco inferno just wouldn’t work. Loud and fast guitars were required and who better to provide that than The Ramones?

Allan Arkush hadn’t appreciated the band on first hearing them but had eventually got them after repeated listens to their debut album. By the time the film was in development, Rocket To Russia was one of his ten favourite albums.

As he cast the film, P.J. Soles wasn’t even aware of the CBGB favourites and her initial reaction on hearing them was: ‘Is this music?’

Co-star Dey Young, who plays Kate, Riff’s geeky best pal, hadn’t heard of them either and when she first met them, she ‘thought they were the oddest creatures I had ever seen.’ You might think she was exaggerating but according to their tour manager Monte A Melnick’s book On The Road With The Ramones, back then in the warm Californian sun, they had problems even entering Disneyland: ‘Because we looked so weird,’ while another time: ‘Joey and Dee Dee decided they wanted to walk around Hollywood, so I went with them. The police stopped us within minutes.’ Most of the world took a while to catch up with the NYC band.

Ironically, the only cast members who already knew and admired them were Paul Bartel, who plays Mister McGree and none other than Miss Togar herself, Mary Woronov. Mary has also admitted to being high on the set! And she wasn’t the only one.

There’s even some mild drugtaking in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, when Riff smokes a joint (in reality a herbal ciggy) and fantasises about The Ramones playing in her bedroom, Joey serenading her with I Want You Around as he gangles around her.

Being one of Roger’s Corman New World productions, the budget was tight but even so Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Marky were often bored hanging around while waiting for the cameras to roll. Luxuries were scarce on the set, and they weren’t keen on the early starts required by film crews. The school’s empty classrooms functioned as dressing rooms. Sometimes they would head over to the school fence, where local punk fans congregated. Some threw over drugs, which Dee Dee was all too happy to pick up, pocket and then try out. He was out his face for the entire shoot. Although an expert in lines of drugs, his three lines of dialogue in the screenplay had to be pruned to one. And even that required take after take after take.

Joey wasn’t much better. He kept forgetting Mister McGree’s name and repeatedly called him Mister McGloop. Due to the tightness of the schedule that day, Allan Arkush was forced to keep Joey’s mistake in – which I reckon only adds to the fun.

The two giant mice we see had as much chance of carving out careers as actors in Hollywood as any of the band.

In her gym class, Riff performs a new song she’s written with the intention of delivering in person to Joey and persuading The Ramones to play it: Rock’n’Roll High School. This is great, even though you might accuse the verses of Riff’s song of resembling Sheena Is A Punk Rocker too closely, but forget that, how can she get the song into the hands of her heroes?

Luckily they announce a tour with a date at the Roxy in LA – sorry, the ‘Rockatorium’ in LA.

Of course, just about everybody in school wants to see the show but only Riff is prepared to skip school for three days to land herself a spot at the front of the queue. On the third day, they pull up to the venue in the Ramonesmobile, a pink Cadillac convertible with Gabba Gabba Hey license plates, and proceed to enter the building, playing I Just Wanna Have Something to Do as they do so. It’s crazy. It’s great. In reality, it was 7 in the morning and they were all as hungover as hell.

Riff snaps up one hundred tickets, which have been requested by her classmates, but unfortunately for Riff and Kate, Miss Togar confiscates their tickets when she discovers the reason for Riff’s recent absence from school.

Will our heroine and her pal somehow get to the concert? You bet. But when Miss Togar discovers Riff and Kate defied her, she launches her ‘first major step in putting the school back on the right track,’ the next morning with a mass burning of rock albums including those by The Ramones.

This means war.

P.J. Soles is the bubbliest Ramones fan ever but eventually her infectiousness won me over and the fact that she wants to be a songwriter rather than just find the boyfriend of her dreams (she only has eyes for Joey) makes a nice change for a teen movie, although there is also a more traditional subplot where Kate desperately wants to go out with Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten), the captain of the football team, and the kind of All American boy that Riff has zero interest in. Of course, Tom only sees Kate’s big owlish glasses and swotty persona – although those science skills of hers are gonna come in handy later in the film. He becomes desperate to date Riff. Problems. Problems.

Seymour Stein and Jonathan Brett coordinated the soundtrack and, considering the movie’s cost (around $200,000), they worked marvels. It not only includes The Ramones but acts such as The MC5, Velvet Underground, Alice Cooper, Eddie and the Hot Rods and even Fleetwood Mac and Wings.

You won’t be surprised that the best thing about the film is getting to see The Ramones at the top of their form perform Blitzkrieg Bop, Teenage Lobotomy, California Sun, Pinhead, and She’s the One live. Superb stuff. It took me back to my own schooldays, seeing them play a pulverising set at the Glasgow Apollo in 1977. Still one of the very best concerts I’ve ever attended.

Finally, a little trivia. James Cameron of Titanic and Avatar fame, worked uncredited as an production assistant. And if you ask me this is much more enjoyable than anything else he went on to direct. As I watched last night, I even smiled widely at the mum mouse’s ‘I Hate Mousework’ dress.

