Agony Shorthand

Friday, September 26, 2003
A BIG BRONX CHEER FOR THE WORST ROCK MOVIES THIS CENTURY….I don’t think I’ve got it in me to compile a list of the worst Rock & Roll-themed movies of all time, but I certainly have an idea about the worst of recent, 21st Century vintage. That’s easy: “24 Hour Party People” and Todd Haynes’ (an otherwise beyond-reproach director) “Velvet Goldmine” (which is actually from 1998). Both looked so promising, too: the former was directed by Michael Winterbottom (“The Claim” and “Welcome to Sarajevo”) and dealt with the rise and fall and rise again of the Manchester, UK punk and post-punk music scene; the latter was loosely linked to the glam era & had fictional representations of Iggy Pop (“Curt Wild”), Bowie and others of the time. My wife and I watched “24 Hour Party People” a few months ago and kept looking at each other in disbelief – “what the f**k is this film about??”. Sure, there’s a fake Sex Pistols, a fake Joy Division and even a fake Durutti Column (!), and then a whole mess of fake “Happy Mondays” that’s the final nail in the coffin. Not because it’s “fake” per se, but because Winterbottom invests their fictional personalities with dozens of random one-liners that are completely apropos of nothing, and because it’s almost impossible to generate any sympathy or feeling for Manchester scene celeb Tony Wilson, who “hosts” the entire film (played by Steve Coogan). He’s not funny, he’s not interesting, he’s just – there. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a disjointed mess of a film – ostensibly it’s about Wilson and his “larger than life” role in developing the Manchester scene, but if you can make it through the final 10 minutes you have a higher pain threshold than we did. It was that bad – we couldn’t even stomach the final death throes just to say we completed it.

“Velvet Goldmine” was not that bad, just a big flaccid letdown after a lot of hype (we rushed to see it on opening weekend, before all the bad reviews came in). Ewan McGregor as Iggy Pop? Sounds good to me – but his brief cameo mugging and grunting and sticking out his tongue through a bogus “TV Eye” is just abominable. You’ll be begging to watch him get flogged again in “The Pillow Book” after suffering through this performance. The film spirals into a homoerotic “mystery” featuring the disappearance of the Bowie-like glam star at the height of his popularity, and the dogged reporter determined to crack the case. That is, when Haynes even sticks to that flimsy story. I don’t have a problem with Todd Haynes at all – his “Safe” was a fantastic, mind-boggling film, and “Poison”, “Far From Heaven” and of course “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” were fine as well. But watching Jonathan Rhys-Myers pouting like a decadent Roman God and making kissy faces at the camera for 2 hours while muttering more apropos-of-nothing dialogue (do you sense a pet peeve?) was just too much. This is arguably not a rock and roll film, so it’s probably more a problem of how it was marketed. If you haven’t been flimflammed into seeing this one yet, don’t bother. Whew. That’s enough ranting for today. Any more nominees for worst rock film of all time?