Archives for posts with tag: movies

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These Are the Damned, also known as The Damned, is a cult British movie from the 1960s set in Weymouth, starring Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field and Oliver Reed. It happens to hold great appeal for me since I first saw it around seven years ago.

Based on the novel The Children of Light by H.L Lawrence and directed by Joseph Losey, These Are the Damned follows Joan (Field) and her overbearing, jealous brother, King (Reed), who follows her escape from Weymouth harbour with American tourist Simon (Carey). They uncover a group of children living in caves, who are cold-blooded and know little about the outside world. The children are radioactive and are being held by the government. Educated by television, they believe Joan and Simon have come to rescue them.

It’s a more unusual Hammer film, and one which splits opinion. I can only attribute the mood of the film, its seaside location and the presence of Oliver Reed to my liking These Are the Damned. The gang violence in this film – although much tamer I might add – was said to have influenced the droogs in A Clockwork Orange. The punk band The Damned took their name from this movie.

During a trip to Dorset I decided to stop in Weymouth to visit the seafront, which is integral to the plot.

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The Jubilee Clock Tower, erected in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria, appears in the opening scene where Joan (Field) and Simon (Carey) first meet.

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The Kings Statue, named for King George III, was built in 1810. This is the meeting place of King (Reed) and his cronies. They often sit on the lion and unicorn parts of the statue. There is now a fence surrounding this, in case you have similar whims.

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The song in the opening credits, Black Leather Rock, is repeatedly whistled and sung by the main characters throughout the film as a sort of calling card, and is a nod to the teddy boy movement prevalent at the time.

The opening scene of These Are the Damned (1963).

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If you’re already struggling to stick to your new year’s resolutions, take some inspiration from the movies. Whether it’s finding a new job, taking risks or embracing adventure, there’s a film to help see you through, well, until February at least.

Office Space (1999)

Stuck in traffic, headed for a job you despise, with bosses you despise even more, the joy of office politics and bureaucratic pettiness sucking the life out of you. You’re then trapped in a cubicle with not even a glimpse of daylight, being forced to work extra hours with nothing to look forward to.

Meet Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston), Initech employee. Peter hates his life but finds it too hard to say no. When Initech hires consultants set on cutting the workforce, Peter (with a little help from a hypnotherapist) decides to take things in hand and royally screw them over.

No one’s suggesting you go to the criminal lengths of Peter and his disillusioned colleagues to get back at the company you loathe, but it might just give you the push to find a career you’re truly in love with.

 

About Schmidt (2002)

Warren R. Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), 66 years old of Omaha, Nebraska pours out his feelings in letters to a Tanzanian orphan he sponsors through Childreach. He always dreamt of being someone, of owning his own business, of going places, but life sort of got in the way.

After he retires and his wife passes suddenly, he needs to re-evaluate his future and work out what to do with the rest of his life. Warren goes on a road trip in his RV, on a pilgrimage of sorts, and revisits his old stomping grounds. He tries to find meaning, some sort of significance to life, and learns a lot about himself.

About Schmidt is a great film to watch if you’re dealing with change, trying to work out what you really want from life, or struggling to see where your place is in the world.

 

Adaptation (2002)

Adaptation certainly has many life lessons to teach us. Charlie (Nicolas Cage) is a screenwriter who is struggling to come up with an adaptation of the best-selling book, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). As Charlie’s writer’s block deepens, his insecurities heighten and his self-loathing reaches a crescendo. If this wasn’t bad enough his less talented, over-confident twin brother, Donald (also played by Nicolas Cage), is offered big bucks for his hammy, clichéd thriller script.

Inspired by the real Charlie Kaufman’s struggle to adapt the book, this film is about taking risks, controlling your inner demons and ultimately avoiding winding up a walking cliché.

 

Mary and Max (2009)

A young Australian girl named Mary (Toni Collette) who is unhappy at home decides to write to a random person in an American phone book, who turns out to be a middle-aged New Yorker called Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Both are friendless with little hope for the future – Max is overweight and depressed and Mary’s parents have little time for her.

Battling loneliness and negative influences, they forge a connection and correspond for the next two decades. Despite their obvious differences, through their mutual support they work to change their paths. Mary and Max is about being spontaneous, trying to stay positive and making lasting connections.

