The British Pop Music Film – The Beatles and Beyond
By Stephen Glynn
Palgrave Macmillan – £55.00
As a contextual analysis of Britain’s musical film genre, this thorough examination really does constitute a wide terrain that in all honesty, may be something of a first in its field. Simply dripping with fact, substance and enthusiasm, it’s a must read for anyone remotely interested in Britain’s contribution to rock’n’roll on film.
From Cliff Richard’s A Summer Holiday to The Who’s Quadrophenia, from The Beatles A Hard Day’s Night to the ghastly Spice Girls’ Spice World, Stephen Glynn – who is the author of A Hard Day’s Night: The British Film Guide (2004) and a monograph on Quadrophenia (forthcoming) – has left no cinematic stone unturned.
Written chronologically, the initial idiom of (what on page three, Dick Hebdige has termed) ”youth-as-fun and youth-as-trouble,” The British Pop Music Film – The Beatles and Beyond kicks off with 1957’s Kill Me Tomorrow starring Pat O’Brien and featuring the acting debut of one Tommy Steele, and concludes with 2012’s Ill Manors, written and directed by none other than the hip hop artist/soul singer Plan B, aka Ben Drew. In between, the 212 pages of this very readable book, traverse the socio-politico, musical highs and lows of a genre, that, for all intents and purposes, has more often than not been given short cinematic/critical shrift. But, as Gylnn states in the book’s ‘Conclusion: Music Matters’: ”This study contends that the films in which these musical performances are embedded, long considered of minimal cultural worth, are themselves important sites of cultural negotiation and historical record. They and their own ‘offspring,’ developing from their first uncertain steps to the sophisticated intertextuality of their postmodern afterlife, merit not only conservation or academic consideration, but also celebration.”
Needless to say, perhaps not all of the films considered herein fall under the same descriptive umbrella as to ”merit not only conservation or academic consideration,” let alone ”celebration.” The aforementioned Spice World being a prime example; of which at the polar end stands The Beatles’ 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine – upon which the author sheds an abundance of well considered, critical light.
In Chapter Four (‘The Decadent Pop Music Film: Politics, Psychedelia and Performance’), Glynn intuitively and assertively writes: ”For Ian Christie it was ‘an absolute joy… the best film the Beatles never made.’ Alexander Walker was not alone in claiming that the film captured the Zeitgeist: ‘Yellow Submarine is the key film of the Beatles era. It’s a trip through the contemporary mythology that the quartet from Merseyside have helped create… a pop voyage that sails under the psychedelic colours of Carnaby Street to the turned-on music of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ It combines sensory stimulation with the art of the now in a way that that will appeal to teenage ravers and Tate Gallery goers alike.’ The film was indeed reviewed in Nigel Gosling’s Observer Art Column: he gave the work a new title, ‘mop art, for it succeeds in soaking up acres of the fringe material thrown off by serious painting developments and putting them to such effective use that they are at the same time both valid and exhausted.’ That final caveat was picked up by several critics who saw the film as just too inventive for its own good: Cecil Wilson, for example, confessed that ‘towards the end I began to lose concentration and sank back punch-drunk from the dazzling imagery.”
Being in a position to read the above analysis in just one section of the book, partially accounts for The British Pop Music Film’s validity. Likewise, much of the writing, which, regardless of musical persuasion, never strays too far from that of a tenable, if not trusted critique. The latter of which, is another important contribution to this book’s validity.
At the end of the day as well as at end of most non-fiction books, one wants to instinctively know that one is in very well-researched and reliable hands – of which this is a genuinely fine example. As Barry Faulk of Florida State University has written on the back cover: ”This book should be read with profit by film scholars and students of genre studies, as well as enjoyed by pop music and movie fans. Glynn provides expert commentary on the most significant films in the British rock movie genre, deftly weaving insightful discussions of popular music, counter-culture politics, and British social history into his narrative. His enthusiasm and deep interest in the topic is everywhere apparent.”
Indeed, the fact that Stephen Glynn is so knowledgeable and enthused about his subject, makes this book a veritable joy to read, learn from and ultimately enjoy.