Radio On (1979): British Movie Night #5

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Music plays a big part in Radio On. Its opening credits even advertise not only the artists that we’ll be soon be hearing but the individual tracks. It opens with David Bowie’s Heroes accompanying some obviously handheld camera shots of someone prowling through a house, that initially appears empty. Doors open and close, and we get a glimpse of a man lying motionless in a bath, presumably having committed suicide. Or maybe not. This is not a film that gives much away.

The lyrics move into the German version of the song, Helden, giving a hint that like Deep End, this is another British/West German co-production, funded jointly by the BFI and Wim Wender’s production company. And yes, the influence of the German director’s early movies is easily identifiable here, no surprise as he acted as associate producer and the film was shot by his frequent collaborator Martin Schäfer, while his then-partner Lisa Kreuzer plays a German woman Ingrid searching for her daughter Alice – an in-joke on Wenders’ Alice in the Cities where she played a woman searching for a daughter named – you’ve guessed it – Alice.

One of the dead man’s final actions was to post a parcel to his brother Robert (David Beames) with three Kraftwerk cassette tapes and a note wishing him a happy birthday. Robert decides to investigate the circumstances of the death further but he’s no Colombo.

Radio On is a real rarity, a British road movie. It’s also a minimalist road movie in every way and moves only between London and the Bristol area. Not much over one hundred miles in distance.

Fast-paced, plot driven and dialogue heavy are not descriptions you’ll ever come across if reading about the film. Petit himself has spoken of how he’s always thought of it as ‘more of a report than a dramatic narrative, about the way things looked and the music we played, about cultural climate and weather, buildings and landscape, a sense of alien record.’

You might not be surprised to hear that Hollywood didn’t come knocking on the door of Chris Petit.

Some scenes serve little purpose in the traditional way of moving the film forward, such as Robert getting his hair cut by the world’s least talkative hairdresser or when, alone, he plays an arcade game called Tumblers without any success.

Sometimes a shot seems superfluous but will later suggest something you feel the need to speculate on. When Robert sets off on the autobahn – sorry – motorway – to Bristol he drives under the Westway and past a wall where the prominent slogan ‘FREE ASTRID PROLL’ has been spray painted – Proll being Baader-Meinhof gang member arrested in London during 1978, her capture spawning a rash of supportive graffiti.

Ingrid’s ex-partner has obtained custody of their daughter and doesn’t want her to see her mother – there are some hints later that this situation is down to her behaving irresponsibly – perhaps getting involved in the fringes of some Red Army Faction style group. Or maybe that’s just my imagination running riot.

Robert goes into a pub and plays Wreckless Eric’s Whole Wide World on the jukebox. He drinks alone at the bar but when he leaves, there’s a youngish guy in his car. The two haven’t been seen communicating but Robert seems okay with this. An intense squaddie who has served two spells of duty in Northern Ireland, he has witnessed his pal being murdered by Nationalists, an event that has clearly brought on some kind of post-traumatic stress. This has led him to go AWOL and Robert decides he’d be better travelling alone although there is danger inherent in this choice. A little action at long last.

This is a film that can be self-referential. In his job as a nightshift DJ in a giant bakery, Robert plays Ian Dury and The Blockhead’s Sweet Gene Vincent. Later, an Eddie Cochran obsessed garage attendant (played by an on the cusp of fame Sting) mentions the crash that killed Cochran and injured Vincent, explaining that they had just ended their tour at the Bristol Hippodrome, a venue that we’ve seen earlier. Sting’s character also imparts some Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich trivia decades before a character in Tarantino’s Death Proof claimed that Pete Townshend almost quit The Who to join the Wiltshire act. I’m still not buying that one.

There are some more gently amusing in-jokes. When Robert first comes across Ingrid, she’s talking to a friend in German and there are no onscreen subtitles provided. Later the partner of Robert’s brother watches a film with the sound down so as not to wake Robert, relying instead on the subtitles.

Shot during Britain’s Winter of Discontent with the spectre of Margaret Thatcher’s likely victory at the polls looming large, the country looks cold with Schäfer’s black and white cinematography adding a suitably bleak mood to proceedings.