 

Up (2009)

The young Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) is one step ahead of most people – he’s found his soul mate early on and they settle in a lovely home. When life begins throwing them curve balls they stick together and work things through. However, their lifelong dream of visiting Paradise Falls in South America always seems just out of reach. When his wife Ellie passes away, Carl shuts himself off and fights to save his cherished home from demolition.

This poignant tale teaches us to embrace adventure and voyage into the world but ultimately to follow your dreams before it’s too late. Take that trip of a lifetime now. Find a way to make it happen. Don’t wait for a health scare, a relationship breakup or retirement to make changes or live the life you’ve always wanted.

freaksI’ll admit that this is an odd topic for a post during the holiday season but an interesting one nonetheless. At Halloween, whilst re-watching the excellent Tod Browning film Freaks I recalled a post from last year entitled Zoetropes and Kinetoscopes – which I put together after visiting Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre – where I mentioned writing some articles about the history of the circus and its various offshoots, in particular the history of the freak show.

Over the following weeks a trend seemed to emerge featuring all things freaky, beginning with the fourth season of American Horror Story on FOX, which is entitled Freak Show (great concept, dull execution). FOX obviously decided that ‘freaks’ were in and aired a new reality documentary series called Freakshow, in which a man named Todd Ray and his family showcase their Venice Beach sideshow business, featuring his ‘freaky’ employees, including ‘The Lobster Boy’ and ‘The Human Pin Cushion’.

In the first episode Ray attempted to add America’s tallest man, George Bell (7 feet 8 if you’re interested), to his collection of freaks, a word that George was clearly uncomfortable with. Ray also wanted to sign up a bearded lady named Jess, and she was initiated in a scene straight out of Browning’s film (‘One of us! One of us!’). However, many of Ray’s ‘freaks’ are not actually freaks, in that their only ‘deformity’ appears to be the ability to inflict pain upon themselves in a Jackass-style manner.

‘Never seen before…’ Todd wailed as he enticed the public into his shop and displayed his two-headed bearded dragon for all to see. But we have seen it all before. Two-headed reptiles are surprisingly common. Due to fluctuations in temperature of the eggs – since, unlike bird eggs, they are not incubated – mutations can readily form. However, two-headed mammals are much less usual.

The recent death at age 15 of the cat Frankenlouie (Frank and Louie) in Massachusetts only added to the recent discussions concerning the strange and unusual. Contrary to popular belief, Frankenlouie did not have two heads but in fact two faces – a condition called diprosopia – although a creature exhibiting this mutation rarely survives beyond its first few days of life. Frankenlouie’s survival was an extremely rare case, much rarer than the mutation itself.

tomandbarnumAnother recent TV offering was BBC4’s The Real Tom Thumb: History’s Smallest Superstar. Tom was one of the world’s most famous freaks, a young man of just over three feet in stature but with lofty ambitions.

Charles Sherwood Stratton aka Tom Thumb was born in Connecticut in 1838. He was ‘discovered’ by distant relative and circus impresario, PT Barnum, who christened him with the moniker ‘General Tom Thumb’ and made him fabulously wealthy. Tom began his travelling performing career at a very young age, under the pretence that he was on the cusp of adulthood at Barnum’s request. General Tom made friends in very high places, including Queen Victoria and Abraham Lincoln, and his impressive former home is still intact.

 
History

According to Britannica, the term ‘freak’ comes from the Old English word ‘frician’, meaning to dance, cavort or any other capricious behaviour.

In the 18th century, ‘freaks’ or ‘freaks of nature’ referred mainly to animals, creatures whose physical make-up deviated from standard norms. Some naturalists collected these creatures and displayed them at touring shows, shocking the public with their ‘cabinets of curiosities’.

In the mid-nineteenth century, circus promoters had added human ‘performers’ to their exhibitions. PT Barnum was one such promoter, however, he did not use the term ‘freak show’. Alongside those with gigantism, dwarfism and the extremely hirsute, many of the performers were not what they seemed. For example, Barnum’s ‘Fiji Mermaid’ was merely a deceased monkey fused with the tail of a fish. There were many similar exhibits, and such promoters were subsequently labelled as frauds. Freak shows were a very American tradition, but one which permeated Europe and beyond.

