By Andrew Stevens.
Garry Mulholland, Popcorn: Fifty Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies, Orion Books, 2010
Popcorn ostensibly arose as a means for music journalist Garry Mulholland (already the author of This is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco and Fear of Music: The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk and Disco) to marry his dayjob with his lifetime passion for film. Or publish another book of lists, you decide. As Mulholland concedes, a book about the 100 Greatest Rock and Roll Movies of All Time might be a big ask to compile as there haven’t been 100 great rock and roll movies. Instead, Popcorn reads like a pub conversation about the whole spectrum of rock and roll films since the 1950s, brought to a handy rounded out conclusion with Telstar in 2009. So not so much rock in films (i.e. Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ in The Breakfast Club or ‘New Gold Dream’ in The Informers) as films about rock. Starting with The Girl Can’t Help It in 1956 (as opposed to Blackboard Jungle a year earlier, suggesting the ready scope for heated debate as part of that pub conservation), a vehicle for Jayne Mansfield’s “unfeasibly large breasts” the author argues, it covers pop star biopics, musicals, rockumentaries and scene overviews. The book inevitably takes in The Young Ones and Yellow Submarine as part of the decade long infatuation with The Popstar and is also at pains to include the likes of Beat Girl and Privilege (ranking the latter as the “best ever made”) as overlooked gems, in spite of their recent BFI re-release treatment (Privilege better than Performance or This is Spinal Tap, really?) In spite of its breathless canter through the last half century or so, pretty much covering the entire alliance between guitars and the moving image (and beatboxes on occasion cf. 1982’s Wild Style), he finds room for such fare as Confessions of a Pop Performer, Timmy Lea’s antics can tell you more about Britain in the three day week/three channel 1970s than Slade in Flame ever could. Which in itself displays the crucial flaw in the book itself, that it manages to at least present a pumped up thread of Performance, Gimme Shelter, Cocksucker Blues, Jubilee, The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, Rude Boy, Sid and Nancy, Velvet Goldmine, The Filth and The Fury and DiG!, all of which lend themselves to a valid continuum but share a word count with Footloose and Spiceworld: The Movie, which doubtlessly require examination as part of Mulholland’s mission to explain the worst excesses of cinematic history (Spiceworld, not Footloose, which formed an essential part of any 80s childhood). But there is a pleasing willingness to extend the remit to films like Babylon, which not rock and roll in the strict musical sense but align themselves with its agenda. As sometime Spinal Tap drummer Mick Shrimpton remarked from his bath “I used to say “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”. As long as there’s sex and drugs, I can do without rock and roll.” Mulholland’s book at least demonstrates all three have been in abundance as far as cinema was concerned over the past 55 years.
First posted: Saturday, May 1st, 2010.