Parky At the Pictures (5/8/2022)
Updated: Aug 7
(Reviews of Joyrde; Give Them Wings; Suzanne Daveau; and Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC)
With Covid levels dropping, it's safe(ish) to presume that cinema-going is once again a thing - even in uncivilised temperatures. Thankfully, however, the UK's various streaming platforms are still doing sterling work. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation are all ready to keep you entertained.
A problem-beset adult hits the Irish road with a kid who is wise beyond his years. Not a reissue of Dave Minogue's Poster Boys (2020), but Emer Reynolds's Joyride, which brings together in a stolen taxi lawyer Joy (Olivia Colman), who is driving her newborn, but unwanted daughter to her adoptive mother before heading for a holiday in Lanzarote and Andrew `Mully' Mulligan (Charlie Reid), a tweenager who has taken charge of the money raised for his late mother's hospice charity to prevent his deadbeat father (Lochlann Ó Mearáin) from pocketing it.
The conclusion is inevitable before barely a third of the premise has been outlined and screenwriter Ailbhe Keogan is forced to pad out this meandering road movie with contrived obstacles, quaint encounters and earnest heart-to-hearts that often leave Colman and Reid (who beat 1500 others to the role) wading kneedeep through the Oirish clichés. Yet, in coming of age in their own fashion, the pair mostly manage to rise above the mawkish predictability and establish a rapport that even survives the improbable sequence in which Mully teaches Joy to breast feed.
Despite the paucity of wit and charm and the strained jollity of Ray Harman's busybodying score, cinematographer James Mather does justice to the Kerry countryside, while Ruth McCabe, Tommy Tiernan and Olwen Fouéré respectively provide solid support as Joy's flashback mother, a ferryman with a tin whistle and a sympathetic ear with a can of lager.
Making her feature debut after forging her reputation as an editor, Reynolds shows little of the inspiration she brought to such excellent documentaries as the Emmy-winning The Farthest (2018), about the remarkable journey into the Solar System of Voyager 1, and Songs For While I'm Away (2020), about Thin Lizzy frontman, Phil Lynott. No doubt, she'll do better next time round, providing the material's less flimsy.
GIVE THEM WINGS.
Paul Hodgson is a remarkable man. Diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis at seven months, he was only given a short time to live. Over 55 years later, he has not only written an autobiography, Flippers Side (2000), but he has also helped adapt it for the screen as Give Them Wings, with Tony Waddington and director Sean Cronin.
This is Hodgson's second collaboration with hard-man actor Cronin after the 2015 true-life short, An Unfortunate Woman, and the second time he has reworked his life story on film, after he co-scripted Dan Perry's short, Darlo Till I Die (2011), which reflected his passion for Darlington FC. Seven years in the making, this crowdfunded feature has its fanciful moments and is far from perfect. But it's also an engaging account of overcoming overwhelming odds with a sense of self-deprecating positivity.
Ever since Dr Markum (Bruce Payne) broke the bad news in the mid-1960s, Norman Hodgson (Bill Fellows) has always felt robbed of a son. Consequently, he has become a workshy, dart-throwing grouch, who has little time for the twentysomething Paul (Daniel Watson), who is confined to a wheelchair and hampered by a speech impediment. Much to the chagrin of his sister, Karen (Rachel Warren), mum Alice (Toyah Willcox) dotes exclusively on Paul and helps him type applications for a job that he hopes will bring him a sense of independence.
Refusing to see himself as a victim, Paul is a die-hard Darlington fan and volunteers at the Quakers' training ground. He also likes a pint with pal Ian Carter (Jacob Anderton) and enjoys a natter with neighbours Ernest (Jonathan Hansler and Ethel Hogg (Debra Stephenson). However, he sees less of them after he gets a job as a civil servant and is offered a council flat. He also persuades Alice to leave Norman and move in with him. But they don't get to revel in their new life for long, as Alice (who has been showing signs of Alzheimer's) suffers a stroke shortly after Paul is beaten up by some rival fans (ringlead by a cameoing Cronin).