 

On Film

I have included a selection of movies depicting freak shows, beginning with the seminal classic, Freaks (1932).

Can a fully grown woman truly love a midget? This, the question posed on the poster of Freaks. That midget is Hans (Harry Earles), a freak show performer, engaged to his height-matched co-star, Frieda (Daisy Earles). Despite their pending union, Hans’ head is turned by trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), who is of average height. The infamous wedding banquet scene is truly brilliant as Cleo’s true motives are revealed.

Before the cinematic screenings of the film, a message was displayed for patrons, which seemed sympathetic to the plight of individuals with deformities: ‘Their lot is truly a heart-breaking one’. However, towards the end of the prologue, it goes on to say ‘…modern science and teratology is rapidly eliminating such blunders of nature from the world.’ The effort of including such a message therefore seems inane, but during the 1930s people who were born with physical abnormalities were not readily accepted in mainstream society, hence the existence of the freak show. (The full message is included on the DVD).

The ‘freaks’ in Freaks are all real people – no special effects here – including a man named Rardion, ‘The Living Torso’, who had no limbs and performed in freak shows in Coney Island under PT Barnum. Despite his disability, he fathered five children, spoke four languages and was able to complete everyday tasks using his mouth and shoulders.

 
The Elephant Man (1980)

Based loosely on the life of Joseph (John in the film) Merrick, a young English man with neurofibromatosis, a disease which causes benign tumours to grow on the face and body. Whilst the film does stray from the truth – Joseph’s life during his freak show years was not nearly as awful as director David Lynch’s portrayal – it is a beautifully made, poignant film, with excellent performances by John Hurt as Merrick and Anthony Hopkins as Dr Frederick Treves, the man who saves him from his barbaric existence.

 

Big Fish (2003)

Directed by Tim Burton and based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish is a film of tall tales told by Albert Finney (Ed Bloom) to his son, Will (Billy Crudup). The young Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor) disappears into his own fantasy and begins a lengthy journey with Karl the Giant (Matthew McGrory). On his expedition, he encounters a circus, led by a werewolf named Amos Callaway (Danny DeVito), and Siamese twin singers Ping and Jing (Ada and Arlene Tai). Edward subsequently joins the circus, shovelling elephant manure and washing obese performers in exchange for information on his dream girl, Sandra.

Recently I saw the musical Book of Mormon in London, the stage hit by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I normally find musicals – stage or screen – nauseating, but add in some humour and they become much easier to stomach. (I once had to sit through the entire 108 minutes of Brigadoon, although I would place that firmly in the horror genre.)

I’ve compiled my top five movie musicals – ones that don’t induce vomiting – starting with Mel Brooks’ directorial debut.

 

The Producers (1967)

A musical about a musical. Featuring one of Gene Wilder’s first film roles, The Producers is a riot of song, dance and general hilarity. Broadway star Zero Mostel plays Max Bialystock, a washed-up theatre producer who has to resign himself to the odd grope from wealthy old ladies in exchange for investment in his productions. Wilder is Leo Bloom, a mild-mannered young accountant with big ideas and a little blue blanket.

The aim is to create a production so terrible that no one will want to see it, enabling Mostel and Bloom to pocket the investments of its benefactors. The musical is to be titled Springtime for Hitler, featuring a star song of the same name, which is performed to incite ire in its audience. It turns out that the production is indeed terrible. Terribly brilliant. And terribly successful.

 

Cabaret (1972)

Cabaret is a great movie that just so happens to be a musical. Liza Minnelli’s performance as brash American singer Sally Bowles won her an Oscar for Best Actress, and the film totalled eight Oscars, including Best Music. The characters seldom burst into song, rather the numbers performed are all part of the characters’ jobs at the Kit-Kat club.

Based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Goodbye to Berlin, Cabaret is set in 1930s Berlin during the rise to power of the Nazis. One of Sally’s lovers is Brian Roberts (Michael York), an English scholar residing in Germany to complete his studies. Their relationship is complicated and is played out under the tense and threatening shadow of a country falling into the grip of dictatorship.

Patrons at the Kit-Kat include Otto Dix-inspired audience members and great attention has been paid to the mise en scene. Cabaret is a fun film but with very serious undertones; the threat of violence is ever present and comes to a head in one particularly grisly scene.

