Edgeplay: A Film About the Runaways

I was just expecting this to be a run-of-the-mill rock documentary about all things rock and roll, but it turned out to be quite a bit more…mostly tragic rock ‘n’ roll.

The Runaways were an all-female band formed in 1975 by drummer Sandy West (16 years old) and guitarist Joan Jett (17 years old), and they were then produced by a Malcolm McLaren-type character by the name of Kim Fowley (a much worse character than McLaren). From there three more girls joined the band including bassist Jackie Fox (14 years old), Lita Ford and Cherie Currie (both 17). So, they were all young, but reasonably proficient musicians.

The film was directed by Vicky Blue who replaced Jackie Fox after she quit, but lasted less than two years. She did a reasonably good job at directing, which was rough and ready, much like the band itself. Unfortunately though she chose to have music playing constantly throughout the whole film, basically with music in the left channel, and the interview audio in the right channel which got very annoying quickly.

The interviews with the band members were raw and delved deep into their past, with occasional breakdowns on camera as the members remembered some of the things that happened…or in Lita Fords case lots of cussin’ and bad attitude. The young bassist in particular survived some terrible things. In the years after the Runaways broke up the drummer had a very hard life and died in 2006 from cancer.

There were also interviews with Tim Fowley. This excerpt from Wikipedia gives you an idea of what he was like…

Kim Fowley, the band’s original manager, originally asked for $10,000 appearance fee in order to appear in the film, but eventually agreed to appear for free if he could sing his answers to questions, with a guitarist accompanying him. Vicki Blue agreed and this is how his appearance was originally shot. However, he then informed her that each of his answers was a song that would require a separate license. Fowley was shooting a segment for VH1 at about that time, so Blue sent her questions to the VH1 folks, who agreed to let her use their footage.

Yep, he was quite a manipulator, nutjob, and overall scumbag it appears. Lita Ford wanted to see him dead, which he did in 2015 from cancer, six years after this documentary was made.

It is a pity Joan Jett wanted no part in this, but she had her reasons. From Wikipedia:

“To me, the Runaways is my baby, so you have to understand my perspective. If there’s gonna be a Runaways movie, it should be about what we accomplished, the tours we did, the bands we played with, the people we inspired. I’m not gonna participate in a Jerry Springer fest, bottom line. With any band, you’re gonna have interpersonal conflicts, but if that’s what they thought the Runaways were about—about breaking a bass or putting on make-up—well, it’s very disappointing. Very, very disappointing. I wanted nothing to do with it because that’s not the band I was in. [The film] was a totally different take on what went down.”

I can’t really say I got into their music, which was pretty standard stuff. But they were reasonably big in the day (not superstars though), and were definitely big in Japan.

So it was a story of success completely over-shadowed by rock ‘n’ roll excess, abuse, and manipulation.

A biographical drama film was released in 2010 based on the Runaways story, and starred Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. I will have to look out for that.

Date watched: May 13th
Score: 7.5/10
Film count 2018: 34

Gary Numan: Android In La La Land

This is a 2016 documentary mostly about Gary Numan’s (real name Gary Webb) career, problems, his move from the U.K. to L.A., and the release of his 2013 album “Splinter: Songs from a Broken Mind”.

The thing we learn the most about Gazza is that he is nothing like his music persona. He is a shy dude who does not like social interactions and heavily relies on his wife when out in public for events etc. He also has a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome. He is a family man, but for a few years fell-out with his parents for reasons that were not clearly explained in the documentary, but all seems good now.

And we learned that he loves making music, which for quite some time he lost interest in, especially when he became depressed. But again, thanks to his wife by playing him a Nine Inch Nails album, and her encouragement, he got himself together and started making music again. He was in such a bad way that record companies would not even sign him, so he released some albums himself. We also learned that Dave Grohl, Trent Raznor, and Marilyn Manson all consider Gazza to be an influence. There was some footage of him joining Nine Inch Nails on stage to sing one of his songs.

So he seems like your typical musical genius really; troubled to some extent, kind of a recluse, and obsessive. But he is also just a very nice guy who loves his family and drinking Coca-Cola…we saw a lot of that throughout the film.

Recommended watching for music lovers.

Here he is at Amoeba…

Next: Another music documentary about the Runaways…more learning about bands that I know little about.

Date watched: May 12th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 33

Until the Light Takes Us

This is a 2009 documentary about the beginnings of Black Metal in Norway, available free to watch on YouTube.

While I do like my metal, I am not into black metal at all, it just don’t grab me. But, I was intrigued enough to want to learn more about it, so when I came across this on YouTube I gave it a go.

It turned out to be quite an eye-opener as the fellows interviewed in this were very interesting, and not what I was expecting. The main interviewee was “Fenriz”, one of the OG’s of black metal and a very friendly guy with some interesting things to say. He is basically the John Jydon of black metal, he doesn’t like the direction black metal took as punk did in the 80’s, especially how it became satanic, but he is very mellow and not angry at all, unlike Mr Lydon.

