With the arrival of a sequel to the much lauded, and even mucher loved, “Trainspotting” coming down the tracks, author Matt Glasby decided it would be a good idea to revisit the original and place it in the context of the other films of its time. From that idea has come “Britpop Cinema” where Glasby appropriates the label of Britpop and extends it beyond Thurman and Menswe@r to create a new subset, if not genre, of film. Anyone who has seen John Dower’s 2003 documentary “Live Forever” will already know that Britpop has always been an umbrella term for more than just music, from the beautiful clobber of Ozwald Boateng to the YBA movement the concept of Britpop describes a cultural phenomenon, not just a gaggle of bands with a Ray Davies obsession.
Using eighteen key texts from 1994 to 2007 Glasby tells a fascinating story of artistic creativity and inspiration and highlights just how much of a high point in British film this period really was. As with the music of the era there are moments of throwaway, roustabout, frivolity that sit alongside darker, more complex and more meaningful works, for every “Nuisance” (Menswe@r) there is a “Love and Other Demons” (Strangelove).
The book is not an academic concern but is, rather, a filmic companion piece to the likes of “My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry for the Prize: The Creation Records Story” (David Cavanagh) or “The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock” (John Harris) where he uses personal stories and new revelations to weave a real story. It is a fascinating insight into the time and the films.
You can order a copy of the book here.
Here are five of my favourite films from the book;
Shallow Grave (Boyle, 1995)
A dark, but often hilarious, tale of murder, betrayal, desire and greed this feature debut from Danny Boyle is bold and audacious film making and, in truth, it helped create an indie cinema culture into UK film that, previously, hadn’t really existed in any meaningful sense. It was an antidote to the sort of stale cinema that Britain had been making for over a decade, a dull mix of period dramas or bleak, if worthy, kitchen sink drama. Paying homage to the masters of cinema, specifically Hitchcock and Kubrick, the film takes a fairly simple idea and stretches it, twists it, bends it and moulds it to give the audience something genuinely unforgettable.
Brassed Off (Herman, 1996)
The true story of Grimethorpe Colliery band and their attempts to stand firm against the closure of their pit in the face of the aggressive Conservative government of the time. With an incredible cast that included the likes of Pete Postlethwaite, Ewan McGregor, Tara Fitzgerald, Stephen Tompkinson and Sue Johnston this is much more traditional fair than many of the other films in the book, and of the era, but when you are telling a story this important, this moving and this inspirational there is no need for anything other than simplicity. There are moments here when the music alone will reduce to tears and the speech delivered by Postlethwaite at the films conclusion will see your heart beat faster and leave you ready to lead the revolution.
Gangster No. 1 (McGuigan, 2000)
Starring Paul Bettany and Malcolm McDowell as the eponymous, unnamed, Gangster this is a film that refuses to let you off the hook when it comes to the violence contained within. Where “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (Ritchie, 1998) coated its violence with a funky soundtrack or comedy, McGuigan resolutely refuses to do so. The result is a horrifying and disturbing journey through the world of sixties gangland London. While all the usual elements of the gangster genre are here; cool suits, geezers, bad guys and even badder guys this feels much more real and is definitely, defiantly, more unsettling. Much of this is down to the performance from Bettany who is the stuff of nightmares in ways that a certain Scottish cartoon character from “Trainspotting” could never hope to match.
24 Hour Party People (Winterbottom, 2002)
Manchester, so much to answer for.
Nominally the story of Factor Records boss Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) this is, in fact, a sprawling romp through the most important city for music in Britain during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Wilson is the pivot around which the action spins and it is a remarkable performance from Coogan. From the legendary Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall all the way through to the decision to send Shaun Ryder and his gang to Bermuda to record “Yes Please” this is a hilarious, at times, film but one which also has real heart and that has much to say about our relationship with music and popular culture.
Arriving just as the film industry in the UK was heading into a period of creative decline and with the collapse of one of the major distrubition companies hitting its ability to find an audience hard this is a film that shoulda been a contender but that has remained a cult concern.
This is England (Meadows, 2007)
You can listen to Matt Glasby and I discussing these films and others on the latest episode of the Mild Mannered Army Podcast on Spotify, iTunes and Podbean.
You can also win a copy of the book by heading to Twitter…@MildManneredMax…and reading my pinned tweet.