Woo-Hoo, Woo-Hoo-Hoo, Woo-Hoo, Woo-Hoo-Hoo (Soundtrack Sundays #2)

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Pecker & Kill Bill

The Rock-A-Teens / The’s: Woo Hoo
The Grid: Swamp Thing

Led by Vic Mizelle, The Rock-A-Teens were a rockabilly band based in Richmond, Virginia. They built up a following locally, a large part of their live appeal coming via a near instrumental originally known as Rock-A-Teen Boogie.

Mizelle certainly possesses a fascinating backstory. As a teenager he struggled to control himself and was known to bark like a dog and shout obscenities in public for no apparent reason.

Institutionalized, he was forced to undergo shock treatment. Luckily his family refused the option of a frontal lobotomy. It might seem strange now but it took until the mid-1970s for him to finally be diagnosed as suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome.

Music proved something of a saviour and by the time Rock-A-Teen Boogie was renamed Woo Hoo, life looked to be on the up.

Released in the late summer of 1959, Woo Hoo came out on the independent Doran record label, a subsidiary of Mart Records, owned by record shop owner George Donald McGraw.

The band jointly took the writing credit. Facts here are disputed but I think McGraw invented a story regarding a threatened lawsuit for plagiarism coming from Arthur Smith, the man who wrote and performed one of the great proto rock’n’roll records Guitar Boogie. And, yeah, Woo Hoo clearly bears a striking similarity to Smith’s 1945 song.

With the threat of lawsuit supposedly looming over them, the band were persuaded to sign Woo Hoo off to McGraw, who then awarded himself the sole writing credit.

Re-released on Roulette, a New York label with national distribution, the song now really took off nationally, spending twelve weeks on the Billboard charts in the second half of 1959. It peaked at #16.

The Rock-A-Teens began playing far outwith their Richmond base, one show seeing them share a bill with Arthur Smith, who reputedly claimed he knew nothing about any threatened lawsuit.

Two more singles and an album also titled Woo Hoo followed. These flopped and, within a year of the recording of their vinyl debut, The Rock-A-Teens disbanded.

Their biggest hit, though, has stood the test of time.

Ironically, The Revillos covered the song on their Rev Up album of 1980 where they changed its title to Yeah Yeah and claimed authorship too.

Woo Hoo was also selected for the soundtrack of Pecker, John Waters’ 1998 film which I’ve just watched for the first time since its release.

As we moved towards the millenium, Waters’ movies no longer struck many as that weird. Maybe the world had caught up with cinema’s great outsider.

While the Baltimore director was swimming in the direction of the mainstream and even talking about how he’d like to work with Meryl Streep, the mainstream itself was becoming a whole lot stranger. Just think of the success of The Jerry Springer Show and the celebrity status being accorded to the likes of John Wayne Bobbitt in the 1990s.

Independent films like Spanking the Monkey and Happiness made for far more uncomfortable viewing; Clerks was more potty mouthed and lo-fi while Something About Mary grossed millions at the box office and grossed out millions of movie-goers with a tale that was a million times more tasteless than Pecker.

And wasn’t Waters here just reflecting the feelings of the general public – that the art world is full of pretentious tossers all too eager to embrace the latest version of the Emperor’s new clothes?

With a whole new generation of independent directors like Quentin Tarantino on the rise, suddenly Waters was looking a little old hat even though films like Serial Mom and Pecker still made for entertaining viewing.

It would be Tarantino who would next boost the profile of Woo Hoo when he used it to great effect in his 2003 release Kill Bill Volume 1.

On first seeing this I suspected that the The’s might be a Q.T invention. Three supercool, identically dressed Japanese girls with a frenetic stage act playing an exuberant brand of surfabilly. Surely they were just too perfect to be real?

But no, they were a band. Formed in Tokyo in 1986, the track had been released back in 1996 on their Bomb the Twist EP.

Later the track was chosen for a number of high profile TV commercials, in America for Vonage and Chevrolet, while in Britain it featured in an ad (shot in Glasgow) for Carling lager.