 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Young newlyweds Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) experience car trouble during a storm. They hurry to the nearest house to use the phone, which just so happens to be a castle owned by a manic doctor in stockings and suspenders, hell bent on creating the perfect man. Dr Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) is served by faithful siblings Riff Raff and Magenta (Patricia Quinn), and worshipped by devoted followers who attend his many soirees. Will Brad and Janet get out alive?

Written by Richard O’Brien (who plays Riff Raff), Rocky Horror is a deliciously camp and OTT production. The set design and costumes are pretty impressive, as are the songs that range from soft and slow (Over at the Frankenstein Place) to jerky and frenetic (The Time Warp). The music has a distinct rock and roll edge, but is still very melodic.

 

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Ludicrous, ridiculous and brilliant, with great songs, especially the doo-wop inflections. Frank Oz-created puppet Audrey II, is a carnivorous plant that comes to life after lightning strikes. Green-fingered Seymour (Rock Moranis) discovers and names said plant and must cope with its ravenous secret.

Seymour is a lonely store clerk who’s in love with his co-worker, Audrey (Ellen Greene). Audrey is insecure and dating a sadistic dentist (Steve Martin), who likes to knock her about (‘Who wants their teeth done by the Marquis de Sade?’). As Audrey’s confidence grows, Seymour declares his love and helps rid her of her odious boyfriend in the most resourceful of ways.

 

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

Foul-mouthed eight-year olds Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny become obsessed with the new Terrance and Phillip Movie, which began as a Canadian TV series featuring extreme toilet humour and coarse language. The movie turns out to be a huge hit amongst the youngsters of South Park and beyond, much to their parents’ disapproval. Carnage ensues and war on Canada is declared.

How such vulgar and crass content can translate into so many accomplished songs is nothing short of genius. ‘What Would Brian Boitano Do?’ is a random and bizarre homage to an Olympian that bears no relevance to the story yet it’s extremely catchy and enjoyable. The songs in the South Park movie are so tuneful you find yourself mouthing ‘Uncle Fu**a’ on the bus before realising your error. I Blame Canada.

When two of your favourite worlds collide, it’s particularly brilliant, especially when it happens to be the influence of one of your most revered artists in a truly great film.

 

Edward Hopper’s ‘House by the Railroad’ in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)

Hopper’s Realist depictions of American life were often described as silent theatre, so it’s no surprise that his work has inspired many filmmakers. House by the Railroad shows a beautiful and grand – yet seemingly ordinary – Victorian house, just like the one influenced by it in Psycho – the Bates Motel. The suspense used so prominently in Hitchcock’s films is ideally suited to the tense atmosphere projected in the works of Edward Hopper.

 

Marc Chagall’s ‘The Wedding’ (1944) and several other Chagall influences in Norman Jewison’s Fiddler on the Roof (1971).

The Wedding depicts the nuptials of Chagall’s brother-in-law, which he painted shortly after his wife (and muse) Bella’s death. The happy occasion therefore takes on a sinister note in the painting due to his frame of mind at the time. Whilst there is no exact replica of this scene in Fiddler on the Roof (although there is a wedding), the entire stage production, including its name, was influenced by the life and work of Chagall: village life during the Russian Empire, smallholdings, shack-like wooden houses (Chagall’s town of Vitebsk was built entirely from wood), both Jewish and Christian residents (at this time Vitebsk was very split) and of course Hasidic tradition. Tradition is extremely important, as evidenced in the recurrent song of the same name sung by the main character, Tevye. Chagall was courageous – he embraced his religion and put it out there for the world to see at a time when it was dangerous to do so.

the-wedding

 

Otto Dix’s ‘Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden’ (1926) in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972)

As a predominant German writer and poet of the same era as Dix, he was struck by von Harden’s androgynous and unusual look, as well as her artistic vision. I imagine the reason for recreating this painting in Cabaret was to not only choose a visual look similar to the Berlin intelligentsia, but to celebrate the work of a German artist so closely associated with the First World War.