Paul takes a shine to Alice's night carer, Jane (Katie Sheridan), who is married to an older man. But their tentative romance comes to an abrupt end after they're spotted kissing in a pub and, while still mourning his mother, Paul spends a month in a coma after taking an overdose of pills. Norman pays a reluctant visit to his bedside, but Ian remains steadfast and is overjoyed when Paul recovers in time for the last match of the season. A burst water main threatens to keep them away. But Ernest has been working on a flying machine and Ian takes the controls to take Paul on the trip of a lifetime and happy ending reunions with Norman and Jane.
Despite the odd ungainly moment, this is an easy picture to root for. Toyah Willcox and Bill Fellows (playing Norman for the second time) provide earnest support, as the parents responding in diametrically different ways to a devastating diagnosis. But neither character is particularly well defined and the same goes for Ian, Jane and the Hoggs, who pop in and out of the plot solely to prod Paul towards the next stage of his journey.
In the main, though, Hodgson and his co-scribes keep things pretty simple, with the dialogue sharing an everyday feel with the social realist setting. Kelly Toode's interiors are often gloomy, with a single source of bright light suggesting a better world outside the confining spaces. Tero Salkkonen's widescreen photography similarly tends to be static indoors, although it capably captures the struggle that Paul faces to get out and about, even with the loyal Ian pushing him around. In imposing an overriding aura of unsentimentality, Cronin largely avoids the grim oop north clichés and makes innovative use of dissolve transitions between scenes, although the staging and pacing can sometimes feel over-deliberate.
The story elements can seem strained, notably Karen's surly resentment of Alice and Paul's relationship with Jane, which borders on the melodramatic. But Daniel Watson deftly conveys Paul's cheeky charm and his determination not to let limited mobility and speech problems prevent him from living to the full. It might have been nice to see him doing the job that changes his prospects and cheering on his beloved Darlo. But the budget clearly dictated what Cronin could show to the point that the stadium that Ian and Paul fly over bears no relation to the one in which the match is being played.
Peddling the notion that wings are the greatest gift that anyone can receive, this is a `biopic' with its heart in the right place. Moreover, everyone is committed to the cause and it will be interesting to see whether funding can be found, as the screenplay for a sequel has already been written.
Ninety-seven year-old geographer Suzanne Daveau does not have an English-language Wikipedia page, while those in French and Portuguese can hardly be called comprehensive. Thanks to Luisa Homem, however, she does have a documentary about her remarkable career and Suzanne Daveau will delight those who treasure knowledge and inspire those intent on proving that male domination is no longer acceptable in any aspect of human endeavour.
Given Daveau's gifts as a raconteur, as she describes how she met the love of her life, Portuguese geographer Orlando Ribeiro, and how they collaborated on an expanded edition of his study of his homeland, it's a bit frustrating that the subtitles are often lost against the countless photographs arranged by Homem and co-editor Luis Miguel Correia. It's also disappointing that these montages are presented without labelling, so that it's impossible to know what we are looking at, where it is and how it relates to the images abutting it. As it is, they feel like long shelved holiday snaps being flipped by a lonely soul delighted to have a captive audience.
Such an approach doesn't do anything like enough justice to Daveau's achievements or the strength of her bond to the occasionally irascible Ribeiro. Even 8mm footage of a rustic festival goes uncommented upon, even though it clearly has an age-old significance. We hear a poem about the volcanic Mount Fogo on Cape Verde and Daveau dubs her spouse Mount Orlando because of the cyclothymia that often made co-habiting so difficult.
Having become only the second woman to get a doctorate in geography in France, Daveau helped Paul Pélissier establish the University of Dakar in Senegal and insisted that the geography syllabus centred on Africa and not France. She spent time studying sand formations in Sahelian Mauritania and it's fascinating to hear Daveau interpreting the photographic evidence and explaining how it changed our understanding of the region. But, even though every picture could tell a similar story, they are too often consigned to montages accompanied by Schubert-inspired musical stylings of Avelino Santollala, Bruno Silva and Márco Pinto that give what should be a serious profile a son et lumière feel.
Inspired to study geography by her grandfather, Daveau recalls how a childhood stay in the Jura Mountains had determined her thesis topic, as she sought to make a study of the human side of life on the Franco-Swiss border that had been closed during the Second World War to prevent Jews, POWs and Resistance fighters from escaping Occupied Europe. Her wartime recollections and her time at the Sorbonne are accompanied by poignant footage of Daveau revisiting old haunts.