Getting back to Pecker. Like many of his movies, it featured mainly music from Waters’ youth, here mostly American rock’n’roll era novelty tunes like Paul Evans’ Happy-Go-Lucky-Me and Leroy Pullins’ I’m a Nut.

The big musical number however was much more contemporary.

Utilised for a climatic scene where the New York art world find the urge to party with a bunch of blue-collar Baltimore eccentrics irresistible, this is The Grid and Swamp Thing. Time to embrace your inner hillbilly, folks!


Soundtrack Sundays #1

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Roy Ayers: Coffy (1973)
Don Ellis & Julie Driscoll: Moon Zero Two (1969)

Before Hollywood began barfing out an endless stream of Fast and Furious Transformers, before streaming and DVDs, before even VHS and Betamax videos were an option for anybody but the rich, cinema going was a very different experience to what it is today.

In Britain, multiplexes didn’t yet exist. Cinema chains would not be given the same access to new releases ensuring film openings would be staggered. My local picture house was a Caledonian, which meant it would usually be showing a completely different set of new films to, say, Odeons or ABCs.

Coffy lobby card

Of course, this meant if you really wanted to see something that was just out you’d sometimes have to travel. I can remember, for example, getting a bus into the old Muirend ABC (known as the Toledo in its former heyday) to see Sheba Baby, a blaxploitation favourite starring Pam Grier. Memories of seeing Coffy are hazier but I think that I must have had to travel into Glasgow city centre for that one. And I vaguely remember it was part of a double bill, possibly with a kung fu flick.

Yes, back then, cinemas hadn’t got round to ripping off their customers at absolutely every available opportunity.

You could accuse Coffy of being formulaic and terribly dated. But it’s also utterly watchable and fantastic fun. Pam Grier is irresistable in the titular role. Few women have ever looked so foxy and been able to kick ass so effortlessly. ‘The baddest One-Chick Hit-Squad that ever hit town!’ as the publicity insisted.

She certainly has the most dangerous Afro in movie history. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

As with most blaxploitation movies, there’s a great soundtrack too. AllMusic claims it’s a ‘masterpiece on par with Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly and Isaac Hayes’ Shaft‘ which I reckon slightly exaggerates its value but vibraphone legend Roy Ayers does supply a steady stream of soul, jazz and funk grooves that complement the action very effectively. And that famous vibraphone of his does offer a very pleasing texture throughout.

Back then I doubt the score would have made much of an impression on me but all these years later I have to agree with Cullen Gallagher’s liner notes to the Arrow blu-ray re-release: ‘One can’t imagine watching Coffy without the music or listening to the album without seeing the film’s images in your head.’

Right on! This is Coffy is the Color:

Finally, a wee mention for drummer Dennis Davis, who provides the percussion here and would soon go on play with David Bowie and Iggy Pop on classic albums such as Station to Station, Low and The Idiot.

He was also sat behind his kit on many of Bowie’s live tours, including his final Reality Tour in 2003. Sadly, he died just a couple of months after Bowie, just over two years ago.

Moon Zero Two quad poster

Don Ellis & Julie Driscoll: Moon Zero Two (1969)

Hammer Films wasn’t all Count Dracula, Frankenstein, werewolves and creatures from the Black Lagoon.

Moon Zero Two attempted to exploit the success of sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey and the public obsession with the Apollo 11 moon landing.

If compared to Kubrick’s masterpiece, its psychedelic Pop Art vision of the future fails miserably. On the plus side is the booming John Barry-esque title track. Splendidly over the top and even slightly wonky in places – the music was apparently speeded up to better fit in with the animated opening credits sequence much to the annoyance of its composer, visionary Californian jazzer Don Ellis.

Julie Driscoll’s mesmerising, soul-searching vocals, though, save the day.

A cross between Twiggy and Aretha Franklin, psychedelic princess Julie will always be best remembered for This Wheel’s On Fire, a huge hippy era hit credited to Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and The Trinity, a name that didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

As for what turned out to be the final Hammer release of the 1960s, well, Moon Zero Two flopped and no soundtrack album has ever been released, helping to consign the title track to undeserved obscurity.

