Monday, January 3, 2011

Rock on Film Part 8: David Essex faux biaux

Ok, I need to write the synoptic opinions on these two before midnight:

70s pop star David Essex plays a boy coming into bloom in late 50s Britain. Filling with sap and ready to burst he runs away to one of the grey pebbled beach seaside resorts that Britain still boasts. Here he checks off all the formative experiences and makes a kind of living helped by his teddy boy chum played by ex teddy boy Ringo Starr. He lamely makes his way back home after too much failure and settles with the girl he fancied from the start but then he goes to an early rock gig and feels the hook pierce his skin and stay. He buys a guitar frorm a pawn shop and the rest is hysteria.

Well it would be hysteria if the director of the sequel wherein all the really good bits befall a fictional British rock star of the 60s hadn't laid such a turkey egg. Michael Apted who has made fiction features before and after this but most famously the Seven Up series for television shows NONE of that compassion in this gargantuan mess. What ought to be a steady tracing of conviction through decadance into fameshocked insanity is a series of plodding scenes that are stitched together with snippets of dialogue that seldom add sensibly. Worst is the attempt to show a kind of Beatlemania at the NME poll winners concert which only ends up looking like a rehearsal for a Countdown mimed setpiece without any editing. All you get from this one is a clear intention and the plummeting of its execution.


Right. Here's what's good about the first one: the film contains almost no rock music. It begins with school kids just talking about it. When it moves to the rites of passage/prodigal son middle section it really takes on substance and vindicates the decision to cast a pop star as a pop star in waiting. Essex is exactly what he needs to be, restless enough to run away to Blackpool but intelligent enough to learn how to use his looks and charm for what he needs. A scene of him trying out puerile song lyrics to his own delight is enlightening. He knows he'd never write a song like that for real but the pictures that must be occuring to him in the resulting daydream are imaginable from the look on his face. Ringo does a fine turn as a tough scouser carny and probably used all the memories he had of being the drummer in a Butlins Holiday camp band. Back home the scene is all the slow upward incline from rationing and the merest hint that good times are on their way, however endlessly cold it looks. Essex's character, Jim, sees the rock band at the very end and can't resist. His decision is a convincing imagining of that of a generation of British teens at the turn of the 50s to the 60s. The decision is as brutal as it is exciting.

Then Michael Apted was loosed on the sequel that was allowed by its subject matter (A Beatlesish band taking over the world and changing it) to be as big and flamboyant as it wanted. Didn't happen. Nothing connects in this one. A kind of progression ensues by virtue of the apparent passage of time from scene to scene but there is nothing authentic about the feel of what we are seeing. There is a lot of music from the period as well as attempts at evoking it (which sound like the 70s no matter how well they're disguised). There is no apparent contact between the filmmakers and any of the joy or even bleakness that crosses the screen.

The fanmania scene is a good example here. The concert sound is hammered with echo which is probably an attempt at demonstrating how confusing it is for the band but, even though the band on screen has real musicians in it (Dave Edmunds and Keith Moon, I begs yer pardons) no one looks like he's actually playing anything. A crowd of 70s looking high school girls jump on the spot around them and the edits come short and fractured. The only chaos is coming from the director's chair. Apted might have witnessed a Beatle concert. He might have even filmed one. Here he seems to be completely lost in close up. The scene is a mess, not a depiction of one. I didn't time it as I watched but it felt like it went for twenty minutes.

Through the attempts at fame's decadence and the eventual plunge into Syd Barret style madness towards the end (another passage of the film that seems interminable) the rest of Stardust keeps plodding until it ends in a supposedly triumphant redemption. And Essex, so good in the first film, simply seems to have nothing much to do. However, I'll give ex pop star Adam Faith a star. He's no more coherent as a character but I remember more scenes with him than with anyone else in this nonsense. If Ken Loach had directed an episode of Happy Days with Richie Cunningham as a kind of gawping village idiot and the Fonz as a surly mumbling northerner with an explosive temper ... I'd watch it more times than I watched this.

Ken Russell should have done this but he was busy with Tommy and didn't like rock music anyway. Pity.

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