 

Jacques-Louis David’s ‘Death of Marat’ (1793) in Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt (2002)

This work depicts the murder of Jean-Paul Marat, leader of the French Revolution. Stabbed in his bathtub, he is seen with quill and parchment. In About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson’s character Warren falls asleep in the bath whilst composing a letter. Warren has had a tough time – his wife recently died, he feels redundant after retiring and his only daughter is about to marry a no-hoper. I’m not sure what the exact reasoning for the representation of The Death of Marat is, but my crass interpretation is that due to all his recent issues and feelings of redundancy, the man he once was is now gone.

 

John Everett Millais’ ‘Ophelia’ (1852) in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011)

This beautiful Pre-Raphaelite painting portrays Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet drifting in the river after she falls in. Caught up in the beauty of her surroundings she floats for a while before succumbing to a watery death. In Melancholia, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is a newlywed whose personal relationships are strained and she becomes increasingly depressed. The earth is in danger after news that a planet is set to collide with it. Ophelia’s calm demeanour despite the fact that she is about to drown is mimicked by Justine’s reaction to her own – and the world’s – impending doom.

As I’ve been in the process of moving house I only just got round to seeing Jersey Boys, a film I was very interested and curious about for the past few months. I’ve never seen the stage show but as a fan of Clint Eastwood, Christopher Walken and 50s/60s music, my hopes were high.

jerseyboysBorn Francesco Castelluccio in Newark on May 3rd 1934, Frankie Valli had aspirations of musical stardom but settled on his father’s career as a barber. He performed where he could, showing off his impressive falsetto at every opportunity.

Near the beginning of the film, Four Season Tommy DeVito explains that for a young man in their neighbourhood there were three options: joining the army, running for the mob, or fame. Despite early brushes with the law and Four Seasons members Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi serving time in prison, the boys strived for the latter.

Jersey Boys details the Four Seasons’ origins, their rise to fame, financial difficulties and subsequent breakdown, with family and relationship problems thrown in for good measure. All the hits are there: Sherry, Walk Like A Man, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Oh What A Night, and Big Girls Don’t Cry. The use of My Eyes Adored You during Frankie’s daughter’s funeral is particularly poignant.

The film is slightly similar in tone to A Bronx Tale, with a touch of The Soprano’s. Incidentally, Frankie Valli featured in seven episodes of The Soprano’s as Rusty Millio. There’s also an obvious Goodfellas link: Joe Pesci grew up with the Four Seasons and he is played by Joseph Russo in a small role. However, Pesci’s Goodfellas character, Tommy DeVito, was not called after the Four Seasons member of the same name.

Christopher Walken is excellent as always as mob boss Gyp DeCarlo, one of the few actors who didn’t feature in the original Broadway show. With the exception of Boardwalk Empire star Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito), the rest of the Four Seasons were the Broadway stars of Jersey Boys, with John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli collecting a Tony for his performance

The Jersey Boys movie won’t set the film world alight, but it’s a well-produced feature (I really felt like I was in 50s post-war USA), with touches of humour and punchy performances – both acting and singing. The Italian-American clichés are inevitable and perhaps the films strays too far towards nostalgia at times, but it’s a very good example of a musical movie.

Jersey Boys is described as a musical, but it’s more of a biopic and the majority of the songs were performed live for the film in clubs.

This got me to thinking about other musical biopics. There are some great ones out there such as Control (Joy Division) and Behind the Candelabra (Liberace), and some that are currently in the works that sound very interesting indeed: Iggy Pop, Elvis Presley and Freddie Mercury to name but a few.

However, there are many more terrific artists that I feel deserve a biopic, those whose lives I believe would make a great movie. Artists like:

 

Del Shannon (1934 – 1990)

Born Charles Weedon Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Del Shannon was a country music turned rock and roll star of the early 60s. He had several self-penned hit singles such as Little Town Flirt, Hats Off to Larry and of course Runaway, but he had just as many hits covering other peoples records. Del Shannon had a knack of taking the songs of others – like Chuck Berry and The Beatles – and making them better, almost making the originals redundant. He was popular in both the US and the UK and had several top ten hits.

Many of Del’s songs centred on heartbreak and sorrow, such as Keep Searchin’ and Break Up, and in his personal life Shannon suffered from depression and alcoholism, which eventually made it difficult for him to continue recording. He sadly committed suicide by gunshot on the 8th of February 1990.