Radio On failed to grab me the way Wenders’ own early films grabbed me although it didn’t annoy me the way some of his later films like The Million Dollar Hotel annoyed me – the motto here being ignore Bono if he ever tries to pitch you an idea.

It was selected for Director’s Fortnight at Cannes before going on to play Britain’s art-house circuit. In the documentary series Punk Brittania, synth pioneer Daniel Miller of The Normal named it as one of his favourite films of the era, particularly admiring its use of Kraftwerk ‘which really threw the whole thing into a completely different, weird spin.’

Quite simply, the soundtrack is superb, easily the best thing about the film.

It could be split between two distinct camps (almost). Firstly, there are a number of very forward looking acts – Bowie, Kraftwerk, Robert Fripp and Devo – connected in a number of ways: Bowie used to regularly enthuse about Kraftwerk being his favourite group, while they name-checked him on Trans-Europe Express. Robert Fripp supplied lead guitar on Heroes, and after seeing Devo play Max’s Kansas City, Bowie took to the stage to declare them ‘the band of the future’. Fripp volunteered his services for production duties for their debut album but instead they chose Eno assisted by Bowie. The album was recorded at former Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank’s studio.*

Secondly, there are a bunch of Stiffs: the aforementioned Wreckless Eric and Ian Dury and The Blockheads, together with The Rumour and Lene Lovich – whose Lucky Number was shooting up the British singles chart as Petit filmed. Stiff Records’ head honcho Dave Robinson was agreeable to the idea that as many of his publicity hungry label’s roster be represented as possible and a deal was struck at a very agreeable price for Petit, including Devo whose frenetic take on Satisfaction did appear on Stiff in Britain (hence ‘almost’ in brackets in the previous paragraph).

Here’s a clip featuring some Kraftwerk:

Trivia: Nicholas Royle’s novel The Director’s Cut (2000) features a projectionist who has recently programmed and screened Radio On as part of a series of road movies. He also sleeps rough outside Radio On location the Camden Plaza Cinema and imagines meeting Chris Petit as he does so, the director keen to get him involved in a sequel. It’s a recommended read.

* Mark Mothersbaugh recently discovered some tapes of his band jamming with Bowie from these recording sessions and these will likely be released at some point in the not too distant future.

Deep End (1970): British Movie Night #4

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A British–West German co-production, filmed in London and Bavaria, and written and directed by a Pole, you might question this being a British film. But it is entirely set in London with the main roles going to English actors, so that’ll do for me. Beware, though, that a number of smaller roles went to German actors and some of their dubbed dialogue veers towards the dodgy at the start of the film.

Shy, inarticulate and clumsy, Mike (John Moulder-Brown), is fifteen but comes across as immature even for that age. Fresh out of school, he finds employment as a male attendant at a municipal public bathhouse and pool. Here, locals often go to have their weekly scrub-up, and he sometimes gets the chance to collect tips from clients for ‘special services’ rendered.

His first experience of this comes via a middle-aged platinum blonde (Diana Dors) who visits to get some sexual kicks by pathetically trying to enact a George Best fantasy with a clearly confused Mike. Like Friends, a 1971 film soundtracked by Elton John which I watched recently, it can make for some uncomfortable viewing due to the screen age of certain cast members, so I should point out that Moulder-Brown himself was 17 during the shoot.

Female attendant Susan (Jane Asher) shows him the ropes and he becomes besotted with her. It’s easy to imagine a teenage boy going down this line. Even though she’s maybe a decade older and already engaged, he somehow gets it into his head that a relationship with her might be on the cards – although you’d guess there’s as much chance of this happening as me beating Jane Asher in a cake making competition (I am, though, hoping to perfect my Buckforest Gateau recipe in time for Christmas).

In addition to her fiancé, Susan’s also involved with an older married man, a pervy PE teacher whose jobs include taking schoolgirls to the pool for swimming lessons. Judging by his behaviour as he does so, he may have become involved with Susan when she was his pupil.

Mike takes his infatuation – which he mistakes for love – to an extreme level. His working hours are spent with Susan and at night much of his time is devoted to spying on her.

