So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star: The Idolmaker, Breaking Glass, That’ll Be The Day, Stardust


So, you want to be a rock and roll star?  Then listen now to what I say: just get an electric guitar and take some time and learn how to play.  And when your hair’s combed right and your pants fit tight, it’s gonna be all right.

If you need any more help, try watching these four films:

Idolmaker

The Idolmaker (1980, directed by Taylor Hackford)

The Idolmaker is a movie that asks the question, “What does it take to be a star?  Who is more interesting, the Svengalis or the Trilbys?”  The year is 1959 and Vinny Vacari (Ray Sharkey, who won a Golden Globe for his performance but don’t let that dissuade you from seeing the movie) is a local kid from New Jersey who dreams of being a star.  He has got the talent.  He has got the ambition and he has got the media savvy.  He also has a receding hairline and a face like a porcupine.

Realizing that someone who looks like him is never going to make hundreds of teenage girls all scream at once, Vinny instead becomes a starmaker.  With the help of his girlfriend, teen mag editor Brenda (Tovah Feldshuh) and a little payola, he turns saxophone player Tomaso DeLorussa into teen idol Tommy Dee.  When Tommy Dee becomes a star and leaves his mentor, Vinny takes a shy waiter named Guido (Peter Gallagher) and turns him into a Neil Diamond-style crooner named Cesare.  Destined to always be  abandoned by the stars that he creates, Vinny continually ends up back in the same Jersey dive, performing his own songs with piano accompaniment.

The Idolmaker is a nostalgic look at rock and roll in the years between Elvis’s induction into the Army and the British invasion.  The Idolmaker has some slow spots but Ray Sharkey is great in the role of Vinny and the film’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of stardom is always interesting.  In the movie’s best scene, Tommy performs in front of an audience of screaming teenagers while Vinny mimics his exact moments backstage.

Vinny was based on real-life rock promoter and manager, Bob Marcucci.  Marcucci was responsible for launching the careers of both Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte.  Marcucci served as an executive producer on The Idolmaker, which probably explains why this is the rare rock film in which the manager is more sympathetic than the musicians.

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Breaking Glass (1980, directed by Brian Gibson)

At the same time that The Idolmaker was providing American audiences with a look at life behind-the-scenes of music stardom, Breaking Glass was doing the same thing for British audiences.

In Breaking Glass, the idolmaker is Danny (Phil Daniels, who also starred in Quadrophenia) and his star is an angry New Wave singer named Kate (Hazel O’Connor).  Danny first spots Kate while she is putting up flyers promoting herself and her band and talks her into allowing him to mange her.  At first, Kate refuses to compromise either her beliefs or her lyrics but that is before she starts to get famous.  The bigger a star she becomes, the more distant she becomes from Danny and her old life and the less control she has over what her music says.  While her new fans scare her by all trying to dress and look like her, Kate’s old fans accuse her of selling out.

As a performer, Hazel O’Connor can be an acquired taste and how you feel about Breaking Glass will depend on how much tolerance you have for her and her music.  (She wrote and composed all of the songs here.)  Breaking Glass does provide an interesting look at post-punk London and Jonathan Pryce gives a good performance as a sax player with a heroin addiction.

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That’ll Be The Day (1973, directed by Claude Whatham)

Real-life teen idol David Essex plays Jim MacClaine, a teenager in 1958 who blows off his university exams and runs away to the Isle of Wright.  He goes from renting deckchairs at a resort to being a barman to working as a carny.  He lives in squalor, has lots of sex, and constantly listens to rock and roll.  Eventually, when he has no other choice, he does return home and works in his mother’s shop.  He gets married and has a son but still finds himself tempted to abandon his family (just as his father previously abandoned him) and pursue his dreams of stardom.

David Essex and Ringo Starr

Based loosely on the early life of John Lennon, the tough and gritty That’ll Be The Day is more of a British kitchen sink character study than a traditional rock and roll film but rock fans will still find the film interesting because of its great soundtrack of late 50s rock and roll and a cast that is full of musical luminaries who actually lived through and survived the era.  Billy Fury and the Who’s Keith Moon both appear in small roles.  Mike, Jim’s mentor and best friend, is played by Ringo Starr who, of all the Beatles, was always the best actor.

That’ll Be The Day ends on a downbeat note but it does leave the story open for a sequel.