In 1999 he became a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee. His most famous song, Runaway, has been covered by many artists including Elvis Presley, the Traveling Wilburys and the Misfits.

 

Roy Orbison (1936 – 1988)

A Roy Orbison film would certainly have huge highs – solo success, hits as part of the Travelling Wilburys and songs immortalised in feature films (from Pretty Woman to Blue Velvet) – but also massive lows. Roy’s life was blighted by tragedy; his first wife died in a motorcycle accident, and his eldest two sons lost their lives in a house fire.

At his musical peak at the same time as Del Shannon, Roy’s songs were also concerned with love, and could be tormented as well as light hearted (Crying and Pretty Woman respectively).

Roy was the first rock star to wear shades indoors, leaving some to think he was blind. Rumour has it he misplaced his regular glasses and had to wear his prescription shades as an alternative. This only added to the mystery of The Big O. Roy was not flamboyant or charismatic like many rock and rollers but all his passion came out in his wonderful voice, which earned him many fans including U2 and Bruce Springsteen.

In the late 70s he underwent a triple heart bypass due to years of heavy smoking. After a resurgence in Roy’s back catalogue in the 80s, the man with the Ray Bans was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1988, Roy died aged just 52 of a heart attack. Some say he worked himself too hard, others say all the pain he had endured was too much for one lifetime. Roy was a true individual with an effortless style and unmistakable talent.

 

Dion DiMucci (1939 – )

A Bronx native, born to Italian parents, Dion first came to prominence in the late 50s as the lead singer of Dion and the Belmonts, named for the New York street they used to rehearse on before they hit the big time. The Dion story would naturally draw parallels with the Frankie Valli story: both are Italian-American lead singers with backing bands during the same era, who went on to achieve solo success. However, Dion’s story grew darker as he had been battling heroin addiction since his mid-teens, directly opposing his clean-cut teen idol image.

The Belmonts’ hit song I Wonder Why has been used in many films such as A Bronx Tale and Christine. They had several successful singles like A Teenager in Love but Dion decided to move on from doo-wop to create a more rocky, rhythmic sound, branching out on his own. The transition from Teenager in Love to to Ruby Baby via Runaround Sue was complete.

During a tour with several other bands, Dion gave up his seat on the ill-fated flight that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper as he didn’t want the extra expense.

Dion continues to make music, but with a blues inflection. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, with celebrity fan Lou Reed making the introductions. John Lennon was also a big fan of Dion; he used his image on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

 

Johnny Thunders (1952 – 1991)

John Anthony Genzale aka Johnny Thunders grew up in Queens, New York and was destined for baseball stardom. He was scouted in his early teens for the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies but his sporting career was over before it began. An antiquated Little League rule stated that the player’s father must be present at the games; Johnny’s father had long abandoned the family and was a known womaniser. This loss hit him hard and he concentrated on putting all his energy into his other great love: music.

He flirted with the name Johnny Volume and fronted his own band as a teenager. Johnny first found real fame as a guitarist with the New York Dolls, who produced hits like Personality Crisis, Trash and Private World. Malcolm McLaren was fascinated by them and attempted to emulate their style and sound with a well-known UK punk band.

Johnny founded The Heartbreakers when the Dolls disintegrated, recruiting former Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan and former Television bassist Richard Hell. He was a great songwriter, in spite of his struggles with literacy. He was also a strong guitarist despite his raging heroin habit. His guitar sound was raw and powerful, as was his voice, which emulated the sense of pain and suffering he put his body through with addiction.

After the demise of The Heartbreakers he recorded and performed as a solo artist with several different backing bands. In the months leading up to his death he already resembled a cadaver, with a pallid sunken face and a vacant stare. He died somewhat mysteriously in New Orleans aged just 38. Whilst several illegal substances were found in Johnny’s system, it wasn’t enough to kill him. Foul play was rumoured but the likelihood was that Johnny had already succumbed to cancer brought on by a serious intravenous infection.

One of Johnny’s final performances (Just Another Girl).

I recently finished reading this brilliantly named autobiography by ex-punk rocker Richard Hell. It’s everything you could want in an autobiography: egotistical, eager to divulge, and highly entertaining.