In 2007, in a Sight & Sound feature on cinematic hidden gems, critic David Thompson chose Deep End. ‘Skolimowski’s direction is extravagant, crude and tender by turns, slapping the audience in the face with its insouciance and weird wit,’ he wrote, before adding: ‘Today the soundtrack by Can and Cat Stevens would probably win a high cool rating.’ I’m not sure why anybody would consider Cat Stevens cool but Thompson was certainly right about hipster favourites Can – credited here as The Can – whose Mother Sky perfectly soundtracks a particularly feverish segment of the film set in Soho, with Mike out on stalking duties again, having discovered that Susan’s fiancé Chris (Chris Sandford) is taking her to an upmarket disco.

In this sequence, Mike is shown desperately seeking Susan and
everything is a little off-kilter. He enters the disco, and a handheld camera completely disorientates viewers as it continuously swirls and circles around him in the reception area as he attempts to gain admission.

Mother Sky is pretty disorientating too. Jerzy Skolimowski has spoken about avoiding ‘obvious soundtracks’ and in 1970, commissioning an underground act like Can was certainly far from obvious – especially when you consider that it had only been around a year since Easy Rider had revolutionized movie music by rejecting a traditional instrumental score in favour of a carefully assembled rock soundtrack consisting of existing or newly commissioned songs.

On seeing Susan and her flashy boyfriend enter, Mike flees. He buys a hotdog. Two doormen attempt to cajole him into a strip joint. He buys another hotdog. He steals a life-size cardboard cut-out of a female, who looks suspiciously like Susan. Hiding from the bouncers of the club he stole the cutout from, he enters the room of a hooker with one leg in a plaster cast. Due to her predicament, she offers a cut-price deal for sex, but he’s more interested in loitering outside the disco again. Two girls persuade him to buy them hotdogs. They’re not too interested in Mike apart from getting something free from him. A group of Christian evangelist squares attempt to spread the word of the Lord in deepest, darkest Soho of all places. Predictably, with zero success. He buys so many hotdogs, he’s offered one for free.

Finally, he spots Susan and her fiancé on the street, arguing. They go their separate ways. He follows Susan to the underground, still carrying his cut-out. Is he having some kind of breakdown? It looks like it. I’m beginning to think this isn’t going to end well.

Mostly filmed during the first half of 1970, Deep End premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Critics were mostly very positive. In the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas insisted that the film was masterpiece, that ‘shows Skolimowski to be a major film-maker, impassioned yet disciplined.’ Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune hailed it as ‘a stunning introduction to a talented film maker.’

Sadly, at the box-office it failed to generate much interest. Doubtless the fact that neither of the leads is sympathetic, didn’t help. Mike’s obviously excessively voyeuristic and prone to throwing childish tantrums too. Susan uses men (and is used by them) and also harbours a nasty streak, shown when she calls Mike’s mother a cow, presumably to hurt him, just because she can. The dialogue is not always convincing, likely as a result of Skolimowski’s poor English. Several of the actors had to rewrite their lines or improvise as the camera rolled and this didn’t always work, although arguably it adds to the dreamlike quality that is often evident.

Despite its flaws, Deep End is fascinating too. It displays a highly striking colour palette – at one point, in the background, a man begins painting the bath’s green tiled corridors a shade of the deepest Suspiria red (seven years before Argento’s horror classic was made). And if anybody ever tells you that everything the 1970s was either grey or beige, feel free to refer them to Jane Asher in her long yellow vinyl mac and blazing red hair.

Asher, incidentally, is very good as the cynical and amoral Susan.

The film also successfully showcases Skolimowski’s taste for absurdist humour. It is never predictable and although some critics judged it a film that deserves a better ending, I thought the climax in the pool was inspired and one of the most memorable in cult cinema.

Unavailable for decades due to legal problems, Deep End was released by the British Film Institute in a dual format edition on their Flipside series in 2011 and given a limited re-release in British cinemas. The film was also chosen to be screened at the Monorail’s Film Club at Glasgow Film Theatre in 2013.

Yesterday’s Hero (1979): British Movie Night #3


Yesterday's Hero (1979)

The 1970s are drawing to a close and the three Oscars picked up by Rocky are still very fresh in the memory, as is the success of Saturday Night Fever, a film that captivated audiences across the globe and sent the disco boom into overdrive.

