I’m convinced that just about everything looks better in hindsight. It definitely comes across that way in things like documentaries covering the lives of tyrants and scoundrels, often glossing over the bad stuff in favor of highlighting their unhappy childhoods. The same thing can apply to music. Often times, a band you thought you hated comes across much cooler when put to film or in a Behind The Music type of segment. Such is the case with this month’s feature, which focuses on the excellent new release Soul Boys of the Western World, a documentary on new wave mavens Spandau Ballet. Check it out, along with a few askew horror goodies, obscure excavations and other things.
While I can appreciate a fair amount of the ’80s new wave stuff (much to the chagrin of some of my punk-purist friends), I was never a fan of Spandau Ballet. The reasons were two-fold. First, there was the band’s name. I get that having the name of a German district where Nazi war criminals were held, in the band’s moniker could be construed as edgy. But the “Ballet” part struck me as overly ironic and totally un-rock ‘n’ roll. Coupled with singer Tony Hadley’s mushy croon, the combo did nothing for me.
As an aside, the term “New Wave” itself is kind of a misnomer. Coined by journalists of the day, it was a neat and tidy way to categorize the poppier post-punk stuff coming out after punk’s original first wave, at the dawn of the ’80s. But there was a lot more to it than that, and the styles contained within were all over the map, many as valid as the next in forging new musical boundaries. I tend to favor some of the darker or more idiosyncratic artists of the day, stuff like early Adam and the Ants, New Order, Depeche Mode, Squeeze, Ultravox and even bits of Duran Duran. From the little exposure I had, Spandau Ballet just seemed ultra-corporate and tame, lacking the rock star personas that even arch rivals Duran Duran had going. But after popping in Soul Boys of the Western World, my views have changed.
Directed by George Hencken, long-time cohort and collaborator of filmmaker Julian Temple, who helmed the Sex Pistols films, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury, Soul Boys follows Spandau from its humble, working-class beginnings in depressed 1970s London, up through the fashion-savvy New Romantic scene, to superstardom, internal difficulties, break-up and redemption.
Through a mix of archival footage, interviews, vignettes and concert clips, Soul Boys paints a comprehensive picture of the band and its inner workings. And it works a charm in displaying the different sides of the band and has impacted my opinion on singer Tony Hadley. The early days of Spandau Ballet were far more akin to the gritty, DIY approach of the first-wave punk scene, and the band’s early sounds were far darker (think a pop-infused Joy Division) than the Vegas-style lounge pop of later years. And Hadley was absolutely the right man for the job. He brought to it some of the theatrical flair that was needed to lift it out of the basements and onto the big stage.
The film features loads of high-quality early footage from promoter Steve Strange’s landmark New Romantic scene, offering keen insights into how the band went over big with the speed-fueled fashion hounds, androgynistas and street deviants of the day—a far cry from the mainstream status it would achieve just a few years later.
Soul Boys also puts a human face on the band by focusing on the members’ personal relationships in a candid and honest manner. While Hadley may have been the primary face of the band, it was guitarist Gary Kemp who really drove things as principal songwriter. As the film depicts, Spandau began as a band of brothers united in a common cause, until Kemp’s ego eventually took over. And when he and his brother—and Spandau bass player—Martin landed starring roles in the successful film The Krays, it was all down hill from there. As the film progresses, we see the band begin to fall apart, enter into legal conflicts and finally…redeem itself.
The film’s deft handling of the Spandau Ballet legacy makes for an entertaining and honest film that should appeal to anyone interested in rock ‘n’ roll and the trials and tribulations that go into being in a band. The DVD (MPI) does not have much in the way of extras, but the film is more than comprehensive—for fans of Spandau or otherwise.
More recent releases…
Lambert & Stamp
Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert were aspiring filmmakers during the early ’60s in search of subject matter for a new film project. Their discovery consisted of a little-know band that would soon become The Who, forever altering the rock ‘n’ roll landscape. The pair would go on to manage and mentor for years to come. This documentary is chock full of insightful interviews, plus rare footage of the band and the times, making it an essential document of the period. But on top of that, it’s just great storytelling loaded with twists, turns and more than a few funny bits. Extras include a Q&A with Henry Rollins and director James D. Cooper. (Sony)
As the final credits of this stunning little indie rolled on, all I could think of was “What in the hell did I just see?” Artist Amy has been abused, psychologically and—most likely—sexually. She copes with the trauma by creating strange, androgynous sex-themed costumes, and messing with people. Just when things begin to look up, Amy gets a new dose of harsh reality, and her fragile mental state leads to deadly consequences.