Indeed, so much did I enjoy the movie this time around, that I made the frankly stupid decision to seek out 1991’s unofficial sequel of sorts Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever. Hey, we all make bad decisions in life and hopefully we learn from them.

Even Mary Woronov can’t save things as quasi-fascist Vice Principal Vadar, a more extreme version of Miss Togar. Ruth, Kate and Tom are long gone, replaced by a bunch of charmless pranksters who play in a band called The Eradicators. How bad are they? They even manage to drain every bit of life out of a song like Tutti Frutti. I’m still attempting to eradicate their music from my memory.

The Not for Anyone Tour

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I take little notice of folk who yap on about meeting celebrities for a few minutes and then feel entitled to judge them on the strength of this.

Just over ten years ago at the Glasgow premiere of We Need To Talk About Kevin at the GFT, I was walking past Ezra Miller who happened to ask me if I could suggest an area outside where he could have a ciggy. Miller gave a great performance in the film and was very charismatic during the Q&A that followed and polite and likeable when speaking to me about the film. As I say, snapshot meetings like this don’t really offer any real insight into a person’s personality.

Google Ezra Miller today and you’re as likely to come across accusations of burglary, kidnapping and even grooming as you are his film roles. Then there’s the dangerous fixation with guns. We Need To Talk About Kevin is going to be an even more chilling watch the next time I see it.

Decades ago, I also spoke briefly once to another young man born in New Jersey, one Jerry Sadowitz. Did he strike me as a likeable guy? No, he was a bit wired – aftershow adrenaline, I would guess, but he didn’t scream vitriol in my face once and hardly resembled the splenetic monster of what was clearly an onstage persona.

I first saw Sadowitz early in his career. He would occasionally take part in some street entertainment in Glasgow city centre, performing magic tricks with the passing public, including myself, tossing some coins into his hat in return. Later, he opened for some bands in East Kilbride at a long gone bar called Peaches, and I saw him at The Star Club by the side of the River Clyde too.

Over the years, I’ve tended to prefer edgier and highly sarcastic comedy. Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks (who I saw many years ago at the Fringe), Russell Howard. I immediately found many of Sadowitz’s routines amazingly funny at times.

From memory, he was trading under the name Jerry Antom back then and was already a helluva sight more outrageous than any of the so-called alternative comedians of the time. As Ben Elton, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders and others created a cosy new comedy establishment for themselves, Jerry developed into something of a cult act. An outsider who wasn’t interested in playing the game. He was the first comedian I ever heard name Jimmy Savile as a pedophile. Come to think of it, he was the first person I ever heard name Jimmy Savile as a pedophile.

Craig Ferguson certainly took a few notes in his ‘Bing Hitler’ days but ditched some of the offensiveness and went on to fame and fortune, including hosting one of America’s top chat shows. Sadowitz and TV never really worked together. He had to find work in a magic shop to help make a living.

Sadowitz’s sets are tour de forces of utter toxicity. They would read horrifically if written down without any context and if I didn’t know who he was and he was talking like he does in a bar, I would have a big problem with him but I’ll mention it again, when he takes to the stage, it’s a persona you’re watching. Not everything he says is what he believes. Why do some folk find this idea so hard to understand?

As you most probably know, Jerry’s proposed second show at the recent Edinburgh Fringe Festival was cancelled. During the first, he brought out his willy and waggled it and worst still, he made a joke, repeat, made a joke about woman and blacks ruining the British economy. I’m sure he that he feels foolish now about that one after the marvelous start that Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng have made in Getting Britain Moving Again.

‘The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material,’ Anthony Alderson, the director of the Pleasance Theatre announced afterwards, continuing: ‘While we acknowledge that Jerry Sadowitz has often been controversial, the material presented at his first show is not acceptable and does not align with our values.’

I’m not making this up. He did say that. And thought it made sense.

The whole incident made me almost nostalgic for the days when humourless Conservative local councillor Moira Knox could be depended on to be outraged by at least one ‘depraved’ act visiting the Fringe each year: the likes of the Jim Rose Circus, Tokyo Shock Boys and Puppetry of the Penis. Of course, everyone involved loved it when she attacked them and some of her condemnations would even end up on the publicity materials for their shows. Did she ever manage to get anyone banned? Not that I can remember.

Today’s humourless moral guardians have discovered a more effective, though still flawed, method of censorship. Blag a temporary job in a big venue and claim an act you don’t like is making you feel ‘unsafe’. Yep, there were apparently a few students staffing at Jerry’s show who felt ‘unsafe’ during it, although their definition of the word presumably differs from mine.

If they reckon a man in his sixties on a stage telling jokes is frightening, what are they going to think if they ever run into an angry Begbie type on the street after a show.

Don’t pretend that you feel unsafe. Or if you really do feel that unsafe, don’t take a job on where a notoriously controversial comedian will be performing. To really be on the ‘safe’ side, it might be an idea to never leave the house in case you’re ever exposed to anyone who could offend you in some way.