So, surely combining a sports movie with some disco would be a winning formula? So thought Jackie Collins. To further her screenplay’s appeal, she centred her plot around a hard drinking, past his prime footballer, Rod Turner (Ian McShane) who bears more than a passing resemblance to George Best, although we learn from the end credits that ‘All the characters and narration of this film are fictitious. Characters and events are not intended to refer to actual persons or events and any similarity is unintentional and entirely coincidental.’

Ian McShane as Rod Turner

This isn’t what McShane later told the Independent. ‘The whole story was based on George Best,’ he admitted, going on to further explain: ‘It couldn’t be anyone else, really.’ Although, to be fair to Collins, Rod is as much Roy of the Rovers as the wayward Northern Irish winger.

Add in a wealthy pop star team chairman (like Elton John but with even worse songs) and a glampuss disco diva called Cloudy, and stir.

What the Queen of the British bonkbuster likely forgot to take into account was that for every Rocky, there’s a dozen stinkers like Rocky 4 or Rocky 5 and for every Saturday Night Fever there’s a Roller Boogie and Disco Godfather – although the latter film is hilarious, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Yesterday’s Hero kicks off appropriately enough at a shoddy looking stadium where a match is taking place on a quagmire of a pitch that few fans have turned up to see. This footage is accompanied by a sludgy and supposed to be inspirational MOR dirge written by Frank Musker and Dominic Bugatti – who had previously penned Reggae Like It Used To Be for Paul Nicholas and later wrote that sickly Modern Girl hit for Sheena Easton. They have a lot to answer for.

As the teams troop of the pitch, Rod takes the time to chat to a young fan and sign his autograph book (to demonstrate to the audience that for all his faults he’s still a good guy). Afterwards, in the team coach, he glugs whisky straight from the bottle and discusses the rise of rivals the Saints, recently bought over by chairman Clint Simon played by the aformentioned Nicholas.

I wonder why the subject of the Saints has been brought up?

Yesterday's Hero Rod & Susan

Suitably blootered, Rod returns to a bedsit that is almost as shabby as his treatment of his girlfriend of sorts, Susan (Glynis Barber, swoon, swoon, and swoon again). For some mystifying reason, rather than spend every minute he can with here, he prefers to spend the bulk of his spare time taking out a bunch of kids from a convent school for training, and buying pints for his father and his old codger buddies down the local bar, where they appear to have taken up residence in order to drink, smoke and play dominoes incessantly.

Unbeknownst to Rod, Clint Simon needs cover for an injured player and with the vast wealth of footballing knowledge he has accumulated as a pop star duetting with the lovely Cloudy Martin (Suzanne Somers), he decides that a has-been alcoholic is the ideal replacement, despite the reservations of manager Jake Marsh (Adam ‘Budgie’ Faith). And in the kind of coincidence that is only too common in this kind of film, Cloudy and Rod were once an item.

Simon woos Rod, flying him out to Paris on his private jet and plying him with champagne as he takes part in a recording session with Cloudy. Rod doesn’t particularly want to sign with the Saints, despite them doing well in Division 3 and having already qualified for the last four of the FA Cup. Maybe Rod reckons the chances of minnows like them lifting the cup are negligible. Teams in the third tier of English football just don’t win that, do they?

Ian McShane drinking White Horse

Instead, he seeks to manoeuvre a move to the States through an old pal Georgie Moore, a white suited medallion man played by Alan Lake, an actor who has effortlessly oozed sleaze in every single movie I’ve seen him in.

Let down by Moore, he reluctantly takes up the offer from Clint and is given a start against Hamilton United in the cup semi-final. And here is some trivia. You may be aware that Ian McShane’s dad Harry was a Lanarkshire born footballer, whose career included a spell at Manchester United. What isn’t so commonly known is that during WWII, he also guested many times as a player for Hamilton. Hamilton Accies that this.

Rod Turner

On his debut, Rod scores in the first half of the semi but is caught taking a sneaky swig of Scotch during the interval by Marsh, who smashes the bottle out his hand. Rod retaliates, grabbing his manager by the collar and pinning him against the dressing room wall.