Felt is a true one-of-a-kind. For a low-budget flick, this one has it all—solid acting, a surreal aura and an interesting premise, one that speaks to the kind of shit women have to deal with throughout their lives. (Anchor Bay)
A writer gets knocked out and can’t remember the events leading up to it. Did he kill his wife in a brutal manner, or is he the victim himself? This bargain-basement indie does a lot with its low budget, crafting a solid neo-noir mystery in the process. While the plot points are a little too convenient in spots—especially in the fairly weak ending, there’s enough happening to reel you in nevertheless. (MVD)
Phantom of the Opera
While there have been loads of remakes and re-imaginings, nothing tops this, the original 1929 version of Phantom of the Opera starring horror king Lon Chaney. A seamy mix or horror and romance, this version of the Phantom still stands as one of the great horror films of all time. First, there’s the Phantom himself. Chaney created his own makeup for the role, forever cementing the twisted image into the horror pantheon. Restored from the original 35mm components, this Blu-ray presents the OG classic in pristine hi-def. This two-disc set also includes the original silent version of the film from 1925 in its best possible form. (Kino)
The Satan Bug
Years before 12 Monkeys and the viral-horror trend, The Satan Bug was spreading its seed on seamy drive-in screens across the country. This big Hollywood production starring Dana Andrews was released in 1965. Equal parts Sci-Fi and thriller, the story follows a madman activist bent on poisoning US cities with a deadly microbe. Now it’s up to our heroes to stop this lunatic before it all goes bad. This new Blu-ray release features the film in all its prophetic glory and looks great in crisp hi-def. (Kino)
The Decent One
With Presidential primaries starting in a few months, it’s always good to take a look back to make sure we don’t repeat past mistakes. Heinrich Himmler was first and foremost the Nazi architect of the Holocaust. But, he was also an insecure and self-loathing heel of a man, always concerned about what others thought. In 1945, the US Army occupied his family home in Gmund Germany where they found hundreds of letters, diaries, documents and pictures.
Director Vanessa Lapa makes use of these artifacts to illustrate the inner workings of this little worm and ironically, how he viewed himself as a good person, or “The Decent One.” While the film doesn’t add a ton to what we already know about this dark period of humankind, it is interesting to see how a sad-sack of a human being could rise so high and thus negatively affect the destinies of millions of people…something to think about in these next elections for sure. (Kino)
This HBO series may not measure up to some of the network’s heavier hitters such as Game of Thrones or The Wire, but it’s definitely got potential. Two percent of the world’s population has mysteriously disappeared with no explanation in sight. From there, shit gets even stranger with the rise of religious sects and paranoid zealots intent on making their own sense of the occurrence. Justin Theroux stars as Police Chief Garvey whose own family has splintered because of it and all of the skullfuckery that ensues. The Leftovers crosses Sci-Fi, drama and psychological thriller, and works well on several levels. (HBO)
I have to concede that TV has gotten a hell of lot more interesting since I begrudgingly decided to fork out extra cash for expanded cable a while back. The Cold War–flavored Deutschland 83 on the Sundance Channel is a prime example. This German-language thriller/drama (yep, it’s not in English) follows an East German soldier who becomes a spy in the West German army. Packed with some truly tense moments as well as some killer twists, this little show is sure to gain a wider audience next season. For now, you can catch it all on DVD, and check out the cool ’80s soundtrack as you watch. (Kino Lorber)
20th Anniversary Edition
Before she was mega-famous, Angelina Jolie starred in this peculiar teenage thriller. Released in 1995, most of us knew very little about this thing called the Internet—let alone what a hacker was. Thus, the film uses this mysterious new medium as its central theme, playing up tech-inspired fashion and early web-isms such as “Cyberspace.”
Jolie and her cohorts hack somewhere they shouldn’t and soon get framed for a crime they did not commit. Obviously aimed at teens, the film plays more like an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 than anything eerie or menacing. And while it lacks some of the pomp and quirkiness the ’80s teen films of John Hughes and the like, it does offer some clever sets and a few unintentionally funny bits. (Shout! Factory)
Ascension follows a 100-year space mission to colonize a new planet in the event that the Cold War becomes hot. When one of the ship’s own gets murdered, all begins to go awry. Full of fun visuals, special effects and enough obligatory skin to satiate TV viewers, Ascension offers an interesting premise for a rather fantastical—if not melodramatic—TV show. (Lionsgate)
The film that broke Brooke Shields as an international icon finally gets a DVD release. Long out of print, Pretty Baby (1978) turned more than a few heads with its portrayal of the 12-year-old Shields as a wise-beyond-her–years child prostitute. Racy for its time, the film’s treatment of its subject matter is thoughtful and gentle, which saved it from easily veering into much darker territory. This new release showcases the film in all its melancholy glory. (Warner Archive)
While not quite as major as Brooke Shields, Margaux Hemingway turned more than a few heads during the ’70s for her cool demeanor and traffic-stopping looks. Lipstick marks her film debut, starring as a high-fashion model that not only gets assaulted by a creep, but is raked over the coals by the justice system itself. In spite of its high-gloss major-studio approach, it’s still a sad commentary on the struggle rape victims must often deal with during the aftermath. But, there is some satisfying redemption to be had, even if it has a very Hollywood feel to it. Long out of print, Lipstick can now be experienced on DVD. (Warner Archive)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a note at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. See you next month, JK.