Archive for Control

Scuddy Mags

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2015 by dcairns

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We called them scuddy mags or scuddy books at school. Not sure why. Scuddy rhymes with nuddy which is childish slang for nudie, but I don’t know that explains anything. I don’t know how widespread the term was. More information required. What did YOU call porno mags when you were at school?

THE LOOK OF LOVE is Michael SpringbottomWinterbottom’s film of the life of British porn mogul Paul Raymond. While THE PEOPLE VERSUS LARRY FLYNT used the smut-peddlar bio form as a device to explore issues of free speech and censorship, Raymond’s career does not lend itself to such lofty matters — he mainly stayed safely within the UK’s notoriously vague obscenity laws (for which the word “draconian” could be applied except that it would be unfair to dragons) during his heydays in the sixties, seventies and eighties. He made a vast amount of money, lived the playboy lifestyle in his Bond villain penthouse, and ended up pretty sad, as do so many of us humans. If the film has a point, it’s a study of a failed father, I guess.

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Steve Coogan is the pillar around which the film is constructed — the master impersonator cast as the self-made man who transformed himself from, we are told, humble origins, changing his name, his accent, his persona. There are some funny bits — Coogan can’t let two hours go by without doing SOMETHING funny, but there’s also some tonal uncertainty about how snarky and kitsch the film can be when detailing the story of a man who, essentially, kills his own daughter with kindness.

I generally hate Summerbottom Winterbottom films but all his stuff with Coogan is very watchable. This one is interesting because he solves some of his usual problems. There’s a kind of childish desire to be EXPLICIT, showing pigs slaughtered (JUDE), childbirth (JUDE, A COCK AND BULL STORY) and sex (9 SONGS) and violence (THE KILLER INSIDE ME) in a slightly confrontational, slightly obnoxious, and slightly naff way — “This is what it’s REALLY LIKE, yeah?” I loathe this side of Autumnbottom Winterbottom. But here, despite the subject matter, it’s mainly kept in check. There’s quite a bit of tit and bum, but one’s face is not rubbed in it. I assumed, going in, that the auteur would find it artistically essential to fill the screen with beaver shots, but either Film4 cut them out, or he’s got all that out of his system. (One highly regarded makeup artist’s first “big job” was making a cast of Kate Winslet’s private genital parts so a special-effects childbirth could be staged for JUDE. Welcome to showbiz!)

Good supporting perfs. The piling on of comedians is distracting — Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Miles Jupp, Stephen Fry, Mark Williams and Dara O’Briain (playing what seems to be a sort of approximation of Alexei Sayle — I forgot that Raymond owned The Comedy Store, where alternative comedy was born). The one who is an unqualified success is Chris Addison, a brilliant, loose, natural performer (only ever not great in his recent Dr. Who guest spot — I blame the writing there). Addison is playing Men Only‘s editor, hilariously called Tony Power (but that’s nothing: another real-life Raymond associate is called Carl Snitcher. The comedy is inherent).

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I’m sure I had a kind of encounter with Tony Power. In the early days of video rental, our local shop gave us a free tape when we borrowed something else — it was a VHS compendium of clips and trailers, sort of suggestions for things you might want to rent (except of course your local shop probably didn’t have any of these titles). This thing had a presenter, a bloke in smoky shades with a Pink Panther cuddly toy as his sidekick, and he was very creepy. He definitely had a porno vibe, but he was trying to be family-friendly, despite sporting tobacco-smoke shades and a Yorkshire Ripper beard. But there he was, with his cuddly-toy co-host, showing you tits-out footage from Bert Gordon’s THE WITCHING. It was all very… inappropriate. Based on the excellent portrayal of Chris Addison, I am morally certain that strange, unsettling man was Tony Power.

I feel a little bit sorry for screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh — the film feels quite improvisatory in its dialogue, which is often quite amusing — Coogan does a few impressions (not sure if this is something Raymond ever did) — but it’s full of anachronisms. Many writers will work quite hard to get realistic period-sounding talk, but once the actors start making it up as they go along, how are you going to impose quality control on the authenticity? One quite inoffensive example is when Tamsin Egerton (as porn goddess “Fiona Richmond”) says “I did not know that,” a kind of catchphrase that seems to have come in in the late nineties. In fact, the earliest utterance of it I noticed was from John Goodman in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Weirdly, by creating a late nineties catchphrase in a movie set in the early nineties, Goodman may have somehow originated an anachronism, inventing a phrase now associated with an era later than the one in which the movie takes place. But I’ll let him off with that.

(My memory is that CONTROL, also scripted by Greenhalgh, had a very sure sense of period in its dialogue as in everything else.)

