Sid & Nancy (& Winston): Friday Night Film Club #6

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Sid and Nancy 30th anniversary

Sid and Nancy (1986) Director: Alex Cox

I like Alex Cox. The guy comes across as an engaging character and I always enjoyed his thought-provoking introductions on Moviedrome, a cult cinema series that introduced me to many obscure delights. How we could do with something similar on our TV screens today.

Alex Cox the director, though, isn’t someone I follow that closely. Repo Man was hugely popular with independent movie fans but it never quite lived up to the hype for me albeit it did display some real potential.

Rock biopics are a notoriously difficult type of film to pull off with the chances of pleasing avid fans of the act depicted and performing at the box office slim at best. When it was announced that Cox would be making Sid and Nancy, I reckoned he was as good a choice as any director to helm the project and his efforts would at least be intriguing.

Critics tend to rate Cox’s film highly. The New Statesman‘s Ryan Gilbey recently speculated on the possibility of Sid and Nancy being the ‘finest British film of the 1980s’. On the other hand Gary Oldman, who played Sid, admitted in an online interview that if he comes across the film while he’s channel surfing: ‘I wanna just throw the television out the window.’

Ouuch.

Sid and Nancy opens with a dazed Sid Vicious arrested in NYC. A sad and pathetic figure, strung out on smack and shocked by the murder of girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

We’re almost immediately transported back to happier times and Sid’s entry into The Sex Pistols. This is a cartoonish portrayal of punk. Life for Sid and his mate Johnny Rotten consists of drinking cans of lager in the streets, belching, spray painting a dominatrix pal’s living room walls and commenting on how boring everything is. If you had scant knowledge of punk and came across this then you could be forgiven for wondering what the fuss about The Sex Pistols was all about.

Oldman immediately convinces as the man born John Simon Ritchie but Drew Schofield completely fails to impress as Johnny. Ditto David Hayman in the role of Malcolm McLaren. It’s not long before inaccuracies begin to pile up too.

In his book Popcorn, Gary Mulholland lists many of these, even going as far as to include Nancy’s first meeting with Sid and Johnny, where she states: ‘I have all your L.Ps back home’. This being a time when they hadn’t released any albums. I liked the line myself, feeling it was typical patter from a junkie/groupie hoping to ingratiate herself. A moment later she mixes Johnny up with Sid. Such is life. If you’ve got a habit.

Chloe Webb does excel as Nancy Spungen, an instantly irritating wreck who whinges and whines throughout. Believe me, it’s not hard to see how she earned her Nauseating Nancy nickname.

Sid would have had to search long and hard to find a more toxic partner. A doomed coupling from the moment they got together.

Sid and Nancy still

There’s plenty of self-pity and self-mutilation but very little in the way of self-analysis. In Nancy’s case, the solution to just about every problem is to throw a hissy-fit, attempting to get her own way by guilt-tripping into submission anyone who won’t give her money or drugs.

Along the way, though, we’re shown more and more moments of tenderness between the pair and the scene set in the squalor of a New York alley with the couple kissing and garbage raining down around them in a slow-motion wide shot is truly memorable. I know because it’s been over thirty years since I watched the film and it has remained with me ever since – and I should mention here that I watched Sid and Nancy on a ‘Vintage Classics’ 30th anniversary edition blu-ray. A fact that makes me feel very, very old.

Sid and Nancy kissing

After the monotonous Johnny and Sid double act, there are plenty of comedic moments. At one point Sid is so spaced out he doesn’t know if it’s New Year or New York. He has an unexpected encounter with a plate-glass window. The recreation of the My Way video undoubtedly works too – the one moment where the real Sid Vicious got to shine. His way.

There’s also near constant heroin abuse, Sid taking a nasty beating and Sid dishing out some domestic violence against Nancy although Sid as a snotty-nosed mess on the subway line clinging desperately to Nancy managed to make the man oddly sympathetic. Momentarily anyway.

Then one of the strangest and most disturbing love stories in cinema history cops out with some sentimental surrealism as its ending. A flight of fancy too far that Cox himself later regretted.

Malcolm McLaren wasn’t a fan and Johnny Rotten dismissed the movie completely, going as far to claim that it glamourised drugs. I doubt myself a single person was persuaded to try out smack as a result of seeing it.

If you don’t mind a stream of anachronisms and dubious decisions like having Sid wear a hammer and sickle T-shirt rather than the swastika one that really was a part of his wardrobe, then you might well enjoy Sid and Nancy.

The re-created Sex Pistols music is pretty impressive. Probably because Glen Matlock played on it and even in his early days as a cinematographer, Roger Deakins already oozed talent. Sid, for example, looking out of the Chelsea Hotel on to bustling New York streets looks and sounds extraordinary.

The verdict?

A deeply flawed though generally compelling take on punk’s most high-profile couple.

Cox never again experienced the critical acclaim and interest that his two first features generated. His next feature, Spaghetti Western pastiche Straight to Hell, with a cast that included Joe Strummer, The Pogues, Courtney Love and Elvis Costello, proved a disappointment. Since then I’ve only seen one of his movies Repo Chick (where he was reunited with Chloe Webb). This was borderline unwatchable.

Oldman quickly became associated with what The Face dubbed the Britpack, a group of actors including Tim Roth and Miranda Richardson whose stars were on the rise in the mid-’80s. Interestingly Roth had declined the chance to play Rotten in Cox’s film. If he had accepted I’d guess the film would have been much improved.

Oldman’s next role was as another English rebel who also died young, Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears.

Nominated for an Oscar for 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he finally scooped the big gong earlier this month for his turn as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. From a junky punk bassist to Britain’s wartime leader in just over thirty years.

No one will ever be able to claim he’s not versatile.

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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.

Suneaters

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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.