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During the latter chapters I recalled Hell’s performance in the movie Smithereens (1982), the feature film debut of Susan Seidelman, who directed Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) (Richard also had a part in this), and written by Ron Nyswaner, who penned the Tom Hanks film, Philadelphia (1993).

Smithereens tells the story of Wren, (Susan Berman) a young runaway with no discernible talent, who sees Richard’s character, a musician named Eric, as a gateway to fame. It’s very evocative of the era, with a few of The Voidoids’ songs in the soundtrack. Worth checking out if you are/were into the CBGB scene.

Many favourite artists of mine have had a go at acting.

Here’s New York Dolls frontman, David Johansen, haunting Bill Murray as a deceased cab driver (Ghost of Christmas Past) in Scrooged (1988). Johansen still acts, sometimes under his alter ego, Buster Poindexter.

 

Joe Strummer in Mystery Train (1989), Jim Jarmusch’s love letter to Elvis Presley. Here he is, holding up a liquor store with Steve Buscemi.

NB A few members of The Clash, including Strummer, had cameos as ‘Street Scum’ in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1982).

 

Bo Diddley in Trading Places (1983) as a pawnbroker. He doesn’t seem too impressed with Dan Aykroyd’s watch.

 

Iggy Pop as Belvedere Rickettes in Cry Baby (1990), John Waters’ comedy musical set in 50s Baltimore. Iggy’s had a few film roles over the years but Cry Baby was one of his more memorable roles. I think this clip illustrates my point.

 
Bryan Ferry as a punter in Breakfast on Pluto (2005). Incidentally, Jared Leto’s Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club looks strikingly similar to Cillian Murphy’s Kitten in this. Ferry’s isn’t a big part, more of a cameo, but it’s a good performance. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a clip of this.
breakfastonpluto

Then there are artists who straddle the actor/musician divide, like David Bowie, noted for his many sci-fi and fantasy roles, such as The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Labyrinth (1986) and The Prestige (2006).

And of course Meat Loaf, who I mentioned a couple of days ago when I visited The Frankenstein Place. Notable standouts include his role as Eddie in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and his emotional turn as a lactating cancer patient in Fight Club (1999).

Do you have a favourite musician in a movie? Roger Daltrey in Tommy? Mick Jagger in Performance? Maybe even Tina Turner in Mad Max?

On Friday night, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was on television, and, having not seen it in years, I decided to sit down and enjoy its campy trashy brilliance. My boyfriend had never seen it before, and asked if I knew where Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s abode was (the ‘Frankenstein Place’). Other than, ‘somewhere in Europe’, I had no idea. So, after a quick Google, I found out it is in the very county in which we are currently residing.

We decided to stop by on Saturday, glad to see that there were no motorbike gangs following us, and that our car didn’t break down on the way. The sun was shining so that was a good omen.

The doctor’s stately home was less spooky during the day, but still quite an ominous gothic creation, with many pillars ascending from the roof, and gargoyles protecting every corner.

The Frankenstein Place’s real name is Oakley Court and it was built in 1859. Oakley has also been the setting for a few Hammer films, including The Reptile (1966) and The Brides of Dracula (1962). It sits next to Bray Studios, making it the obvious choice for a demented screen doctor.

 
In my opinion, the best song in Rocky Horror is ‘Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul’, sung by Meat Loaf. I’m also partial to the opening song, ‘Science Fiction’.

Oakley Court is now a country hotel, with additional buildings tacked on at the back. The estate is fairly large (35 acres), and overlooks the Thames near Windsor, if you fancy staying the night.

With less than a week until Christmas I have been partaking in some festive viewing, yet eschewing the happily ever after type films associated with this time of year. Here are my choices for alternative Christmas pictures.

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Black Christmas (1974)

Set in a Canadian sorority house during the holidays, Black Christmas is considered to be one of the first slasher movies. During a party – which the film opens on – a figure is seen spying through the windows and climbing the trellis. This part is filmed from the killer’s point of view to hide his identity, which is quite disconcerting. Not long after the soiree, one of the residents, Clare, appears to be missing. Her father, Mrs Mac – an alcoholic mother hen – and the other girls start a search party but to no avail. Shortly after, a 13-year-old girl is found dead in a nearby park.

