Good Vibrations (dir. Lisa Barras D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, 2013)

Watched today, on a library rental.

The 1970s is often characterised in flims as a naff-but-fun era of platforms, flares, and orange – but the truth could not be more removed. For Britain, it was also characterised by national strikes, a failing economy, devaluation of sterling, and power shortages. And if you lived in Northern Ireland, it was brutally coloured by a civil war between two sides. And musically, its seen as the era of Disco – but whilst that was firing up the transatlantic dance scene, something more aggressive and spirited was happening on this side of the pond: Punk. But while everyone lauds the Sex Pistols and the Clash, some of the most interesting bands came from Northern Ireland, thanks to the hard work and belief of one man. Good Vibrations is the tale of Terri Dooley, a record store owner and entrepreuner who saw another way of trying to heal ripped relations in the community – music. 

This film very much watches as a collection of vignettes – Dooley’s attempts to set up his shop; his pushing to get local bands signed; and his attempts to try and stage concerts despite the threats and intimidation occurring nightly. But there are some wonderful moments – the discovery of the Undertones, whose “Teenage Kicks” was described by legendary DJ John Peel as the greatest ever song recorded. His pushing to get Belfast bands Rudi and the Outcasts on to television. And it finishes with a packed Ulster Hall, with Dooley informing the audience – “there are no leaders. We’re together.” This is the spirit of Punk – the DIY, anyone can do it attitude that now seems to have found a home on the internet. But it also shows how precarious his position was – the scene were Dooley is threatened by a pair of NF members was chilling. Real footage of bombings is interspersed with the film. 

The film is well crafted – the setting of 70s Belfast is spot on, and Richard Dormer, as Dooley, radiates charisma. This is a tale of hope – the hope that in a fractured, violent atmosphere, something can pull people together and make them realise that something is worth joining for. Music. If you ever wondered if music is a universal language, then watch this film. Right now. 

Compliance (dir. Craig Zobel, 2013)

Watched yesterday afternoon on a Lovefilm rental.

To say this is a shocking, disturbing, compelling film is not an understatement. It left me gripped, wanting it to end but also desperately wanting it to end happily. Based on the bizarre true story of the strips search prank call scam, this really will leave you wondering what to do the next time the phone rings – and it claims to be the police. The way that people will jump if they feel they are being addressed by a figure of authority is fascinating, and Zobel cuts to the heart of this.

Its another day at a fast food retailer, ChickWich, in an anonymous retail park in nowheresville, USA. The manager, Sandra (a terrific Ann Dowd), is already harrassed by a broken down freezer and fearful of a secret shopper. Barking orders at her staff, she is called by “Officer Daniels”, a cop who claims an upset customer has accused pretty 19 year old Becky (Dreama Walker) of stealing from her. Sandra takes Becky into the back, and agrees to help the police until they get there…and a nightmare starts, which escalates from questioning to searching to a sexual assault. As other employees, and finally, Sandra’s fiance are dragged in, the caller is revealed – an ordinary suburban Joe, who is never identified except under his psuedonym. More creepily, he is shown making sandwiches, drinking from his Dad mug…whilst giving out orders of abuse. Finally, burly trucker Harold realises its a scam, and alerts the actual police.

What makes this shocking is that Zobel has used a true story. This happened 70 times across 30 states, until an arrest was made in 2004. Frightening and disturbing, Compliance makes you wonder why we automatically jump if someone claims to be the police…and why we do it.

Brilliantly disturbing. Watch it.

Lovelace (Dirs. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2013)

 

Seen today, at Bristol Watershed.

Its pretty safe to assume that most people have heard the name Linda Lovelace…even if they’ve never seen the skin flick classic Deep Throat. In 1972, Lovelace became the first pornographic superstar, with the film becoming a success and making over $600 million dollars. Her fresh faced girl next door looks were a selling point in a world of plastic blondes. Lovelace found herself thrust to the forefront of the 70s Sexual Revolution – although many feminists argued she was a pawn peddling a mysogynistic fantasy. Lovelace is a brutal and grimily compelling look at her life. And unlike previous films about porn, this isn’t a day glo fantasy of wacky eccentrics and lustful women. This is dark, sleazy, and disturbing.

Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) is a 21 year old living with her Catholic, working class parents, and craving excitement. She finds it in the form of the older, somewhat mysterious Chuck Traynor (Peter Saarsgard). After leaving home, her life suddenly starts taking on a new dimension. Taken to an audition, Boreman finds herself thrust into the world of porn, leading to the shooting of Deep Throat. Hailed as a celebrity, she parties with Hugh Hefner (James Franco) and makes money…

…Except we then flip back to the beginning. On her wedding night, Traynor beats her up. At a club, he pimps her out to a travelling salesman. And as for the audition – she has no idea what she’s doing. And when she protests, Traynor – a violent coke head and part time pimp – beats her. One of the most disturbing scenes is the wrap party – the producers are next door, hearing thumping sounds. They assume the couple are having sex. They’re not – Traynor is repeatedly throwing Lovelace into a wall.

The film is beautifully made. The eye burning colours of the early 70s are present and correct, and the film also shows the making of Deep Throat. It gets it pitch perfect – the wooden acting, banal dialogue, and glossy production. Its worth remembering that Throat was popular due to its attempts to incorporate character and humour into what were previously just shots of people fucking. And the performances are excellent. Chris Noth is a fatherly producer. James Franco is typically eccentric as Hefner. Robert Patrick and Sharon Stone are subtle as Lovelace’s worried and estranged parents. But the real powerhouse is Saarsgard, whose Traynor, a thug motivated by greed, is disturbing and shocking. Seyfried conveys both naivety and despair. And if you’ve never seen Deep Throat, you really won’t want to watch it after this. The film also nukes some commonly held social myths about the early 70s. The perception that women were liberated is scotch – Lovelace is told by her mother, in one painful scene, that a husband is “to obey.” Liberated woman or sex slave? Hmmm.

Highly recommended.