‘After this game you’re out,’ Marsh warns him. ‘You’re suspended.’

Thus ending any chance of Rob clinching some late-career silverware.

Unless by some miracle, he can somehow find a way into the Saints squad for the Cup Final and, who knows? come on as a substitute against the mighty Leicester Forest and score to equalise. And then get the chance to take a penalty kick in the dying seconds of the game that would win the cup for the Saints. No that would just be silly.

That night he takes a swing at Marsh in a local nightclub, falling to the disco floor in the process. On the plus side, he gets to spend a night with Cloudy. Clearly, the idea of reigniting his romance with her is enough for him to quit drinking and undergo a strenuous training regime to regain his fitness – and this is helped immeasurably by the motivational music that drives him on relentlessly.

Yesterday's Hero Clint and Cloudy

Yesterday’s Hero obviously has its more than its fair share of faults. Collins heaps the cliches on till breaking-point while the overlong Cloudy and Clint disco tunes make The Dooleys sound like Donna Summer – I know because The Dooleys’ Wanted soundtracks one of the nightclub scenes – while failing to move the plot forward by one iota.

On the plus side, McShane is well cast and looks genuinely jaked up in the first two-thirds of the film. I’m far from an expert on football and can’t claim to have to even ever watched an English Cup final but thought the on-field action worked well, with sequences borrowed from the 1979 League Cup final at Wembley between Southampton and Nottingham Forest cut into the film expertly, so credit to Frank McLintock as the film’s footballing advisor.

But in terms of quality and believability, the plot’s definitely more Brechin City than Barcelona.

You can see Yesterday’s Hero here on YouTube.

George Best

So, how would a washed up bevvy merchant, whose glory days were long gone, perform in the late 1970s?

Well, around about the time of the release of Yesterday’s Hero, George Best was lured to Hibernian, then struggling at the bottom of the Scottish Premier League.

The signing split opinions. Many in the media saw it as a publicity stunt while most Hibs fans were delighted. As for the manager Eddie Turnbull, he had no say in the transfer, later commenting on Best in his autobiography Having A Ball: ‘He was overweight, unfit and frankly not ready to play professional football at a high level.’ The move had been the idea of chairman Tom Hart, and he was paying for it through his own pocket.

Asked by the Evening Times if he was concerned at Hibs’ lowly league position, he spoke of them being a young side and how having an older, more experienced player to help guide them would be advantageous.

Best as a role model is certainly an interesting concept.

‘As they are at the bottom, there is only one way they can go.’

Just like Rod Turner, Best bagged a goal on his debut, although it was only a consolation goal against St.Mirren in the league.

George Best Hibernian v St Mirren

In his 2003 book Scoring at Half-Time, Best enthused about his time in Edinburgh, talking up his performances. ‘Not long after my arrival we beat Glasgow Rangers and I laid on both our goals, we drew with Celtic and I scored, and we drew at Aberdeen. We even reached the semi-final of the Scottish Cup.’

That might sound pretty impressive albeit not quite a Rod Turneresque fairy-tale – yes he did score a last minute penalty to win the FA Cup. During Hibs’ Scottish Cup cup run, they only needed to beat Meadowbank Thistle, Ayr United and Berwick Rangers to reach the last four and they needed a replay to scrape past Berwick along the way. I doubt many vividly remember Hibs’ 2-0 win at Easter Road against Ayr, but they might recall the match being overshadowed by the erratic behaviour of Best off the pitch.

A boozy night in his Princes Street hotel drinking with some of the French rugby side (who had taken on Scotland at Murrayfield earlier that day) saw him being suspended when he was too hungover to turn up for Hibs the following day.

The incident made front pages in Scotland and over the years there’s even been claims that Debbie Harry joined in the fun as Blondie were playing the Odeon that night. A great story but likely only a story. Blondie had played that venue over a month earlier. If true, though, I’m sure even the harshest Alex Ferguson style disciplinarian would have been hard pressed to honestly condemn Best for choosing a night with Debbie Harry over a game against some hairy-arsed Ayrshire men.

