[TypicalGirls] Dolly Mixture doc screens Tuesday in London
larrybob at io.com
Sat Jun 18 17:40:12 EDT 2005
I was tipped off to this by my friend Mike.. unfortunately we are
in SF not London so will not be able to see this Dolly Mixtures documentary
when it screens on Tuesday --
Notes that Simon West, the director of this Dolly Mixture documentary
also directed Laura Croft: Tomb Raider and Con Air.
WHAT'S UP? DOCS!
These days, it's hard to see pop music programmes as historical
documents. You can hardly imagine an episode of Cribs lending future
generations much meaningful insight into the prevailing culture of our
times...other than demonstrating the fact that American rap stars like
drink-vending machines in their homes. But back when pop music was still
a relatively new thing, TV shows would examine it in more depth. The
straight-laced broadcasters of yesteryear would observe the world of
rock'n'roll with much the same alien fascination as David Attenborough
observes the wildlife of the Arctic tundra. They would soberly question
the motives, agendas and hairstyles of pop stars. They would point
microphones in their faces and ask earnest questions in posh voices like:
"Have you been formally trained as a musician?" and "What will you do
when this pop music fad passes?" They were brilliantly ridiculous. Now,
the British Film Institute has unearthed four decades worth of the stuff
for a season of pop documentaries - Gonna Make You A Star - curated by
Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne for the Barbican. We examine some classics
of the genre to find out what it was like to be a rock star back in the
good old days.
A Year In The Life: Big Deal Group (1969)
It took current affairs series Big Deal until the tail-end of the 1960s
to take notice of pop music as a serious cultural entity. This 45-minute
documentary sought to demonstrate that the booming record industry wasn't
all packed- out Shay stadiums and shagging Marianne Faithfull. They found
the perfect band to emphasise this point in Brighton beat combo the Span.
The show's cameras followed the four- piece for 12 months, capturing
their increasingly ill-fated attempts to engineer themselves away from
the fringes and onto the sideburns of the burgeoning psychedelic scene.
"My name is Brian," says one member near the start. "I'm the guitarist in
the band and I sometimes sing too. I'm self-conscious about my height."
Somehow, you know right away that this lot haven't got the attitude to
make it to the top of the hit parade. A Cholmondeley-Warner voiceover
narrates the tragi-comic escapades of the Span with a brilliantly
dispassionate cynicism: "A hit for the Span could propel them from abject
poverty and nervous breakdowns to a life of luxury," he surmises. But the
hit never comes. The blame for this appears to lie with their manager,
Mike Stuart, a man so consumed by narcissism that he renames his charges
after himself. "They're the Mike Stuart Span of course!" he beams to the
camera when asked who the hell these jokers are. "And they're gonna be
grrreeat!" Mike Stuart looks and acts almost exactly like Leslie Crowther
on The Price Is Right and who uses dialogue that Austin Powers would
consider corny. "We've got Brian on guitar who's an absolute knockout!"
he enthuses while clicking along at a Span gig like your dad at a disco.
These were the days when young men were falling over themselves to be the
next Beatles, while older men (like Mike) were falling over themselves to
make a fast buck. "We've got a five-year contract with Mike to be our
manager," explains Brian. "It can only be terminated by mutual consent.
Or under exceptional circumstances, like if Mike just needs to drop us
completely. . . for some reason." They might appear naive but the Span
see themselves as fully aware of the industry's darker workings. "There
are queers in the business," says Brian, earnestly. "There are queer
bands. We know that. Some people play up to the queers. I myself have
been approached by the same gentleman twice." But despite their knockout
guitarist, groovy manager and knowing suspicion of homosexuals, the
Span's story ends sadly. They eventually sack Mike and change their name
to Leviathan. The final scene shows Mike sitting alone in his darkened
flat watching Leviathan perform on TV. "They should give it up and go
back to the building sites," he announces.