Here is Moon Zero Two:

For more on Roy Ayers: http://www.royayers.com/

For more on Julie Driscoll: http://www.mindyourownmusic.co.uk/julie-tippetts.htm

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.’


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.

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.

Norman Wisdom and The Electric Banana (Friday Night Film Club #4)


What’s Good for the Goose – Tigon British Film Productions (1969)

‘Whatever the Swinging Sixties are going to be remembered for it won’t be films,’ Alan Parker argued on his Turnip Head’s Guide to British Cinema. ‘The moment you saw a red London bus go through the shot you knew you were in for a rotten time.’

Safe to say then he wouldn’t have been a huge fan of What’s Good for the Goose, a film that opens to the chimes of Big Ben and a shot featuring a red bus. He wouldn’t be alone in thinking it rotten. There were plenty of detractors on its release including the star of the film Norman Wisdom and since then it has failed to win over many fans.

Matthew Sweet, in his book Shepperton Babylon, judged Wisdom’s attempt to reinvent himself to be a disaster. ‘Watching him in his tight little white Y-fronts in a comfortless hotel, psyching himself to have sex with Sally Geeson, is like attending the funeral of his career.’

What's Good for the Goose 1969

So why was I keen to see it when it screened on Talking Pictures last week?

Well, there are a number of intriguing ingredients involved in the film. First up, the aforementioned Norman Wisdom, the man once tipped by Charlie Chaplin to be the comedian who would follow in his footsteps.

Then there’s Tony Tenser, who acted as an exec-producer on the project. A master of publicity stunts, he was also heavily involved in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General and Hannie Caulder, a Spanish-filmed western starring Raquel Welch, the latter two movies released by his production company Tigon.

Mostly though, I was curious about the participation of The Pretty Things. This lot were the bad boys of the British R&B boom of the early 1960s. They had very close links to The Rolling Stones, and charted a number of times in their early days.

In 1973, Bowie covered a couple of their tracks, Rosalyn and Don’t Bring Me Down for his Pin Ups album and referenced their name in several of his songs starting with Oh! You Pretty Things. Van Morrison loved them. Dave Gilmour loved them. Joey Ramone loved them, once calling them ‘The biggest influence on us. They invented garage bands.’

Like many of their contemporaries, as the ’60s began to heat up, the Pretties tuned in, turned on and dropped out, embracing a psych sound along the way.

On their 1967 Emotions LP they hired a guy called Reg Tilsley to help out with some orchestration. Tilsley persuaded them to try their hand at cutting some tracks for library music company De Wolfe. They agreed to the idea, adopting the pseudonym The Electric Banana – a name presumably taken from a line in Donovan’s Mellow Yellow about the electrical banana that was apparently gonna be a sudden craze.

This music was recorded in between stints at Abbey Road where they were laying down their opus S.F. Sorrow, which is credited as being the first ever rock opera.

S.F. Sorrow failed to sell in the numbers that it deserved to – single Defecting Grey should have been a massive hit and is one of my favourite psychedelic singles – and maybe this lack of success encouraged them to continue with the library music idea and also make some easy money when offered the chance to play themselves in Goose.

Here they are with It’ll Never Be Me from the film:

The script of Goose was co-written by young Israeli director Menahem Golan and Wisdom, who here he takes on the lead role of Timothy Bartlett. A timid bowler-hat wearing banker (no rhyming slang intended), he’s stuck in a rut of breakfast with the kids, peck on the cheek of his wife Margaret (wearing her curlers), work, return home for a meal and another peck on the cheek of his wife (still in curlers) before bed.

Sent to a banking conference in Southport, his car is practically hijacked along the way by two hippyish dolly birds, brunette Nikki and strawberry blonde Meg. Timothy is in his fifties and wears his bowler and dickey bow as he drives while the pair look like they’re in their late teens and wearing the groovy Carnaby Street style garb of the day.