Reinstated, George played in a further eight games, including a 5-0 Scottish Cup semi-final drubbing by Celtic which saw Eddie Turnbull losing his job.

The 33 year old Best is said to have shown some real flashes of his old magic in Scotland but he was far from the genius who terrorised defenders in his Manchester United heyday.

Over the course of 22 matches, he only found the net three times, and he couldn’t save Hibs from relegation. He was undeniably box-office, though, and put thousands on gates.

The other episode that is still discussed even all these years later in relation to his stay north of the border is when Rangers fans travelled to Easter Road for a league match. Best was mercilessly taunted over his drink problem and some fans even threw cans of beer in his direction.

Best responded by picking up one of them and pretending to sip from it. Or, according to some, he downed the contents of the can in one gulp. Whatever the truth of the matter is, his actions immediately ended the abuse. Both sets of fans gave him a round of applause.

Pity Jackie Collins hadn’t included something similar in her screenplay. It would have made for a more memorable scene than any of those she did dream up.

The Squeeze: British Movie Night #2

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The Squeeze Original Quad Poster
This week, a 1977 crime drama set in London starring Stacy Keach, David Hemmings and Edward Fox along with Carol White (see my previous post).

The cast also includes Freddie Starr, one of Britain’s most popular and highest paid TV stars of the era, a man who’d also been a part of the Merseybeat boom as singer with The Midnighters. But he ate one hamster and that’s what he’ll always be remembered for.*

You also might just be able to glimpse Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones, who was an extra in the film – this being before his band had imprinted themselves on the consciousness of the nation. In his autobiography Lonely Boy, Jones recalled: ‘You can see me walking through Portobello Market wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Cookie saw it by chance on late-night TV once and nearly fell off his fucking sofa.’

Paul Cook must blink less than I do.

Jim Naboth (Stacy Keach) has been a Scotland Yard detective superintendent and a good one too by all accounts. As the film kicks off, though, he’s steaming drunk on the London Underground. The sort of guy you hope doesn’t get talking to you, if you’re sitting in his vicinity.

Ciggy in mouth, collar and tie undone, and with a bottle of VAT 69 in his pocket, he sways from side to side as he exits the tube train. It’s no big surprise when he collapses down an escalator and ends up in hospital.

When he’s judged fit enough to leave, he heads straight to the nearest boozer. It’s four years since he investigated anything. He is no longer part of the police force and is now on Social Security. His one-time wife Jill (Carol White) has left him to look after their two kids even though he can hardly look after himself.

Stacy Keach in The Squeeze

She has married a wealthy businessman called Foreman (Edward Fox). When their daughter Christine is kidnapped, Jim feels the need to become involved.

Stephen Boyd plays Vic, the man who has planned the kidnap. He’s a devoted father, a Rotarian and utterly ruthless. He’s also well read and chides one of his gang Keith (David Hemmings) for not reading more. ‘Instead of all that poncing about at disco clubs.’ Vic has read Arthur Koestler’s 1972 book The Roots of Coincidence but he’d have been better poncing about at disco clubs himself as he maybe shouldn’t put quite so much faith in Koestler’s ideas on the subject.

When he catches Jim sniffing around in his home, he threatens him with a shotgun and instructs a henchman to repeatedly batter him with a baseball bat.

Vic pours him a ‘lying bastard cocktail’, whose ingredients remain a mystery but which judging from Jim’s reaction must be potent. Very potent, although Jim continues to lie. Vic judges him to be too much of a mess to be any kind of threat but makes him strip because he’s ‘stinking the fucking place out,’ and drops him off naked outside his house. It won’t be the last time a character is humiliated in The Squeeze.

Jim enlists the help of Ted (Freddie Starr), a thief who he once arrested. Although still thieving, the two have somehow formed a bond and Ted now spends chunks of his time trying to persuade Jim to pack in the booze, and making sure he’s eating properly.

Luckily, Jim’s cop instincts haven’t deserted him completely, but he’s hardly the ideal person to pursue a callous gang of criminals. There’s almost as much tension created around the idea that he might relapse into some serious boozing while he attempts to rescue his ex.

In the world of Jim Naboth, dry sherry is nothing but an aperitif. ‘It’s not even drinking in my book.’ Brandy isn’t drinking either although I’m pretty sure the Department of Health might disagree with him.