What was especially infuriating about this, is that i happened in the immediate aftermath of the news that Salman Rushdie had been stabbed multiple times while giving a public lecture in New York.

If you believe Sadowitz shouldn’t be allowed to play, that’s fine. Complain. Stand outside with placards denouncing his material like some right wing Protestant zealots used to do wherever Billy Connolly played in Scotland. ‘If the Forth was lava,’ protest leader Pastor Jack Glass once declared, ‘I would throw him in.’ Which strikes me as very unchristian but the types that try and enforce their standards on everybody else do tend to be a hypocritical bunch.

I did think about seeing Sadowitz in Edinburgh but I hadn’t been totally won over by his set in Glasgow earlier this Spring (first time I’d seen him in years). Ironically, he made a joke about how he was holding back some of his best jokes for his Edinburgh shows.

Tonight sees the start of a series of Scottish dates, starting off in the Town House in Hamilton, followed by a string of shows in England and Wales.

Only one venue, Margate’s Crack Me Up Club has followed in the Pleasance’s footsteps. ‘The owner of the venue read what happened in Edinburgh, and has decided to cancel due to me being ‘Unsafe, Racist, homophobic and misogynist,’ Sadowitz explained on his website. ‘People… I am so much more than that.’

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

So far, ticket sales have been good, with the Hamilton show one of many that have already sold out. A date has even been added at London’s Hammersmith Apollo – yep, the three and a half thousand plus capacity Hammersmith Apollo, where The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Kate Bush have all taken to the stage, and where David Bowie performed his final concert as Ziggy Stardust.

Would this date have happened without the Pleasance ban?

I don’t think it would.

For more on Jerrry Sadowitz: http://www.jerrysadowitz.com/

Summer In The City & (Till I) Run With You

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And the prize for the most obvious blog post anywhere today goes to me.

Yes, it’s been hot. A real rarity, my solar shower has been out and actually worked. The shorts have been on, even for a visit to the shops and the factor 50+ sunscreen has been applied all over to my very pale Celtic skin. My diet has mostly consisted of rum and raisin ice cream.

Unlike most summer related songs, Summer in the City isn’t a paean to the intense daytime heat (which you might’ve guessed I generally find hellish), with ‘All around, people looking half dead’. Instead the song enthuses about the relative cool of the evening. ‘At night it’s a different world,’ John Sebastian sings, ‘Go out and find a girl / Come-on come-on and dance all night / Despite the heat it’ll be alright.’

The Lovin’ Spoonful even in their mid ’60s heyday were often inconsistent. They could be sublime (Darling Be Home Soon), they could be irritating (Daydream, Nashville Cats) and with Summer in the City, they could produce perfect pop, or as they liked to it ‘good time music’.

Donovan visited the studio as Sebastian added his vocal to the song and I wonder how he thought his next single Sunshine Superman would compare in the popularity stakes, he would surely have realised he had some very serious competition if. In the middle of August 1966, Summer in the City replaced The Troggs’ Wild Thing as America’s number one single and stayed there for three weeks, before Donovan briefly replaced them at the top. Greenwich Village 3 Maryhill 1. Sounds about fair.

Summer in the City was one of the first hit singles to use found sound, which likely explains why John Sebastian finds miming it so amusing here, the pneumatic drill and car horn honks only drawing attention to the pretence that the band were supposedly performing the song live.

Fast forward a few years and, as the hits began running out, the band was witnessing a distinct lack of lovin’ within its ranks, with most of the friction coming between Sebastian and drummer and occasional vocalist Joe Butler.

‘John clearly did not respect Joe’s musical contributions or his abilities as a player, and wasn’t making much of an effort to disguise it,’ Steve Boone noted in his 2014 book My Life on the Run. ‘Joe thought John was pretentious, had a false sense of superiority and claimed too much credit for the success of the group.’

This maybe explains why when Sebastian left to embark on a solo career, Butler was keen to continue on, trading under the Lovin’ Spoonful moniker. If they could somehow turn around the bands’ fortunes, then he would have one up on his rival.

By the Autumn of 1968, they were operating as a trio: Joe Butler on drums, lead and backing vocals; Steve Boone on bass and Jerry Yester playing guitar and keyboards and supplying some vocals. A single called (Till I) Run With You was released in America but flopped so badly that the album which was also to be called (Till I) Run With You was renamed Revelation: Revolution ’69.

Billed as The Lovin’ Spoonful Featuring Joe Butler, the album is inconsistent with an unhealthy smattering of duds, the worst offender being the seven minutes long War Games, a collage of dialogue from film clips intended as a protest against the Vietnam War. Did it change a single person’s opinions on the carnage they’d been seeing on their TV screens every night? I doubt it. Maybe some stoned hippies found it ‘far out’ but it’s so abysmal that I couldn’t listen past the halfway mark.