On arrival, the girls skedaddle off to enjoy the delights of Swinging Southport while Timothy makes his way to the most boring conference ever devised, with pompous and stuffy older men like himself. Listening to one particular zeds inducing speech, he finds himself thinking fondly of the girls and is clearly smitten by Nikki.

Later he heads into town, obviously hoping to bump into the girls. He does so when he enters a pop art coloured discotheque called the Screaming Apple where the town’s hipsters sit on swings, topless barman serve drinks and surprise, surprise, The Pretty Things are onstage. And what do you know, Nikki appears rather keen on him.

The Pretty Things - Electric Banana

By the next time he pays a visit to the Apple – where, of course, the Pretties are again playing live – Timothy has undergone a hippy makeover of paisley pattern shirt, psychedelic cravat and mustard coloured bell-bottoms.

At which point a more appropriate title for What’s Good for the Goose might have been No Fool Like an Old Fool.

Well I say fool but who could blame him skiving off from his dreary conference to frolic around with Nikki at Southport’s Pleasureland and on the beach – where we even catch a little nudity. Yes, I have now seen Norman Wisdom’s buttocks – and let me tell you ‘pretty things’ was not a phrase that sprang to mind as I did so.

At times, the film does come over like a precursor to those awful 1970s British sexploitation comedies, a subgenre that lacked very much in the way of sex and even less in the way of comedy.

The humour in Goose is generally predictable but on a number of occasions Wisdom’s knockabout physical comedy did bring a smile to my face. As did his transformation into a middle-aged hippy but he’s woefully miscast and his agent really should have had a word.

It’s easy to see why the movie bombed critically and commercially on release. Now though, it possesses a fascinating period charm with the music of The Pretty Things being the best thing about it. If Wonderwall was a movie for real heads then this was one for weekend hippies gullible enough to smoke (non electric) banana peels in an attempt to get high.

After Goose, Norman Wisdom retreated to British TV and shows like Norman and A Little Bit of Wisdom while Tony Tenser took up with a much younger woman and decided to move to Southport in his later years.

In 2013, The Pretty Things celebrated their fiftieth anniversary with dates in Britain and Europe and they’re still on the go.

The most bizarre and high-profile future of any of the main talents involved though would be director Menahem Golan. He will always be best remembered as one of the two men behind Cannon Films, working with everyone from Chuck Norris and Bo Derek to Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Bogdanovich. Notably, he earned a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination in 1978 for his Operation Thunderbolt but also picked up three separate Golden Raspberry Awards nominations in the space of four years in the mid 1980s.

Ninja III: The Domination, a hokey as hell martial arts/horror movie he co-produced in 1984, airs on Film 4 tonight at 11.10.

For more on The Pretty Things: http://www.theprettythings.com/

Atomic Blonde, 20th Century Women & A Woman, A Part (Best Films of 2017)

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Best Films of 2017

Many very good films arrived in 2017 though none that I would rate as an out-and-out classic. Maybe that will come in the near future with Quentin Tarantino’s film set against the backdrop of the Manson murders (working title #9) currently in pre-production and Scorcese’s The Irishman, which is being shot as I type. With a cast that includes Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and – coaxed out of retirement – Joe Pesci, The Irishman is the most excited I’ve been about a Scorcese movie since GoodFellas.

I’m also looking forward to seeing Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, which had one Variety critic speculating that the Maryhill born director may be the world’s ‘greatest working filmmaker’.

Complaint of the Year: Directors like the massively over-rated Guy Ritchie thinking it’s a good idea to give their pals like David Beckham a role in their high budget movies. Plenty of talented and experienced actors could obviously have done a far better job than a man who can’t even sound convincing as himself let alone as a battle hardened swordsman in the Middle Ages. Stunt casting is on the rise but has any example of it actually helped a film artistically? Not that I can think of.

Okay. Here’s my top ten films that appeared in British cinemas in 2017 so no Shape of Water which is spectacularly good and no Lady Bird, which is very entertaining, though not as truly exceptional as some hype would have you believe.