The Squeeze 1977 lobby card

It’s been said that the producers persuaded a former local gangster to help out so that shooting in some dodgy locations would go smoothly. And on the subject of locations, Jim lives in a shabby pad in Notting Hill – a very different Notting Hill to the gentrified area of the cosy romcom with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.

Seeing Ind Coope pubs on the streets of West London, I was instantly reminded me of my first visit to the capital as a teenager in the late 1970s. Jim also visits a pre-santised, spectacularly sleazy Soho, where Ted treats him to a – ahem – massage after Jim has spent an evening in Cardboard City under the Westway. The pair also visit Oxford Street, where Debenhams employs a top hatted doorman to keep out riff-raff. Like Jim.

Directed by Michael Apted, The Squeeze is pretty much forgotten today despite its notable cast. It’s no Long Good Friday but I liked it even though it does come over like a TV drama at times (I’m thinking particularly of The Sweeney). Leon Griffiths, who adapted the screenplay from David Craig’s novel Whose Little Girl Are You?, went on to devise Minder, one of Britain’s most popular shows of the 1980s.

David Hentschel’s first day of paid employment was spent making the tea for the participants of a session at Trident Studios in London where David Bowie’s Space Oddity was being recorded. He went on to bigger things including composing scores for a number of films. His work here is pretty effective and definitely ahead of its time. There’s some other music utilised too such as The Stylistics’ romantic ballad You Make Me Feel Brand New.

This accompanies a sequence that is excruciating to watch, when Keith and the gang force Jill to strip naked in front of them. Carol White excels here portraying a scared woman doing anything she can to help the chances of survival for herself and stepdaughter. I’d like to know what The Stylistics thought of the song’s use here.

Although Jill might do anything to protect Christine, she isn’t an entirely sympathetic character here. Not only has she has abandoned two of her children but she visits them infrequently. She also arguably left Jim when needed her most. As the man himself puts it bluntly: ‘[She] ran out on me the first time I got so drunk I pissed the bed.’

By this point, White herself was abusing drink and drugs and you could have forgiven her if she had turned down the role of the ex-wife of an alcoholic. It’s another brave performance from her and one of her final appearances on the big screen.

Alexander Walker in The Evening Standard considered The Squeeze ‘a British gangland movie determined to be quite as tough, bloody, violent, squalid and ugly as any Hollywood model.’ The Daily Mirror summed it up as ‘a package tour of thuggery’.

Okay. A film called The Squeeze with Carol White, star of 1968 drama Up The Junction. You can likely see where this is leading. From the fine pop year that was 1979, here’s a song that I’ve never heard a single person say anything negative about, although Squeeze’s manager of time Miles Copeland thought it shouldn’t be a single due to the lack of a chorus. This is Squeeze and Up The Junction. Oh the memories!

* One of the most bizarre headlines in British newspaper history and obviously a total invention. Freddie Starr was a vegetarian for starters.


Made (1972): British Movie Night #1


Made (1972)

The name British Movie Night is borrowed from a series of dramas screened on Sunday nights on BBC2 early in 1981. Beforehand, a series called The Great American Picture Show had showcased films like Nashville – which I suspected I wouldn’t like due to its country and western musical background although that turned out to be a fantastic watch.

Made didn’t strike me as very promising either due to the presence of Roy Harper. In an age of New Order, Talking Heads and Grandmaster Flash, Harper struck the young me as a relic of the past, the sort of act that should have been outlawed years beforehand. Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly but I was pretty hardline back then. When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease? No thankyou. Even that title was enough to put me off.

Here he plays a singer/songwriter Mike Preston, already successful enough to appear on TV and be interviewed by Bob Harris, stay in swanky hotels and play shows in the States.

Roy Harper in Made

On Brighton beach, Mike meets single parent Valerie Marshall, a Londoner down on a day trip. Valerie is played by Carol White, a woman once dubbed the Battersea Bardot (even if she was from Hammersmith). Valerie’s youngish and good looking – although not as glammy here as she was in Dulcima – another film included in the British Movie Night series. She lives with her bedridden (and needy) mother, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. While acting as her part time carer, she also looks after her baby Scott and works as a switchboard operator.