She also ponders on the fact that she had always wanted children and was beginning to think that her chances had passed when she met Ribeiro at a congress in Stockholm. This led her to Lisbon, where she had to develop her teaching skills and she jokes that she wasn't much help to students who wanted to be spoonfed examination answers. It also pains her that so many people today don't know how to use an atlas! But she also acknowledges the importance of new technologies, from postwar aerial photos to the Internet, as they bring about the reappraisal of concepts that prevent scholars from becoming entrenched in historical theories.
Daveau believes that passion and dedication are crucial to the furtherance of knowledge and one can but hope that future generations share her enthusiasm and attention to detail. Unfortunately, this fond tribute falls a little short when it comes to the latter.
NIGHTCLUBBING: THE BIRTH OF PUNK ROCK IN NYC.
In Eric Idle's masterly Beatles spoof, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978), an old-timer named Rutling Orange Peel insists that he wrote all of the songs that had been recorded by the Pre-Fab Four, even though his wife accuses him of lying whenever white folks come to their Louisiana bayou to make a documentary about rock music. It's often stated in actualities on the origins of punk that Malcolm McLaren similarly fled back to Blighty with his pockets stuffed with ideas filched from the unsuspecting Americans who had really started a musical revolution. Director Danny Garcia recycles the allegation in Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC, which seeks to contradict Mandy Stein's Burning Down the House (2009) by establishing that Max's Kansas City rather than CBGB was the real cradle of punk.
Opened in the Bowery by Hilly Kristal, CBGB was an acronym for Country, Bluegrass and Blues. We're not told the derivation of Max's, but rumour has it that founder Mickey Ruskin had originally wanted to open a steakhouse and recalled the best eateries from his childhood having Kansas City in their names. Each place can stake a credible claim to being the trendiest or most significant venue. But what's not at issue among the stellar cast of talking heads is that Max's had the better toilets.
In its first incarnation on Park Avenue South, Max's was the Swinging Sixties equivalent to an Enlightenment coffee house or the Algonquin Round Table, as Andy Warhol brought his Factory acolytes to the fabled backroom for arty debates and Polaroid sessions. However, it soon became known as a music venue, as glam bands like Alice Cooper performed for the celebrity patrons like Elizabeth Taylor and a waitress named Debbie Harry. Cooper shares a couple of choice anecdotes about John Lennon trying to politicise him and the role rubies played in George Harrison's seduction technique.
After music was added to the menu in 1969, Bruce Springsteen and Aerosmith were among those to play the bijou venue, as were The New York Dolls and Iggy and the Stooges, who made a profound impression on David Bowie. But Max's musical heyday came after the heavily indebted Ruskin was succeeded by Tommy Dean Mills, who would eventually do time for counterfeit banknotes supposedly printed in the club's basement. He recruited Peter Crowley to book the bands he had been sending to CBGB and the famed gay bar, Mothers. Suddenly, a new wave erupted, as the likes of Blondie, Mink Deville, Patti Smith, The Heartbreakers, Suicide, Talking Heads, The Cramps, The Ramones and Sid Vicious provided an alternative soundtrack to the disco pounding away across the Big Apple at Studio 54 before its doors shut for good in 1981.
Iggy Pop and Patti Smith are notable by their absence, although we do get to hear from New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain, Blondie's Frank Infante, Elliott Murphy, Billy Idol and Jayne County (a fount of gossipy information who was billed as Wayne County when she fronted The Electric Chairs) and photographer Bob Gruen. There's not a lot of archive footage of the big names strutting the Max's stage, but editor Chip Baker does a splendid job of presenting stills at such a rattling pace that they feel animated.
Already renowned for The Rise and Fall of The Clash (2012), Looking For Johnny (2014; about Johnny Thunders, who is also namechecked here) and Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones (2020), Garcia strives to keep nostalgia at bay, as he makes the case that Max's was base camp for a countercultural assault on the Establishment whose ramifications can still be felt. He gets a bit caught up in the mythology, but this is vastly superior to Wake Up Punk (2022), Nigel Askew's insufferably smug profile of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's son, Joe Corré.