10. The Olive Tree (El Olivo)
Ever wondered what a Ken Loach film might look like if he had a better visual eye? Here’s the nearest you might get to that notion with a drama set in Spain with a script supplied by Loach’s regular screenwriter Paul Laverty. Directed by Icíar Bollaín, this did veer towards sentimentality but, on the plus side, Anna Castillo’s acting is superb throughout. A perfect piece of casting.

9. Atomic Blonde
Previously I’d assumed that MI6 spies assumed low-key looks to best blend in while on the job but not according to Atomic Blonde where one of the British Secret Service’s most lethal assassins struts around with platinum hair and thigh high boots and just happens to be one of the most eye-catchingly beautiful women on the planet. Stupid me, eh?

Charlize Theron is ably supported here by James McAvoy and there’s great turns here too from the likes of Toby Jones, John Goodman and Eddie Marsan. Atomic Blonde also featured the best ever use of Blue Monday in a soundtrack.

8. A Woman, A Part
An intimate indie drama that has been completely overlooked in best of lists but which featured two of the finest performances of the year from Maggie Siff and Cara Seymour. And some Pixies and Cure karaoke!

7. Okja
Fantastically funny, this wonky sci-fi environmental parable has been called the first great Netflix release. Okja stars Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Lily Collins and Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as South Korean child actress Ahn Seo-hyun, who easily holds her own against the big names.

6. Harmonium
An emotionally complex Japanese drama about secrets and lies; retribution and atonement; innocence and guilt. I saw Koji Fukada’s latest triumph early in the year at the Glasgow Film Theatre and was then lucky enough to be asked to review the Blu-ray. Here’s what I had to say.

5. Dunkirk
An ensemble movie that dazzled on the big screen. Get yer money on Christopher Nolan to bag a little golden statuette come March for Best Director. Please gamble responsibly though.

4. Manchester by the Sea
A slow-burning but highly involving film about grief with a script by Kenneth Lonergan. It’s over two hours long but always fascinating, utterly honest and sometimes even profound. Your time watching this will be well spent.

3. Blade Runner 2049
According to the maker of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott (who also exec produced the sequel) the problem with Blade Runner 2049 is that: ‘It’s slow. Long. Too long. I would have taken out half an hour.’

Box-office returns were disappointing although it will likely still make money. More importantly, like the original, it’s sure to stand the test of time (even if Scott did possibly have a point about its length).

2. The Florida Project
Willem Dafoe in the form of his life here as the kindly manager of a budget motel on the edge of Disney World. Will Hollywood honour his turn here? Well he’s 3/1 with the bookies for Best Supporting Actor, so in with a definite shout. He would get my vote.

1. 20th Century Women
If you follow this blog you’ll know I loved this movie. A fantastic central performance from Annette Benning, one of the best scores in years from Roger Neill, and The Raincoats; Siouxsie; Suicide; Talking Heads and Bowie on the soundtrack.

Honourable mentions also go to Free Fire, a film by Ben Wheatley
with more gunshots than the average Texas firing range sees in a year; A Ghost Story; T2 Trainspotting; The Meyerowitz Stories; mother!Baby Driver; Logan LuckyThe Lost City of Z and the absolutely madcap Mindhorn.

Best Film Reissues 2017

Best reissues include New World, Park Hoon-jung’s South Korean gangster epic from 2013 that is soon to be given the Hollywood remake treatment (which, of course, will likely be nowhere near as impressive).

Drunken Master (Eureka), may not be the greatest martial arts film ever made but it is very possibly the most enjoyable and watching the young Jackie Chan, you might one minute think of Buster Keaton, the next of ballet or the golden age of Hollywood musicals – only with kung fu clashes rather than elaborate song and dance routines.

This year also saw re-releases for a number of favourites including Peppermint Soda (BFI); Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Arrow) and John Water’s Multiple Maniacs (Criterion), which I hadn’t seen since borrowing a grungy VHS copy of it back in the 1980s. It’s still fantastically trashy by any standard and now looks better than ever.