Home is a grim council flat in a part of south-east London that fully embraced the whole brutalist architecture craze. Around the same time as director John Mackenzie was filming in Woolwich and nearby Charlton, Stanley Kubrick was shooting scenes in neighbouring Thamesmead for A Clockwork Orange. Both films represented Britain at the 33rd Venice Film Festival, along with Bill Douglas’s My Childhood, which won the Silver Lion Award for Best First Film. A Clockwork Orange was voted Best Foreign Film. Made won nothing.

John Castle & Carol White in Made

When a new priest in the area Father Dyson knocks on Valerie’s door, she’s glad to have the opportunity to chat with someone her own age and she’s delighted when he offers up the possibility of finding a home help to give her a hand looking after her mum. A friendship develops.

Dyson and Preston appear polar opposites. Dyson is a square. Preston is a rebel. The pair compete for Valerie’s affections. One with a hedonistic and hippyish philosophy, the other with organised religion. Another character Mahdav Gupta also comes into Valerie’s orbit. A fool and a fantasist, he attempts to win her over with a combination of flattery and atrocious poetry.

Of course, the priest and the singer take an instant dislike to each other. These rivals do have their good points. But both share a sense of moral superiority over anybody who dares to disagree with their worldview. Ultimately, Mike is self-obsessed, disguising his selfishness through his ‘alternative’ belief system. Dyson is controlling and insensitive.

They both want to use Valerie in different ways, but I don’t want to tell you too much more or I might ruin your enjoyment of the film if you decide to watch.

Roy Harper and John Castle in Made

Edinburgh born John Mackenzie isn’t into his full stride on directorial duties as yet but he does occasionally experiment with editing in a striking manner likely influenced by Nic Roeg. He certainly did a fantastic job in shooting one of the most disturbing scenes in British cinema as rival football fans fight it out while baby Scott is being taken out in his pram by Valerie’s babysitting pal June. A mini Battleship Potemkin by the Thames.

Made is far from perfect. Mackenzie later dismissed it ‘a bit of a mess’ and screenwriter Howard Barker considered it ‘a disastrous and painful experience’. The idea of reshoots became impossible when, in the wake of filming, Roy Harper was suddenly diagnosed with a rare medical condition known as Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT), which left him incapacitated for months.

Most books that examine British cinema of the period such as Paul Newland’s Don’t Look Now: British Cinema in the 1970s fail to mention Made, although Simon Matthews devoted a page to it in his highly recommended 2016 book Psychedelic Celluloid. The BBFC foisted an X on the film, and few saw it in cinemas.

Made - Valerie & June

It is one of the most staggeringly bleak British films ever made. But it is also undoubtedly – cliche alert – a fascinating time capsule of early 1970s Britain, an era of power cuts and feather cuts, Ted Heath and T.Rex.

Interestingly, Marc Bolan is said to have turned down the Mike Preston role. He was likely too busy penning three minute pop classics and preparing to appear in Born To Boogie. This was likely a better way to make use of his creativity. It’s hard to imagine the bopping elf doing a better job than Harper and his superstar presence would have surely proved a distraction. Harper is pretty convincing on the whole, although he never acted in another film, concentrating on his music.

Director John Mackenzie went on to add The Long Good Friday and BBC Play For Today Just Another Saturday to his CV.

Carol White moved back to America after the film wrapped. It’s safe to say that Carol possessed more than her fair share of demons. Insecure and depressed, she tried to commit suicide for the second time. Her career never matched the promise of early dramas like Cathy Come Home and Poor Cow, although she is utterly authentic here and turns in a fearless performance. She made only three more films and was dead by 1991.

Four of the Roy Harper songs used during the film later featured in different versions on his 1973 album Lifemask. There’s also music composed by John Cameron who had previously contributed to a score to Kes.

Produced by Peter Jenner, who also has a small role in Made, and with Jimmy Page guesting on electric guitar, this is Harper’s Bank of the Dead (Valerie’s Song), which in Made was titled Social Casualty. Released in October 1972, here it is and I rather like it nowadays: