‘Elvis’, the trailer, plus a film about music made by a grown up


What a joy to be able to see the world as Baz Luhrmann does, through the eyes of a 9 year old boy. Many 9 and 10 year olds note what pleasure they get from eating the icing on a cake. And they have the brilliant idea of asking for one made of nothing else. 

But they note their parent’s weary dismissal of that idea, and they spend a few years investigating gastronomy, learning about appetite and acquiring taste. And they come to appreciate that pleasure without pain, light without darkness and euphoric highs without the depths of despair simply cannot be. They are mutually dependent.

The Velvet Underground, Nica and Andy Warhol

But Lurhmann has said, sod that. I’m staying just as I am. And he’s spotted how much we all enjoy watching music videos and movie trailers, and he’s had the brilliant idea of making feature length versions of them. 

So we got Romeo + Juliette, which manages to defang Shakespeare’s play of its tragedy, and turn it into a poptastic costume fest. Then there was Moulin Rouge, which was a 2 hour music video, pure and simple. Likewise The Great Gatsby

Which, I have to confess, I’ve not been able to actually sit through. So it’s perfectly possible that it’s a carefully considered and thoughtful meditation on doomed youth and fin de siècle disillusionment. But I’m going out on a limb, and presuming that it’s just A N Other 2 hour plus music video.

The Velvet Underground and Nico

And now we have 2 ¾ hour movie trailer about Elvis. So, as with any trailer, you get told immediately who the goodies and baddies are. And every line of dialogue is on the nose and means exactly what it says – just like this sentence. And every frame is stuffed full of information, because you’ve only got two minutes to tell the audience about all the different elements in your story. 

Only it doesn’t go on for two minutes. This is kept up for nearly three hours. There’s stuff stuffed into every frame and on every corner of the soundtrack. It’s like watching a teenage boy who’s just been shown what all the buttons do in his editing software. And so pleased is he with all the effects they can produce, that he can’t stop pressing them, repeatedly. And he’s completely oblivious to the reaction of his parents when he shows them what he’s done.

It’s relentless in its blind bombardment of the senses, and the tedium that results is incessant and mind-numbing.

The Velvet Underground

I always admire though rarely warm to the films of Todd Haynes. But his eponymous documentary on The Velvet Underground is an unqualified joy from start to finish. Serious music from an extraordinary collective who came together at a fascinating moment in time. 

Structured in an appropriately left of field way, it’s a quietly intelligent and thoughtful film about a uniquely influential band. Their first album is one of the great works of art of the 20th century. And remarkably, this film does them justice. 

Watching it after sitting through Elvis is like dropping your child off at a birthday party, only to be greeted there by the excited stare of the birthday boy, as he offers you a slice of his solid icing cake. When suddenly, you’re taken by the elbow and gently led out into the back garden, where you’re handed an ice cold beer and a glass of Jameson. And you sit down together and lean back to contemplate the stars.

You can see the trailer for The Velvet Underground below:

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Glen Campbell, Musical Prodigy, Majestic Singer and another Superb Doc from BBC4.

glen-campbellGlen Campbell was one of the most sought after musicians of the 1960s. He played lead guitar on The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas and on Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night. At one point, he ended up touring with the Beach Boys having replaced Brian Wilson as the latter descended into Stygian darkness.

Raised literally dirt poor, in so far as he and his eleven siblings were permanently caked in mud form the fields where they all worked, Campbell moved to Los Angeles to become a star after establishing himself as a musical prodigy.

But his first four albums failed to register. So like many before him, he became a session musician, and was one of the core musicians in what came to be known as the Wrecking Crew.

51IMviBowvL._SL500_SS500_These were the professional musicians and backing vocalists who, famously, Phil Spector and all the major record producers in Los Angeles relied on at the time. It was their sound that the kids were unwittingly listening to when they bought all those hit records.

The Monkees in other words were very much the norm, and not the exception.

But there was one person who’d fallen for Campbell’s unloved debut solo album, Turn Around Look At Me. A 14 year-old boy, who dreamt of one day becoming a songwriter, had listened to it endlessly. And when the now 21 year old Jimmy Webb eventually teamed up with Campbell seven years later, they began one of the most fruitful relationships in modern pop.

Songs like By The Time I Get to Phoenix and The Wichita Lineman would see the pair sent into the pop stratosphere. And Campbell, after years of hard graft, became an overnight success.

He was the perfect antidote to the suspicion and paranoia that the 60s became increasingly mired in. And, with his good looks, wholesome image, and gently conservative demeanour he was soon hosting one of the most successful TV shows of the day.

Inevitably though, as the 60s drifted bolshily into the 70s Campbell’s star was on the wane. But in 1975 he was given a brief reprieve, as his record label had one last stab at reviving his career. The result was Rhinestone Cowboy, a song that sounded like it was revealingly autobiographical. It wasn’t of course. It was written by the young Larry Weiss.

lThe conventional nose-dive into drink, drugs and dubious marriages followed. But a blind date with the prim and pretty Kim Woollen would see his spirit and his life revived, resuscitated  and re-born. And although Alzheimer’s has brought his touring to a premature end, for the most part this was a story with a happy ending.

Glen Campbell: The Rhinestone Cowboy was another in a long line of perfectly pitched portraits of musical greats. And it follows hot on the heels of a brilliant Storyville programme on the genuinely inspiring figure of Harry Belafonte. And, if you missed either of these two excellent BBC4 programmes, keep an eye out for them.

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