London Weekend Show: Punk (1976)
"You wouldn't have thought there was much that could shock a person in
1976!" grins a youthful Janet Street-Porter in this seminal episode of
her 1970s cultural series. To test this theory, the show's opening line,
delivered by Johnny Rotten, is "Hello cunts". It might be bleeped out and
directed at his live audience rather than the viewers but, as a show
opener, it beats "Nice to see you, to see you nice". Impressively,
Street-Porter is right there at the birth of punk rock, interviewing the
Sex Pistols in the first few months of their success and the Clash just a
few months after their formation. Observing the punk melee with a mixture
of confusion and enthusiasm, she attends a Pistols gig at the 100 Club.
While Vivienne Westwood cavorts on stage in leather hot- pants and a
young lady sashays about the throng in a gimp mask, Street-Porter stands
to one side sporting a Deirdre Barlow hair and specs combo and a baggy
T-shirt with "Punk!" written on it in big white letters. Johnny Rotten
has a firm belief in the Pistols' agenda from the start. "What do you
think of Rod Stewart?" asks Street-Porter after the gig. "He's an
all-round entertainer, ain't he?" begins Steve Jones sarcastically. "He's
an old fucking cunt," Rotten interrupts wearily. Next comes Siouxsie
Sioux explaining the formation of her new band in a London cafe. "We're
called Siouxsie And The Banshees," she says. "Sid Vicious on drums, Steve
Spunker on bass, Marco on guitar and me on vocals. We just played the
Lord's Prayer via Twist And Shout, Knocking On Heaven's Door and a bit of
Deutschland Uber Alles. I'd never sung on stage before." These are the
founding fathers of punk verbalising the spirit of the times to a
petrified television audience. It's gripping stuff.
"Why do you hate hippies?" Street-Porter asks the Clash.
"I suppose it's not their fault," ponders Mick Jones. "They smoked too
"Yeah," snarls Paul Simenon. "Lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling,
having a wank."
Street-Porter asks what might become of the punk generation once they
find fame and fortune.
"I don't need a Rolls-Royce, I don't need a house in the country, I don't
need to live in the south of France," insists Rotten. "I'm quite happy as
"In Finsbury Park?" asks his band mate Paul Cooke.
"I don't live in Finsbury Park!" Rotten spits back.
Johnny Rotten now lives in California.
The Dolly Mixtures (1983)
"We are the Dolly Mixture gang, we are three girls who play in a band!"
chirp the Dolly Mixtures over the show's opening titles. A prototype
Elastica, the Mixtures were an all-female three-piece with plums in their
mouths and DMs on their feet. This documentary followed them for a year
in a bid to highlight the struggles of women in the male-dominated music
business. But if the film-maker wanted something political he chose the
wrong bunch of girls. "At first, the Dolly Mixtures got attention for all
the wrong reasons," says the voiceover. "The press tried to portray them
as dolly birds straight from the pages of the fashion magazines." Some
relatively tame photo-shoots are displayed in a bid to suggest sexist
exploitation but the girls are having none of it. "Yes, we've heard
people say we wore skirts to attract the boys!" they laugh. "Do record
company bosses refuse to talk to you because you're musicians. . . or
because you're women?" asks the frustrated interviewer in a bid to draw
out some semblance of a political point. "Erm, probably because we're
musicians but. . . erm. . . I'm not sure," smiles the bassist, who bears
an uncanny resemblance to Rik Mayall in The Young Ones. This is
rock'n'roll the Thatcher way, where naked ambition is nothing to be
ashamed of. "What is success?" asks the interviewer, trying to get all
philosophical. "We just want a lot of people to like us, basically," they
reply. As much as the makers of this film would probably have liked to
see the Dolly Mixtures story end in tears, it doesn't. Just as they're
about to be dropped by their label, Captain Sensible asks them to sing
backing vocals on his cover of Happy Talk. It goes to No 1 and the girls
join him on Top Of The Pops. Their ambitions are thus fulfilled and the
documentary-maker is left wondering why he didn't make a programme about
Amazulu instead. *
Saint Etienne presents Gonna Make You A Star on Jun 7, 14 & 21 at the
Barbican Centre, London
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