The great thing about these reissues is the way that they’ve been imaginatively repackaged and loaded with extras – even if I’m uncertain about the wisdom of Dual Format editions. I usually just give away the DVDs to a good home myself.

Finally a pair of Bill Forsyth related films. His American debut Housekeeping (Indicator) is much better than I remembered it being while Forsyth makes a cameo appearance in Long Shot (BFI Flipside), a lo-fi independent film about filmmaking shot mostly at the 1977 Edinburgh Festival. It stars Charlie Gormley, who went on to make several features himself and I may feature one of these in my Scottish Connection series sometime in 2018.

Halloween Movie Special: Psychomania

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Psychomania Quad poster & Odeon ad

Back in the early 1970s, I remember seeing cinema ads in newspapers for Psychomania and thinking it just had to be amazing. That name alone. This was something I had to see.

Problem. I was still in primary school and Psychomania was an X and I wouldn’t even have been admitted into an AA film at the time so it joined a long list of films I desperately wanted to see but couldn’t.

Psychomania Opening

Instead I had to make do with STV’s Friday night horror slot Don’t Watch Alone for any potential horror thrills. Which meant classic oldies like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy along with more recent Hammer Horrors.

I kept missing out too when Psychomania started being screened on late night TV. Then, back in the summer of 1994, I finally caught it on Moviedrome, the BBC 2 strand that covered cult cinema. Introduced by Alex Cox, my hopes deflated slightly when Cox let it be known he didn’t really rate it that highly himself, noting that it was ‘nowhere near as good as Girl on a Motorcycle.’

Critics, it would have to be admitted, have generally despised Psychomania over the years and even the cast have been known to put the boot in. Asked in the documentary British B Movies; Truly, Madly, Cheaply how he felt about watching the film nowadays, Nicky Henson offered a one word response: ‘Ashamed.’

For a man who has recently plied his trade on EastEnders and Downton Abbey that truly is a harsh judgement albeit I will admit that the film is absolutely absurd. Especially the hokum involving frogs.

Psychomania - The Frog

Frogs are a big part of Psychomania although even after watching several times now I’m still unsure of their exact significance. They do though seem to play a vital part in the process in bringing back the dead. ‘Anyone taking a Maximus Leopardus from a graveyard is either foolhardy or ignorant,’ we’re informed. So be warned, folks!

Motorbikes are an even bigger part of the film. As far as I can tell this was the first British motorbike feature since Morrissey favourite The Leather Boys from 1964. This might have told the story of a young ton up boy and his rocker pals but it could be better described as a kitchen sink drama – that just happened to involve motorbikes.

Since that film’s release, Roger Corman’s biker flicks had proved a big box-office hit in America with young people who wanted to be free to do what they wanted to do which included wanting to get loaded (Primal Scream borrowed that dialogue from 1966’s The Wild Angels incidentally).

Inevitably, audience interest in Born Losers, Angels From Hell and Wild Rebels began to wane after a few years of this deluge of exploitation rip-offs. The formula needed perking up. All female biker gangs appeared in Sisters in Leather (1969). The Pink Angels (1971) featured an all gay gang while The Black Angels (1970) mixed the biker subgenre with blaxploitation. Then there was the truly dreadful horror/biker hybrid Werewolves on Wheels from 1971.

I’m guessing that the makers of Psychomania thought they could do better with this kind of thing, replacing werewolves with zombies – albeit zombies that looked as they did in life and who didn’t feel the need to constantly gorge on human flesh. Night of the Living Dead was still something of a drive-in hit and midnight movie favourite in the States at the time and the biker gang here are even named the Living Dead.

And as A Clockwork Orange was at the time attracting a broad spectrum of eager movie-goers – until Stanley Kubrick made the decision to withdraw the film, I reckon the Psychomania scriptwriters (Arnaud d’Usseau & Julian Zimet) might have been persuaded to include a little ultraviolence – for some curious reason, the Dead have a bit of a thing for ramming their bikes into pram pushing young mums.