So, the album is not recommended but I have grown fond of (Till I) Run With You, which has just made an appearance on the soundtrack of The Resort, a mystery thriller set in Mexico, that just started streaming in Britain last month. I doubt I’ll be tempted to tune in but the first episode at least has a couple of other imaginatively chosen tracks on its soundtrack in addition to the Spoonful: namely David Byrne and Brian Eno’s collaboration Strange Overtones and Bridget St John’s Song to Keep You Company, taken from a 1969 session for John Peel’s Top Gear show on Radio 1. Has any other Peel session track been used for a TV drama? I can’t think of any.

(Till I) Run With You might not be regarded as a Lovin’ Spoonful classic and it’s never going to receive the renewed attention and chart success that Kate Bush enjoyed with Running Up That Hill due to its use on Stranger Things but it does grow on you and Joe Butler carries out his vocal duties impressively. There’s also a sumptuous bass line and some lovely harmonies. Enjoy:

Time to experience a summer night in the city myself now, though I think the shorts will have to be ditched and the chances of me dancing all night are about the same as changing my mind about War Games, and declaring it an avant-garde political masterpiece.

A World of Twang

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I know there ain’t no surf in Portobello, but I’m not sure if there were any Scottish surf bands as that genre enjoyed its heyday during the first half of the 1960s. Until last week, I hadn’t realised just how international the genre had become – and by surf I’m meaning the reverb heavy guitar instrumentals rather than Beach Boys and Jan and Dean vocal tracks.

There were Jokers from Belgium, Finland’s The Quiets and Thailand’s The Galaxies. Surf influenced acts even existed behind the Iron Curtain, like Sincron from Romania and East Germany’s Die Sputniks, although they are said to have broken up due to pressure exerted by the authorities operating in the GDR. ‘Do we really have to copy all the rubbish that comes from the West?’ Party State leader Walter Ulbricht moaned during one speech to his Communist cronies, fearful that any exposure to Western music might help spread decadent capitalist values – even if the music in question was instrumental.

It’s safe to say, though, that Japan hosted the biggest surf scene outside the USA. There, visits by The Ventures proved extraordinarily popular. They weren’t just big in Japan, they were a true phenomenon. According to Wikipedia, The Ventures had five of 1965’s top 10 singles in Japan and outsold The Beatles.

Arguably, the best of the local acts were The Launchers, who supported The Ventures on their 1965 tour of Japan. Featuring well known actor Yuzo Kayama on lead guitar, fans flocked to see them wherever they played and The Ventures themselves became fans, presenting Kayama with one of their distinctive white Mosrite guitars at the end of the tour. They later even covered a couple of Launchers favourites: Black Sand Beach and Yozora No Hoshi, the latter of which you can listen to here.

Terry Terauchi and His Blue Jeans also notched up hit after hit and possibly peaked with their 1964 album Korezo Surfing (This is Surfing). A movie was even devised in 1965 to cash in on what was known as the ‘Elecki’ craze and punters happily queued to see Ereki no Wakadaishō (which you might know as Campus A-Go-Go). By any accounts I’ve come across this was not a movie that ever aimed at matching the artistry of Akira Kurosawa or Yasujirō Ozu, but it did feature a guitar duel between Kayama and Terry Terauchi and that’s something l’d like to see it.

Then there were The King’s Road, Hiroshi Tsutsumi & His All Stars Wagon, The Adventures (see what they did there?), and even, according to Julian Cope, The Tokyo Ventures, who pumped out ‘Spirited morale-boosting elecki versions of traditional Japanese army songs.’ Maybe not a band I’ll be seeking out.

Japan’s love affair with surf lives on and a version of The Ventures still tour there regularly, while a plethora of tribute acts are popular too.

Based in city of Ōita on the island of Kyushu, prolific garage band The Routes recently released The Twang Machine, a collection of ten Kraftwerk classics reimagined as surf tracks. Is this gimmicky? Yes. Do these versions improve on the originals? Of course not. Do they sound fantastic on a summer’s day? You bet.

Here the guys crank up the reverb magnificently on a rip-roaring Trans-Europe Express:

For more on The Routes, here’s a link for Facebook, and here’s one for Bandcamp.

Theme From Pulp

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Much as I like the Sheffield band, for me the musical highlight of the documentary Pulp: a Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets was when Jarvis and his bandmates throw toilet rolls into an audience, accompanied not by Mis-Shapes or Disco 2000 but by Ennio Morricone’s Giu La Testa (A Fistful of Dynamite).

In his score for the 1972 movie Pulp, George Martin channels his inner Ennio Morricone to good effect. The film starred Michael Caine and Jarvis must surely be a big fan. Its title provided his band with their name (after the original Arabicus part was wisely dropped) and he certainly must have been influenced by the wardrobe and choice of glasses worn by Caine’s character Mickey King (supplied by the actor). I rather like his white corduroy jacket myself.

A few weeks ago, I watched the first episode of Peter Jackson’s Get Back, a series that became the subject of a giant brouhaha when it was first streamed last November. I haven’t really felt any inclination to, erm, get back to it and assume I’ll be in a tiny minority in that I’d rather listen to this largely forgotten theme song composed and conducted by the man nicknamed the fifth Beatle than many of the tracks featured in the documentary.

