Melody & Alice (Friday Night Film Club #5)

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Melody & Alice

A Tracy Hyde Double Bill: Melody (1971) & Alice (1982)

British cinema in the 1970s often gets a bad rap. The way some commentators go on you’d think the entire decade had consisted of a parade of sexploitation comedies, cheesy horrors and unsuccessful big screen sitcom adaptations. But in the first two years of the ’70s alone, films like Deep End, Bronco Bullfrog, Kes, Get Carter and A Clockwork Orange demonstrated the quality that could be found.

Melody arrived during this time and although nowhere near a box-office success in Britain its reputation has risen steadily in recent years. This might have been aided at least a little by The Wondermints’ wonderful single Tracy Hide in tribute to the young first time actor who played the titular role. In the States, incidentally, its title was switched to S.W.A.L.K.. Apparently, at one point, it was to be named after the Bee Gees’ song To Love Somebody. A better idea by far.

Music plays a very important part in Melody and is largely supplied by the brothers Gibb. The screenplay was even written around seven tracks by that band. A young producer named David Puttnam obtaining a raft of cash that allowed the film to go ahead – on the condition that these tracks were used.

There’s also some Crosby, Still, Nash & Young thrown in too. Teach Your Children utilised in a scene where a bunch of kids get a more than a little anarchic. This is often praised for its irony but its Californian vibe doesn’t really feel appropriate for a film set in inner city London (Hammersmith and Lambeth mostly with short excursions to Soho, Trafalgar Square and even Weymouth).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The film starts with a Boy Brigade march where two boys meet for the first time. One is a scruffy, little cheeky chappie called Ornshaw, the other a solidly middle class kid Daniel Latimer. Alan Parker, who penned the screenplay, has admitted his script was partly autobiographical, comparing himself with the Ornshaw character while suggesting that David Puttnam shared a number of similarities with Daniel.

Melody was heavily promoted on the partnership of the two young actors, reunited after their double act in the 1968 hit musical Oliver! and roughly speaking the first half features their developing friendship while the second concentrates the budding romance between Daniel and Melody.

Melody - Mark Lester & Tracy Hyde

Both these actors were only eleven at the time of the shoot and they do make a very sweet young couple while the adults represented range from well meaning idiots to complete wallopers. The movie has a go at persuading audiences that the viewpoint of children deserves to treated with the same validity as that of grown-ups.

Maybe in 1971 this idea struck some as a good idea – this being the time of the infamous Schoolkids issue of OZ and The Little Red Schoolbook – but if anybody thinks that it might be a good idea for eleven year olds to marry, they should definitely give themselves a good shake.

So, a silly premise but is this a film worth watching?

Well, Wes Anderson has called Melody ‘A forgotten, inspiring gem’ and this is a movie whose mere mention is guaranteed to get many children of the 1970s misty eyed with nostalgia. This doesn’t include me though albeit I found it enjoyable enough.

The story takes far too long to get started. ‘When it gets to the rag-and-bone sequence, where Melody swaps her parents clothes for a goldfish, the film kicks up a gear and takes off,’ Alan Parker later admitted. Since then he has always tried ‘to get to the goldfish’ as quickly as possible.

The direction is solid enough, though never that imaginative with Waris Hussein displaying a TV sensibility for much of the running time. And talking of running, how many times did we need to see schoolkids erupting out of their classes at the sound of the school bell?

The music is pretty good albeit twee – I do rather like The Bee Gees before the medallions and visible chest hair. Its use, though, is generally uninspired – such as To Love Somebody during the school’s sports day.

On the plus side, the acting is very good, particularly from Jack Wild (who was by far the oldest of the three central leads). Ornshaw was also the most interesting character of the three, like a junior version of the characters that Gary Holton went on to specialise in a decade or so later. In comparison Daniel was positively drippy.

Okay, the possibility does exist that I couldn’t enjoy Melody properly due to watching it on STV 2. Interrupted by an infuriating number of mind numbing ads – some of them urging viewers to enter some competition via a premium rate phone number – together with news reports and weather updates, this is hardly the ideal way to watch any film. StudioCanal released it on Blu-ray last year and here’s the trailer:

Alan Parker, of course, soon embarked on a career as a director himself. I’ve always found his work hit and miss. Midnight Express and Angel Heart were superb, The Wall and Angela’s Ashes belong squarely in the category of dreary borefests.

Puttnam next went on next to co-produce The Pied Piper, a disaster that starred Donovan and Diana Dors along with Jack Wild. More music related movies followed: Glastonbury Fayre (1972), That’ll Be the Day (1973), Mahler (1974), Stardust (1974) and Lisztomania (1975). You likely know the rest.