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One thing about 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, the first Coogan-Winterbottom joint, which is very good fun, is that Winterbottom seemed helpless to visualise or exploit the music, which was in a sense the film’s subject. Here, he arrays a medley of sixties and seventies hits across the soundtrack, including the titular Bacharach track, sung by Imogen Poots as Debbie Raymond with a touching, thin voice. Her big, hopeful eyes, grin of a thousand teeth, and projecting, mouselike ears make her a heartbreaking presence. She’s like an impossibly thin champagne glass lying fragile on the floor while porno elephants in jackboots dance a troika all around her. While the song selection isn’t exactly imaginative — there’s nothing that wouldn’t be on a greatest hits collection — it’s appropriate and each number gets a chance to make its impression. There’s a double use of Anyone Who Had a Heart that seemed wrong, though. Maybe because the song is so great you can’t use it except in a masterpiece, or maybe because the lyrics are too explicit to fit to a different situation, maybe because the montage it plays to is completely wrong — a flashback that wants to be about happy memories of one particular character but instead feels like an entire scene lifted out of an earlier point and dropped into the timeline later, full of irrelevant stuff of other characters who have no place in this sequence. (See PRIEST, which is no masterpiece, but finds an effective way to employ the song.)

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As far as I can tell, nobody went to see this movie, which is a shame because it’s not bad at all. Sex still sells, but maybe people don’t like the thought of seeing Steve Coogan doing it or selling it, and people prefer to consume it in private. Check the movie out if it comes your way: good Coogan, Poots, Addison, Egerton, and a revelatory hard-bitten Anna Friel.

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Language

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2010 by dcairns

Despite the fact that of the two popular music biopics currently on release, NOWHERE BOY clearly has the stronger cinematic credentials, we went to see SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL, the Ian Dury story as written by actor-turned-scenarist Paul Viragh and directed by TV helmer Matt Whitecross. Possibly because Fiona likes Ian Dury a lot, and possibly because she likes Andy Serkis, who plays Ian Dury, a lot.

What a remarkable figure Dury was: his music combines punk, funk and music hall, and he comes over on stage as a sort of sweary Essex Noel Coward, filtered through the wraith of Gene Vincent. Bizarre. And then there’s the wastage of half his body, caused by polio, giving him a marked limp. “On stage I try to sort of hover,” he says in the movie. “You’re putting that on,” someone once told him. “I thought I was trying to cover it up,” he replied.

The film is pretty creditable in many ways — the high-water mark for this kind of thing was set most recently by CONTROL, whose familiar structure of struggle, success and dissolution is echoed unavoidably in S&D&R&R, but the stylistic approach couldn’t be more different. In the film’s zanier scenes, deploying animation designed by the artist Peter Blake, and in its not-quite chronological structure, the movie is perhaps more influenced by 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (which also featured Serkis), although it substitutes music video japery for the more interesting cod-Brechtian antics of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s witty script. While Michael Winterbottom apparently had no clue how to use the Factory Records music in that film, Whitecross does at least find room to let Dury’s songs register, via sustained concert sequences and linking montages. The concerts, though ridiculously hyped-up in their cutting, are effective, and provide a semi-fantastical framing structure whereby Dury appears to introduce and wrap up the movie, but the montages reveal a certain desperation to be interesting, which shouldn’t be a problem with such a colourful central character.

The film is a lot like the trailer, hectic and eager-to-please but with something interesting oozing through. Except the trailer leaves out a lot of the best bits for censorship reasons.

Serkis as Dury holds the movie together, more or less overcoming a central indecision in the script — is this Dury’s story or his son’s? It’s a very effective impersonation of Dury’s singing, his manner, his disability (Dury is an almost unique example of a disabled pop star), his charm and his self-destructiveness. Dury’s main musical collaborator, Chas Jankel, produced the film’s soundtrack and reported that working with Serkis was liking attending a seance.

Supporting cast is very fine, with young Bill Milner impressive as Dury’s son (a strange effect is created by the fact that Dury’s kids never seem to age, but why let that bother us?) and Toby Jones enjoyably snarling as an underwritten villain. The women in Dury’s life present a problem, falling into the same stereotypes as those in CONTROL, long-suffering wife and fun, faintly annoying girlfriend. One has our sympathy but we don’t especially want to hang out with her when the fun is elsewhere, the other can’t really hope for sympathy and is too much of a hanger-on to be compelling on any other level. The problem is endemic to the material: philandering musicians write uninteresting roles for the women in their lives. Still, that’s no excuse to show Olivia Williams hurling crockery at her husband, a wretched cliché forty years ago, and something unworthy of inclusion in the film even if it happened. Important note to filmmakers everywhere: just because something happened, that’s no reason to put it in a film. Or as Dury himself says, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

The biggest success is the consistently entertaining dialogue — at least as long as Dury is around — a lot of Dury’s witticisms are hoary old jokes, but he has an endless supply of them and no shame about trotting them out whether the situation demands it or not. His joy in the English language is evoked in a scene where he trades synonyms for “penis” with his son (although, I note sadly, there is no English synonym for “synonym”), but really illustrated by the songs themselves.

I was pleased to find a couple of my students at the same screening, and even more pleased to learn that at least one, the excellent Oliver, was already a fan. When Dury died ten years ago the student I mentioned it to had never heard of him. Progress!

Movie lovers can see the real Dury in THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER and PIRATES.