Pulp was a lightweight comedy set in Italy which reunited the producer/director/actor team of Michael Klinger, Mike Hodges and Michael Caine. It was conceived as an antidote to the brutishness and pessimism of their recent hit Get Carter.

A breezy slice of jazz tinged easy listening, the theme song reflects the movie’s mood well and came out as a 45 in August 1972, to accompany Pulp‘s run in British cinemas. It was a great month for British singles. For starters, there was Starman, All The Young Dudes, Virginia Plain and Metal Guru and even Rock and Rock Part 2 by the now disgraced Gary Glitter (absolutely incredible production by Mike Leander it would still have to be said). During these glammy times, the young record buying public were unlikely to embrace a breezy slice of jazz tinged easy listening. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a hit and while no classic it is worth a listen and should be better known. As I type, a mere 55 views have been recorded on YouTube (with a single like), as opposed to one of the Get Back trailers which has had almost 5 million hits.

The Rain People – New Waves (#18)

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James Caan died on Wednesday evening and since then many, many tributes have been paid. ‘A great actor, a brilliant director and my dear friend,’ Al Pacino declared in a statement. ‘I’m gonna miss him.’ Michael Mann, who directed Caan in the 1981 neo-noir heist thriller Thief, said: ‘I loved him and I loved working with him.’

Caan’s career spanned decades and he worked with many heavyweight directors over the years including Sam Peckinpah, Howard Hawks, Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola. I first saw him in movies like Freebie and the Bean and Rollerball in cinemas as a youngster and later loved his performances in Misery, Bottle Rocket and The Yards to name three very different films almost randomly. Of course, he’ll always be best remembered as the combustible Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, but I thought I’d examine one of his less well-known films as my own tribute.

1969 was the year of Apollo 11, Woodstock, the Stonewall riots, and Manson Family slayings. Not surprisingly, big budget Hollywood movies like Hello, Dolly! and Paint Your Wagon were looking distinctly old hat and struggling at the box-office. 1969 was also the year of Medium Cool and Midnight Cowboy, The Wild Bunch and Easy Rider. And The Rain People, the last film made by Francis Ford Coppola before he directed The Godfather.

Secretly pregnant and disenchanted with her marriage, Natalie Ravenna, a Long Island housewife, wakes early and showers as her husband Vinnie sleeps on. She gets dressed and leaves a note for him saying that she still loves him and not to worry. And, in a recurring feature of the film, we see a brief flashback, this time to their marriage day, a joyful gathering if ever there was one. Coppola does like a wedding.

Natalie isn’t sure she’s ready to be a mother. She isn’t sure of very much other than she wants to think things out. Alone. She decides to head off in her car with no real destination in mind other than to head west.

The weather? It’s raining, of course.

Along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, she picks up a hitch-hiker called Jimmy, who tells her: ‘You can call me Killer.’ Hitching was far more common back then, but even so, what kind of guy would introduce himself as Killer to a lone female? There’s something different about Killer or James Kilgannon to give him the name on his birth certificate.

Natalie has an ulterior motive in giving him the lift. She’s looking to ‘make it’ with someone, some uncomplicated sex and Killer looks like a potential candidate.

In an anonymous motel room, she instructs him to take off his shirt. He complies, and she ogles his sportsman’s physique. They play a game of Simon Says – a 1967 bubblegum hit if you’re wondering – and Killer plays as if he’s a child. She learns that he’s an ex-footballer player, who has suffered a traumatic head injury on the field of play that has left him with severely reduced intellectual abilities.

With no family or friends to look after him, Killer complicates matters for Natalie. Instead of uncomplicated sex, the pregnant woman now finds herself acting as a de facto mother to a very large childlike man. He quickly grows emotionally dependent on her and Natalie realises how badly he will take it if she walks out on him – and knows he’ll have far less ability to cope with her desertion than her husband.

In Nebraska, she arranges for him to work at a roadside pet farm where birds are kept in grotesquely overcrowded conditions. She desperately attempts to kid herself on that he can be happy there, but complications soon arise as she drives onwards alone.

Another man enters her life in the shape of Gordon, a highway patrolman played by Robert Duvall. He books her for speeding but then asks her out for a coffee. He might not be a great catch, but she does like his uniform and, unlike Killer, he is obviously interested in sleeping with her. She agrees to meet up for a date that night.

Gordon’s wife and young son have died in a housefire, leaving him to raise a daughter as a single father. Rosalie (Marya Zimmet) is a handful, a girl who behaves like an adult. The opposite of Killer, in fact.

Not that much happens in The Rain People, although there is a lot of drama packed into its final ten minutes. If The Godfather could be described as operatic, then this intriguing character-driven is minimalist.

The pace is very slow in places but it feels real, and there’s never any sense that Coppola is trying to manipulate viewers – unlike the vast majority of preachy American studio movies being produced today. Natalie is far from one-dimensional. She does help Killer and she also says some truly horrible things to him. Caan’s great in a part that’s the polar opposite of the swaggering Sonny Corleone, and it remained a favourite role for the actor throughout his life.