Jack Wild and Mark Lester both found the transition from childhood fame to maintaining adult success a struggle. Drink and drugs abuse followed and, sadly, Jack died in 2006, likely as a result of his excesses.

Bizarrely, Mark later befriended Michael Jackson and has claimed to have been a sperm donor for him, believing he might be the father of Paris Jackson. Wacko Jacko’s former lawyer Brian Oxman, though, has dismissed this idea, saying during a TV interview that: ‘The thing I always heard from Michael was that Michael was the father of these children, and I believe Michael.’

Yeah, sure.

Tracy Constance Margaret Hyde never fully realised her early potential either. Up until the late ’80s she still occasionally appeared in shows like Dempsey and Makepeace, and The Bill. She did star in 1980’s The Orchard End Murder (which I really must seek out) and she also teamed up once more with Jack Wild for Alice (Alicja), a 1982 musical-fantasy.

Alice - Tracey Hyde & Jack Wild

This was only a smallish role and maybe that was for the best. Yet another take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it’s hard, if not impossible, to imagine how anybody could have imagined this was a good idea.

A European co-production shot in Poland, France and England with cast members from each of those countries, Alice failed on every level. There’s one marathon song in the middle of the film that feels as if the lyric writer was trying to concoct the most obvious – and therefore painful – lyrics in the history of the musical. Then there’s I’m A Psychiatrist. No song with that title could be anything other than dreadful, could it?

Sophie Barjac plays Alice, a twenty-something divorcee who works in a factory with her pal Mona, (Tracy Hyde) and Mock Turtle (Jack Wild), a biker obsessed with trivia. I have no idea why most of the characters are assigned names from Alice as they bear little or absolutely no resemblance to their Carroll counterparts.

The best thing about Alice is when Barjac sings but this is down to the fact that her vocals were dubbed by Lulu. Barjac’s co-star is Jean-Pierre Cassel, who in a long career worked with the likes of Claude Chabrol and Luis Buñuel. I can only guess what his old pal Serge Gainsbourg must have thought of his turn here.




L-Space press-photo

Run by unpaid volunteers, Last Night From Glasgow is truly a label that is all about a passion for good music. In 2017, LNfG established itself as one of Scotland’s finest imprints with Sister John, in particular, winning over fans with their album Returned From Sea. Music bloggers uniformly loved it and the lead-off track, Thinner Air, made its way into my Best of the Year list.

This year looks like it might be even more fruitful with album releases earmarked for Bis, Radiophonic Tuckshop, Zoe Bestel and L-Space.

The latter act describes themselves as ‘a noisy dream pop band from the central belt of Scotland’ and their wonderfully woozy single Suneaters is just out and available on the usual digital outlets.

With a mesmerising sound that made me think of Dot Allison fronting a spacey Prefab Sprout, the track has already received a number of highly favourable reviews with Louder Than War, for example, hailing it as ‘a truly enchanting piece of work.’

Here is almost five celestial minutes of fragile vocals and misty clouds of noise accompanied with one of the most visually sumptuous videos you’re likely to see all year – directed and produced by Coconut Island Photography, Ben Rigley & Fabio Rebelo Paivo. This is Suneaters:

L-space will be playing several live shows in the very near future, to the extent they are even performing in Glasgow and then Edinburgh on the same day. Not quite Phil Collins’ journey from London to Philly for Live Aid I know but the music will assuredly be far better.

Here are some dates for your diaries:

11.03.18 (noon) – Glasgow, Art School (with Lake of Stars).

11.03.18 (7pm) – Suneaters single launch at Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh (with Pocket Knife and Beta Waves).

31.03.18 – Stereo, Glasgow. LNfG’s Bigger Birthday Bash (with Bis, Sun Rose and Stephen Solo).

28.04.18 – Snuffledown Festival, Larbert.

Look out too for label compilation The ABC of LNFG, which will consist of twelve songs from twelve different artists with a couple of remixes thrown in too. This will be released officially on 30/03/18 and available at the LNfG Birthday Party (see above).

For more on L-Space, click here.

& for more on LNfG, here you go.

Talking of a previous L-Space track Space Junk, Scots Whay Hae! speculated that, ‘If Nicolas Winding Refn is looking for a band to soundtrack his next movie then he should look no further.’

High praise indeed. And on the subject of that visionary director and going down the same road, if he’s on the lookout for some hypnotic sounds with an ominous edge to include in the forthcoming remake he plans to produce of Italian horror classic What Have You Done to Solange? I’ll throw Dirge by Death in Vegas into the hat for his consideration.

Featuring the aforementioned Dot Allison on guest vocals here is the track live on Later and wouldn’t this be perfect for a twenty-first century Giallo?

For more on Dot, click here.