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Stardust (1974, directed by Michael Apted)

Stardust continues the story of Jim MacClaine.  Jim hires his old friend Mike (Adam Faith, replacing Ringo Starr) to manage a band that he is in, The Straycats (which includes Keith Moon, playing a far more prominent role here than in That’ll Be the Day).  With the help of Mike’s business savvy, The Stray Cats find early success and are signed to a record deal by eccentric Texas millionaire, Porter Lee Austin (Larry Hagman, playing an early version of J.R. Ewing).

When he becomes the breakout star of the group, Jim starts to overindulge in drugs, groupies, and everything that goes with being a superstar.  Having alienated both Mike and the rest of the group, Jim ends up as a recluse living in a Spanish castle.  Even worse, he gives into his own ego and writes a rock opera, Dea Sancta, which is reminiscent of the absolute worst of progressive rock.  Watching Jim perform Dea Sancta, you understand why, just a few years later, Johnny Rotten would be wearing a homemade “Pink Floyd Sucks” t-shirt.

Stardust works best as a sad-eyed look back at the lost promise of the 1960s and its music.  Watch the movie and then ask yourself, “So, do you really want to be a rock and roll star?”

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Life is a Beach #4: Spring Break (dir by Sean S. Cunningham)


I think I may have made a mistake.  When I started reviewing beach films, I did so because it’s currently spring break for thousands of college students across the country and, right now, they’re all probably having a good time on the beach.  Unfortunately, what I didn’t consider was that watching and reviewing these films would make me start to wish that I was currently there with them.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that I want to go hang out on the beach and party and flirt and get high and live for the moment and … well, no, actually, that’s exactly what I wish I was doing right now.  None of the beach films that I’ve watched so far have been good exactly but they do all get at a larger truth.

We all need some sort of spring break.

That’s certainly the theme of the 1983 comedy, Spring Break.

The heroes of Spring Break

The heroes of Spring Break

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Spring Break is that, unlike Malibu Beach and The Beach Girls, it was not produced by Crown International Pictures.  It certainly feels like a Crown International movie.  The film is a largely plotless collection of scenes, all of which take place over the course of spring break in Ft. Lauderdale.  It starts out as a comedy and then gets strangely dramatic towards the end.  It features a lot of nudity for male viewers but luckily, it has two hot guys for me so it all works out in the end.

Two nerdy students, Nelson (David Knell) and Adam (Perry Lang) go down to Florida for spring break.  Nelson does this despite the fact that he had promised that he would spend spring break working on his politically ambitious stepfather’s campaign.  When Nelson and Adam’s picture ends up in the paper, Nelson’s stepfather (Donald Symington) sends his operatives down to Florida to basically kidnap Nelson and drag him home.  Along the way, the stepfather also somehow gets involved in a plot to take over the motel where Nelson and Adam are staying.

Uhmmm…what?

Yes, it doesn’t make much sense but then again, the plot is never that important in these type of films.  What is important is that the motel is overbooked and, as a result, Nelson and Adam find themselves roommates with two hot guys from New York, Stu (Paul Land) and O.T. (Steve Bassett).

One thing that I did like about this movie is that it didn’t waste any time pretending that Stu and O.T. wouldn’t become best friends with Nelson and Adam.  Instead, the four of them start bonding as soon as they meet and they were all best friends within the first 15 minutes of the film.  Yay for another successful bromance!  But seriously, it is kind of sweet.

And it’s also fortunate because, once Nelson is kidnapped and held prisoner on a boat by his stepfather, who better to rescue him than two guys from Brooklyn?

Yes, it’s all pretty stupid but, as far as teen sex comedies from the early 80s are concerned, this is one of the better of them.  At the very least, Knell and Lang are both likeable and Land and Bassett are both hot and that really is about the best that you can hope from a film like this.  Add to that — and this is a theme that I seem to keep returning to as far as these beach films are concerned — Spring Break is a time capsule.  Though Spring Break was released before I was born, I feel like, having seen it, that I now have some firsthand experience of what it was like to be alive in 1983.

So 80s....

So 80s….

As I mentioned at the start of this review, Spring Break feels like a Crown International Picture but, actually, it was released by Columbia Pictures.  And it was directed by Sean S. Cunningham, who is probably best known for directing the original Friday the 13th!  Harry Manfredini even provided the music for both films.  That said, the fun-loving teenagers of Spring Break come to a much happier end than the ones at Camp Crystal Lake.