James Caan: March 26, 1940 – July 6, 2022

Dorothy & The Television Personalities

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This week two of the records that were part of Lawrence’s collection in the Record Store Day video from my previous post. Which, I forgot to mention, was directed by Douglas Hart and Valerie Phillips. And if you want to read what I think of the BFI’s re-released Lawrence of Belgravia Blu-ray, here’s a link.

Okay, first up is Dorothy’s I Confess, released by Industrial in 1980. According to its back cover: ‘When 19-year-old Dorothy first walked into the reception of the Industrial Records office no one was quite sure what to expect. But it only took one play of the tape she’d made with young Scottish guitarist, Alex Fergusson, and our minds were made up – HIT was stamped all over it!’

This might conjure up a vision of a naive teen pop fan from the sticks somehow stumbling into Industrial completely unaware of their reputation as a noisy and confrontational experimental label.

This goes to prove one thing at least, it isn’t only major labels who are less than 100% truthful about their acts. Dorothy was Dorothy Max Prior, who was in her mid-20s when her record came out. And everybody at Industrial knew exactly what to expect. She’d worked in the ICA in 1976, during the brouhaha over COUM Transmissions’ Prostitution exhibition (which she’d helped mount) and got to know the members of Throbbing Gristle, becoming a regular at the label’s Beck Road base. Fergusson, then playing with Alternative TV, was also a frequent visitor. Rema Rema, Dorothy’s band which had just split, had also recently shared a bill with Throbbing Gristle (and I featured a great cover of one of their songs in this post).

I Confess is a list song, where Dorothy tells us about some of her passions like The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Lolita, Herman Munster, and Harry Palmer. She also displays an admirably wide taste in music from Cajun to music concrete (which she really was a fan of); Sinatra’s Songs for Swinging Lovers to Subway Sect.

With a burbling synth sound straight out of a 1970s children’s TV show, singalong chorus, cabaret guitar break, chirpy yeah-yeahs and little girl voice, this is a real oddity, and needless to say, it wasn’t a HIT. But I’m happy to confess that I like Dorothy. Best thing Industrial ever put out if you ask me – I’m likely in a very small minority on that one, I know.

In 2016, the track was included in the Sharon Signs To Cherry Red compilation of independent female acts, along with tracks by Strawberry Switchblade, The Mo-dettes, The Twinsets and others. It was also reissued as a single by Sealed Records. Dorothy recently contributed to Jordan Mooney’s Defying Gravity and this maybe encouraged to pen her own autobiography 69 Exhibition Road, which is out in November.

I like The Television Personalities too. Appropriately enough for Chelsea boys, their second release came out on their own King’s Road label. The Where’s Bill Grundy Now? EP featured four tracks and proved highly influential for Britain’s growing independent label movement – which wasn’t ever called indie back then.

Part Time Punks poked fun at the kind of missing the point punk fans who were all about posing and who ‘want to buy the ‘O’ Level single / Or ‘Read About Seymour’ / But they’re not pressed in red / So they buy The Lurkers instead.’ Bet, they all love Record Store Day.

From November 1978, here is Part Time Punks:

Lawrence, formerly of Belgravia

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2012’s Lawrence of Belgravia documentary will be released in the coming weeks for the first time on Blu-ray, so to get you/me in the mood, this week some music by the man himself from various points in his career.

I’ve not been keeping too up to date with Lawrence’s career in recent years and I’ve only just discovered that he is now going under the moniker Mozart Estate and playing at an event at Glasgow University in August called Glas-goes Pop.

I’ve not been keeping up with Record Store Day either. In its early years it had struck me as a good idea but more a good idea for other people to help keep record shops open so that I could visit any day of the year that hadn’t been installed as RSD. I’ve just never felt any inclination to queue up for hours on end in order to get the chance to fork out over the odds for a 12 inch piece of grey vinyl speckled with pink – or something equally hideous – featuring a couple of tracks I already own on CD or could download within seconds.

Jean-Luc Godard is credited with once saying that all you need to make a film is a girl and a gun and here we see that a girl and a record collection are all you need for a promo video. With a jingle like simplicity, this is Mozart Estate with Record Store Day from 2021:

Presumably the singles here were supplied from Lawrence’s own collection and the biggest surprise is likely the inclusion of Lio, who featured in my previous post. I didn’t have him down as a Red Noise man either. While I would never classify myself a collector, I have owned a fair amount of the singles featured and have even managed to hang on to a number of them such as Horrorshow, Blue Boy and Ambition by my favourite Godard, Vic, and his band Subway Sect.

That final 45 you see, Felt’s debut Index is one of two copies of the single that Lawrence sent to John Peel – when the first copy wasn’t played, Lawrence guessed that it must have been lost somewhere down the line and sent another but Peelie was just not very keen on it, a fact that prompted Lawrence to then post off what the DJ later claimed was the most ‘vitriolic and nasty’ letter he’d ever received.

