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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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Gandhi (dir by Richard Attenborough)


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I just finished watching the 1982 best picture winner Gandhi on TCM.  This is going to be a tough movie to review.

Why?

Well, first off, there’s the subject matter.  Gandhi is an epic biopic of Mohandas Gandhi (played, very well, by Ben Kingsley).  It starts with Gandhi as a 23 year-old attorney in South Africa who, after getting tossed out of a first class train compartment because of the color of his skin, leads a non-violent protest for the rights of all Indians in South Africa.  He gets arrested several times and, at one point, is threatened by Daniel Day-Lewis, making his screen debut as a young racist.  However, eventually, Gandhi’s protest draws international attention and pressure.  South Africa finally changes the law to give Indians a few rights.

Gandhi then returns to his native India, where he leads a similar campaign of non-violence in support of the fight for India’s independence from the British Empire.  For every violent act on the part of the British, Gandhi responds with humility and nonviolence.  After World War II, India gains its independence and Gandhi becomes the leader of the nation.  When India threatens to collapse as a result of violence between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi fasts and announces that he will allow himself to starve to death unless the violence ends.  Gandhi brings peace to his country and is admired the world over.  And then, like almost all great leaders, he’s assassinated.

Gandhi tells the story of a great leader but that doesn’t necessarily make it a great movie.  In order to really examine Gandhi as a film, you have to be willing to accept that criticizing the movie is not the same as criticizing what (or who) the movie is about.

As I watched Gandhi, my main impression was that it was an extremely long movie.  Reportedly, Gandhi was a passion project for director Richard Attenborough.  An admirer of Gandhi’s and a lifelong equality activist, Attenborough spent over 20 years trying to raise the money to bring Gandhi’s life to the big screen.  Once he finally did, it appears that Attenbrough didn’t want to leave out a single detail.  Gandhi runs three and a half hours and, because certain scenes drag, it feels ever longer.

My other thought, as I watched Gandhi, was that it had to be one of the least cinematic films that I’ve ever seen.  Bless Attenborough for the nobility of his intentions but there’s not a single interesting visual to be found in the entire film.  I imagine that, even in 1982, Gandhi felt like a very old-fashioned movie.  In the end, it feels more like something you would see on PBS than in a theater.

The film is full of familiar faces, which works in some cases and doesn’t in others.  For instance, Gandhi’s British opponents are played by a virtual army of familiar character actors.  Every few minutes, someone like John Gielgud, Edward Fox, Trevor Howard, John Mills, or Nigel Hawthorne will pop up and wonder why Gandhi always has to be so troublesome.  The British character actors all do a pretty good job and contribute to the film without allowing their familiar faces to become a distraction.

But then, a few American actors show up.  Martin Sheen plays a reporter who interview Gandhi.  Candice Bergen shows up as a famous photographer.  And, unlike their British equivalents, neither Sheen nor Bergen really seem to fit into the film.  Both of them end up overacting.  (Sheen, in particular, delivers every line as if he’s scared that we’re going to forget that we’re watching a movie about an important figure in history.)  They both become distractions.

I guess the best thing that you can say about Gandhi, as a film, is that it features Ben Kingsley in the leading role.  He gives a wonderfully subtle performance as Gandhi, making him human even when the film insists on portraying him as a saint.  He won an Oscar for his performance in Gandhi and he deserved one.

As for Gandhi‘s award for best picture … well, let’s consider the films that it beat: E.T., Tootsie, The Verdict, and Missing.  And then, consider some of the films from 1982 that weren’t even nominated: Blade Runner, Burden of Dreams, Class of 1984, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, My Favorite Year, Poltergeist, Tenebrae, Vice Squad, Fanny and Alexander…

When you look at the competition, it’s clear that the Academy’s main motive in honoring Gandhi the film was to honor Gandhi the man.  In the end, Gandhi is a good example of a film that, good intentions aside, did not deserve its Oscar.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Super Bowl TV Spot)


The more I read about and see stuff on this fourth film on the Disney action-adventure franchise the more I’m really looking forward to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

This Super Bowl tv spot shows some new scenes that wasn’t in the official trailer released a little over a month ago. One thing I am glad to see is more Ian McShane as Blackbeard. I’m also glad that there’s still no Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to be seen in this film. Yes, I know that they declined to be in it (that or Bruckheimer finally got the hint that it was these two who bogged down the first two sequels).

In the end, this third sequel will live or die on the performance of Depp returning as Capt. Jack Sparrow. I’d bet on Captain Jack returning to his roguish self and making this fourth film a fun ride the way the first two sequels weren’t.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is set for a May 20, 2011 release.