While they were at it, with Rosemary’s Baby still fresh in the minds of horror fans, why not include a little Satan worship?

Mix these ingredients together, add some full throttle silliness and away they go!

Psychomania - The Living Dead

Tom (Nicky Henson) and Abby (Mary Larkin) are a pair of Home Counties poshos. Tom, the leader of the Living Dead, lives in a huge home with his spiritualist mother (Beryl Reid) and an elderly and mysterious butler named Shadwell. Played by Oscar winner George Sanders, a man who The Kinks once sang about, the role of Shadwell turned out to be this Celluloid Heroe’s last appearance onscreen. It’s been claimed he killed himself after seeing an early print of Psychomania but this sounds rather apocryphal to me.

As biker gangs go, the Living Dead are far from the most frightening. A little delinquent yeah but their idea of devilment is more likely riding into a mini-market and scattering as many tins of beans and packets of cereal as possible than the type of brutal torture, carnage and bloodbaths that were such a regular feature of Sons of Anarchy.

Those outlaw bikers covered in their entire backs with their gang’s Grim Reaper tattoos. The Living Dead wear ludicrous crossbones crash helmets and have their names stitched neatly into their jackets. Abby doesn’t even wear leather. The Sons snorted coke, smoked weed and gulped back Scotch. The Dead, well, Tom does have a pint of bitter at one point while none of the members even smoke a cig (unbelievable in the 1970s). The Sons rode massive Harley Davidson Dynas, the Dead make do with some past their best AJS 350s.

But hey, the SOA never figured out a way to come back from the dead, did they?

To explain briefly, you can commit suicide and come back from the grave if you truly believe you will come back – added to that obscure frog related hokum mentioned earlier. Tom is first to try this out, driving his bike off the motorway into a river.

Buried sitting on his bike around some standing stones known as the Seven Sisters, he’s mourned with a folky song, Riding Free (Born to be Wild it ain’t). As you can see below, the hole hasn’t been dug deeply enough and his head protrudes out of his burial spot, requiring an extra mound of soil to be shovelled over it. Are you allowed to bury someone in this way?

Psychomania - Funeral

This becomes a moot point as he soon revs back to life, driving his bike straight from his grave back on to grass, knocking down a passer-by on his merry way. I did mention full throttle silliness, didn’t I?

Soon the gang are all topping themselves and, of course, none of them go down the bottle of Scotch and handful of tranquilizers road. Instead they hatch a number of inventive ways of joining Tom.

One wraps himself in heavy industrial metal chains and walks with a great determination into a lake; another leaps from a high-rise while my favourite has to be the one who decides to jump from a plane without the use of a parachute. Even critics would surely have to acknowledge the impressive panache of this scene’s execution.

Other aspects of the film, though, do at least partly explain why it was critically panned on its release.

There are continuity errors. Where did Tom get that half baquette from when he discusses some family mysteries with Shadwell? Some of the dialogue is horribly stilted and the bargain-basement special effects weren’t even very good by the standards of the early seventies, especially during the finale.

I also doubt it has ever scared a single adult. But, but, but. It’s like the person who is maybe a little chubby, maybe has bad skin and dry hair but still has something indefinable about them that somehow makes them majorly attractive despite these flaws.

The British Film Institute’s Vic Pratt has recently praised it as: ‘the greatest, weirdest British post-psychedelic undead-biker horror movie ever made.’ He did, though, also admit it is the only the British post-psychedelic undead-biker horror movie ever made.

Obviously I love it and would have likely have loved it even more as a ten year old. Why the British censors ever slapped an X on it remains a mystery. There’s not a single sweary word used and the nearest thing to a sex scene is when Tom and Abby are about to get it on in a graveyard until Tom is distracted by a frog.

Here’s the strange thing. You could shoot a remake of it on a far bigger budget with better bikes and more spectacular special effects, add more convincing dialogue, include some real scares and even inject it with some sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

And there’s just no chance it would be as good as the original.

Here’s the trailer:

For more on Psychomania click here.

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