Before Mozart Estate there was Go-Kart Mozart, and before Go-Kart Mozart there was Denim. Denim’s music was rooted in the music of Lawrence’s childhood and deliberately rejected the 1980s – the closing track of 1992’s Back in Denim was even called I’m Against the Eighties (you might legitimately ask why he has joined the Glas-goes Pop lineup as the acts are all associated with 1980s indie). In Middle of the Road, though, it is earlier musical sacred cows that he merrily slates: ‘I hate the King, I hate Chuck Berry / I hate Hooker, I hate Leadbelly.’

Lawrence obviously doesn’t hate Jonathan Richman and the Roadrunner guitar riff, to which he added a little glitterbeat (he even hired a couple of The Glitter Band to help out) and Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. Yeah, ooh wee Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. Released in January 1993 on Boy’s Own, this is Middle of the Road:

And now for some Felt from 1984, a year that was perhaps the highpoint of independent music in Britain with the releases of Upside Down, Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops, The Smiths’ self-titled debut album and Felt’s Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow.

The latter begins and ends with a bassline maybe influenced by Jah Wobble’s opening of Public Image. In between there are some great strings, a very pleasing vocal interplay between Lawrence and Strawberry Switchblade’s Rose McDowall, and Maurice Deepak’s chimiest of chiming guitars. No video unfortunately but you can hear it here:

On Wednesday 15 June at 7pm, the BFI and Rough Trade East (150 Brick Lane, London E1) present a special launch event, with a screening of Lawrence of Belgravia to be followed by a conversation with Lawrence and Paul Kelly, hosted by journalist Siân Pattenden.

The following day sees the official release of the Blu-ray. For more information, click here.

Elli et Jacno et Lio (et aussi un peu Nouvelle Vague avec un sosie Lionel Messi)

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The Eurovision final is almost upon us – and getting in a bit early, before I head off to the pub, well done to Ukraine on their win. Tonight, a couple of tracks from France and Belgium that both possess what I think of as a Eurovisiony feel. And I’ve also added a cover version of one of the songs sung by a Lionel Messi lookalike, in case you were struggling to translate this post’s title.

Elli et Jacno might look like they’ve stepped off the cover of some French fashion mag of the early 1980s but the pair didn’t meet via some modelling assignment, but rather on a protest march that turned violent in Paris. Or so they say, anyway.

In the summer of 1976, they formed what’s said to be the first French punk band: Stinky Toys, who went on to play at the famous 100 Club Punk Special along with The Sex Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks and others. The following summer Polydor issued their debut single Boozy Creed in Britain but the album it was taken from received some horrendous reviews and was never released here. Later, in Trouser Press, Ira Levin branded it ‘uninspired sub-Rolling Stones rock’n’boogie with terrible vocals by Elli Medeiros.’ Harsh but not entirely unfair.

By 1979, Stinky Toys were no more. Jacno recorded a self-titled solo album with a noticeable Kraftwerk influence. On one track, Anne Cherchait L’Amour, Elli sang.

The pair decided to join forces more permanently and moved even further away from their punkish roots with Jacno specialising in minimalist uber-catchy synthesiser hooks and Ellie providing lyrics and vocals (and a minimalist dance style). Briefly, the pair resembled the Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy of Parisian synthpop.

Here is maybe their finest moment, Main Dans La Main from 1980. Warning – this may trigger a relatively long-lasting earworm if listened to three times in a row. I speak from experience. First up, an introduction taken from a Stinky Toys TV appearance where Elli is asked if she is Uruguayan. She is.

I missed out on the track on its release and only came across Elli et Jacno via the soundtrack they supplied for Eric Rohmer’s Full Moon in Paris from 1984, which is one of those French films where everyone is very sophisticated and keen to discuss philosophy at parties. As opposed to the kind of parties you got in Glasgow roundabout the same time – where you were more likely to take the Buckfast Challenge than discuss de Beauvoir or Sartre. If you ever watch Full Moon in Paris, look out for the scene where Pascale Ogier’s Julie dances to the track Les Tarots – you’ll see Elli strutting her stuff to the left of her.

Now for a bit of Vanda Maria Ribeiro Furtado Tavares de Vasconcelos, or, as she’s better known as, Lio. The Belgian singer’s career got off to a flier. Her first single, a slice of bubblegum yé-yé called Banana Split, reached number one in France. For her follow-up, she turned to Elli and Jacno and a track from their Stinky Toys days, although it’s just about unrecognisable from its source material and no one would ever accuse Lio’s Amoureux Solitaires (Lonely Lovers) of being ‘uninspired sub-Rolling Stones rock’n’boogie.’

A jaunty little poptimistic gem, the single sold like hot croissants, replaced Il jouait du piano debout by former Eurovision winner France Gall at the top of the French charts and stayed there for six weeks. Here it is ‘live’ with some well deserved ‘spontaneous’ applause around the minute and a half mark.

There’s been many covers of the song over the years and fans of Lio include Marc Colin of Nouvelle Vague who bought her Lonely Lovers album on cassette as a youngster. Here’s his band’s laid back and jazzy take on the song with guest vocalist Lionel Messi lookalike Hugh Coltman.