From the very beginning, the women living in the house receive obscene phone calls and their patience is wearing thin. The police agree to tap the phone and monitor the incessant dialler, whose calls are becoming more and more frantic and distressing. It is soon apparent that the caller is also the killer.

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In Bruges (2008)

Two Irish hitmen, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), have been sent to Belgium after a disastrous job. They have no idea what’s in store and await instruction from boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) – who speaks like he’s reciting a John Cooper Clarke poem – whilst sightseeing in Bruges. Ken is happy to take in the sights but Ray is more keen on blocking out his most recent kill by overindulging in beer and cocaine, and antagonising American tourists. It could be quite a depressing film were it not for the dark humour, which there is plenty of. The location is beautiful, even more so when it’s snowing, and the score equally so. Whilst the ending is left open, you have a feeling that Ray has (almost) conquered his demons.

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Rare Exports (2010)

In Finnish Lapland, little Pietari is mocked by his friend for believing in Santa Claus. He is fascinated with the legend and pores over folklore books in his attic bedroom. The books indicate that Santa was in fact an incredibly menacing and depraved creature who lived close to the family home. At the same time, an American company is excavating a nearby mountain. Not long after, migrating reindeer are found dead and the locals, requiring said reindeer for trade, are incensed, blaming the foreigners for the incident. Pietari thinks it’s his fault for cutting a hole in the fence, but all sorts of strange goings on start to occur: people have hairdryers and heaters stolen, and soon children are being kidnapped. A haggard old man is found in the snow outside Pietari’s house and he believes him to be Santa. The man is vicious and appears dangerous. Could he really be Santa Claus?

Don’t let the kids see this one (unless they’ve been really bad).

If you’re in to sci-fi, Brazil (1985) is set during the Christmas season. If you like war films try Joyeux Noel (2005) (be warned: there is a lot of singing).

World Premiere Monday 7th October

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Danny Elfman has composed themes as diverse as Tales From the Crypt, Desperate Housewives and of course The Simpsons, as well as films such as Men in Black, The Frighteners and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. However, it is his compositions for (most*) of the films of Tim Burton that he is most recognised, and this relationship was the reason for last night’s sold-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

John Mauceri conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, who worked their way through his Burton back catalogue. The music was accompanied by a slideshow of film clips and Burton’s drawings, the early conceptions of his characters. This was a good idea, but I became so enthralled with watching the orchestra that I often forgot about this.

Films featured included early work such as Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (first full-length feature for both in 1985) and Edward Scissorhands, to later efforts like Big Fish and Dark Shadows as well as animated films Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie.

It can only be described as sublime. Standouts for me were the unbelievably good Beetlejuice intro, Mars Attacks! (a film which I am not overly fond of), complete with theremin UFO-like sounds and the Batman films. (I actually got chills during the Batman sequence).

A huge crowd pleaser which made good use of audiovisual was Edward Scissorhands. From the ethereal choir accompanying Kim as she danced under ice flakes, to the mechanical rumble of the Inventor (Vincent Price) at work, to the whizzy violin solo accompanying Edward’s manic topiary, it was magnificent.

For the Nightmare Before Christmas segment, Elfman joined the orchestra on stage to sing as Jack Skellington, a role which he undertook in the film. He sang four songs, including ‘What’s This’, which was magical. He also sang ‘Oogie Boogie’s Song’, with conductor John Mauceri filling in for Sandy Claws. This was the first live performance of these songs since the film’s debut in 1993.

Helena Bonham Carter took on Catherine O’Hara’s Nightmare role for ‘Sally’s Song’, which she actually performed quite well, despite her admitting to ‘losing my virginity’ with regards to live singing. Burton himself made an appearance at the end.

It was probably one of the best concerts I have ever been to and Elfman called the it the best moment of his life. It made me want to watch all of Burton’s films again, especially ones I haven’t seen in a while, like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. It also made me wish I could play an instrument.

Look out for posts this week on my favourite Tm Burton films and my favourite TV opening credits.

End note
*The only Tim Burton-directed movies Elfman did not score were Sweeney Todd and Ed Wood. As Sweeney Todd was adapted from a musical this makes sense. Elfman’s missing name under the composer credit in Ed Wood is a little more confusing. This was apparently due to the two falling out (circumstances unknown), although it evidently didn’t last.