Knockabout (1979) & Dreadnaught (1981)

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This week, a look at a couple of new Eureka Classics Blu-rays that are released today. First up is Knockabout, an early example of Hong Kong’s kung fu comedy craze, and the first film to star Sammo Hung (who also directed it) and Yuen Biao together.

Bryan Leung Kar-Yan is Dai Pao, while Yuen Biao, in his first leading role, is his brother Yi Pao. They’re are a pair of low-grade grifters who would happily rip each other off if the chance arose. They do enjoy the odd success – like conning a gold dealer who is equally greedy and gullible, but they pick the wrong mark in Old Fox (played by Lau Kar-Wing in a not terribly convincing grey wig).

Outwitted by the older man, they seek revenge by attempting to beat him up. This is another bad idea and results in him giving them both black eyes. Sensing that learning a mastery of kung fu could come in handy whenever their scams fail, they offer to become his students. Old Fox is reluctant but eventually relents, enlisting the brothers to help him in his struggle against some longstanding enemies.

Old Fox really is far from the kindly and virtuous master that we usually meet in kung fu movies, as the brothers will soon discover to their cost.

The balance between comedy and martial arts tips in favour of the former for much of the movie with Yuen Biao and Leung Kar-yan making for a highly likeable double act.

The role of Yi Pao was intended to launch Yuen Biao into the kind of stardom that his fellow Peking Opera School pals Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung were already experiencing after box office hits like Drunken Master and Enter the Fat Dragon.

Biao did go on to enjoy a long and successful career, without ever reaching the heights of his two ‘brothers’. His acrobatic cartwheels, kicks and backflips are a true joy to watch here, and Sammo Hung’s Beggar putting him through his paces with a skipping rope is one of the great martial arts training sequences. Sammo, incidentally, is predictably good in the role of the jovial beggar, a man with a pet monkey and some kiss ass monkey kung fu moves. As for ‘Beardy’ Leung, despite having never studied any martial arts, he looks pretty accomplished in his fight scenes.

The cast are all in good form actually, Karl Maka’s memorable cameo as Captain Baldy being only one of many highlights. The movie is a delight which keeps getting better and better. Its ferocious finale is one of the longest in Hong Kong action movie history and entirely justifies its length.

Next up, another kung fu cult favourite, this time one directed by Yuen Woo-ping, the legendary action choreographer of The Matrix, Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Yuen Woo-ping plunges us straight into the action here with an eruption of mayhem in a teahouse, which leaves a number of police officers and the wife of a fearsome criminal dead.

That criminal, known as White-Fronted Tiger (Yuen Shun-yee), seeks out an old pal who lets him hide out with a theatrical troupe he is involved with. It’s here his path crosses with Little Gueng (Yuen Biao), a laundry worker who is scared of dogs; scared of the men who refuse to pay their laundry bills; and even more than a little scared of his domineering big sister – who beats him up because he’s so hopeless at collecting debts. Needless to say, even though he doesn’t know the true identity of the troupe’s newcomer, he’s terrified of White-Fronted Tiger. Worse still, the psychotic wrongdoer takes an immediate dislike to him.

Maybe Gueng’s best pal Leung Foon (Bryan Leung Kar-yan) can persuade his master Wong Fei-hung (Kwan Tak-hing) to teach the fearful young man the fighting skills required to take on the man that Gueng calls Painted Face.

Nobody could ever accuse Yuen Woo-ping of being scared to shift tone. Dreadnaught begins like a Chinese version of a spaghetti western, then switches into slapstick mode soon after. There is some superb physical comedy on display, such as Gueng demonstrating his unorthodox kung fu method of drying laundry – later referenced by Joel Schumacher in Batman Forever – and also some less amusing broad Hong Kong humour, although I did laugh at one visual gag involving some incompetent police officers drawing the wrong conclusion about a dead man covered by a blanket.

There are also elements of the buddy movie, while the final third of the film strays into serial killer territory – and it is bizarre that a movie with cross-eyed cops and men with weird hair sprouting from unsightly facial warts also manages to feature a genuinely unsettling scene when Leung Foon clashes with White-Fronted Tiger.

Consistently entertaining, Dreadnaught also marked the final time that Kwan Tak-hing portrayed Cantonese folk hero Wong Fei-hung – a man also portrayed onscreen by Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The actor bowed out on a high on what is said to have been his 77th time in the role. No, that’s not a typo.

Tak-hing, who was in his mid-seventies during filming, even features prominently in the film’s standout scene, a long brawl between two Lion Dance teams that brilliantly showcases Woo-ping’s virtuoso choreography skills.

This Eureka Classics releases of Knockabout and Dreadnaught are their UK debuts on Blu-ray, both in brand new 2K restorations.

Special features on both include limited edition O-Card slipcases featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 copies]; reversible sleeve design featuring original poster artwork; new feature length audio commentaries by Frank Djeng & Michael Worth, and new feature length audio commentaries by Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, plus collector’s booklets featuring new writing by James Oliver.

For more on Knockabout, click here.

For more on Dreadnaught, click here.

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