Things get nutty though when we meet Varg Vikernes, aka Count Grishnackh, the sole member his influential band “Burzum”. He was tried for the murder of his friend “Euronymous”, another black metal musician in 1993, with the interviews taking place inside his very nice looking prison cell (curtains over the windows and a computer on a desk). He was released from prison on bail not long after actually, he served only 14 years of his 21 year sentence. At one point he very matter of factly describes the murder which up to a point seemed to be in self-defense. But, the description takes a dark turn when he describes the actual stabbing, and well, from then he seemed more than just a bit odd. He is though a very well-spoken and obviously intelligent guy with strong convictions. He now lives in France with his wife and son, and has a regular YouTube channel. I watched one and was again impressed by his intelligence, and he seems very like-able. However, his nonchalant way of saying “After I had killed Euronymous…” (2:51) it makes you wonder if releasing him was a good idea. He was also convicted for burning three churches back in the day.


Varg reacting to his guilty sentence.

A lot of the film is quite dark as it was filmed in the Norwegian winter, I don’t know if I could stand that. I guess the constant darkness partly explains how black metal came about, but there are obviously other factors. Norway seems to be a very conservative place.

There is some criticism that the film makers did not question or push their interviewees on why they did what they did which is fair, it was all very one-sided really. But even so, it was a very fascinating look at a genre of music that I still have little interest in, but at least I know a little more about.

Next up: a documentary about Gary Numan.

Date watched: May 11th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 32

The Ascent of Television

My film watching habit has taken a bit of a hit recently due to my increased viewing of YouTubes and television series. I am also buying less music than usual, so I am not writing as much in this blog as I would like to, and I do like to write don’t you know? So, I have decided to write about the television series I complete, and a brief post about any new series that I start.

I will start with series one of Stranger Things which I completed a few weeks ago on Netflix (I have since ended my Netflix membership). There was a lot of talk about how brillo this series was so I was looking forward to watching it. And while it was an excellent series overall it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The story was quite standard stuff, and the outcome was what you would have expected, and it left some loose ends. The acting though was superb, all of the kids were exceptional talents, and it was great to see Winona Ryder again.

Another series I completed some time ago was series one of 3rd Rock from the Sun, an old fave that I watched back in the day but wanted to see again. Very funny stuff, not so much for the jokes, but for the very funny physical humour from the cast, especially John Lithgow who can make you laugh without saying anything, Jane Curtin too. I am currently making my way through the second series.

And finally, I have just started on The Ascent of Man, a 1973 BBC documentary series about how mankind evolved to become what we are today. It was hosted by a very intelligent chap by the name of Jacob Bronowski who died not long after the series was completed. He was actually a mathematician/scientist who was also very good at presenting as it turns out. I watched a Michael Parkinson interview with him and it showed him to be quite an incredible fellow. Anyway, the first programme in the series looked at the beginnings of man in central Africa. In the first episode we got to see 1973 3D computer graphics, which were primitive but more advanced than I would have imagined…


Mr. Bronowski explaining the evolution of the human skull at his desktop.

I guess for most people this is rather dry stuff, but I was captivated not only by Mr Bronowski but also by the story he told. I shall report back after I have finished the last episode.

Scores
Stranger Things – 8/10
3rd Rock from the Sun – 7.5/10
The Ascent of Man (so far) – 8/10

A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE

I last watched this back in 2012, but decided to watch it again as it is a very good documentary about movie-making.

It starts off in the late sixties when films were made big and starred The Kirkster amongst others, then moves onto the seventies when new directors started experimenting and made films that were about real people and real life. By the end of the seventies they were making films like Star Wars and Jaws, pure escapism and more uplifting. It was quite a decade really.

There are interviews with people like Francis Ford Coppola, Bruce Dern, Julie Christie, Roger Corman, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich, and Dennis Hopper.

I have seen many of the films mentioned, but there are just as many that I have not seen, so I am going to seek some of them out.

A very good watch if you like a bit of film history.

Date watched: February 8th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2018: 11

George Harrison: Living in the Material World

This is a 208 minute documentary about George and his life before, during, and after The Beatles.

And despite the long running time it is interesting all the way through (although I did watch this in three sessions). There is plenty of archival footage, a lot of which I have never seen before, interviews with several people including Paul, Ringo (very funny at times), Eric Clapton, his wife Olivia, Ravi Shankar, Phil Spector (before he went to prison), Jane Birkin, Patty Boyd, Eric Idle, Tom Petty, and plenty more.

A lot of the film looked at his spiritual beliefs and how it made it’s way into his music. There were various interviews with him and he seemed like a very decent chap, very down to earth, and bit of a rebel in some ways. Just the like the other Beatles he got a bit annoyed with the others towards the end and was just as tired as being a Beatle as the others, although it seems later in life he missed his fab four days.

Nothing was mentioned about his plagiarism problem with “My Sweet Lord” even though they did spend some time on the song. It seems he genuinely did not intentionally copy the original song “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons, at least not consciously, but the similarities are obvious.

So this is a very worthwhile watch for Gerorge fans, and Beatles fans.

Date watched: January 29th and 30th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2018: 8

The Man Who Would Be Polka King

The title of this film got me hooked, especially the “polka” part because I like a little polka every so often.

This is the true story of Jan Lewan, a Polish immigrant who wanted to make it big in America, so he decided he was going to be the Kurt Cobain of polka (without the drugs and attitude).

The story though turns bad as he basically starts a ponzi scheme to fund his polka world domination plans. It is actually another very depressing story of a musician who goes off the rails a bit, but at least he doesn’t die (although he almost did in jail).

It is hard to feel sorry for him even though he seemed to be a happy and genuine guy who just wanted to realise his dreams, but he just went in too deep. It is also hard to feel sorry for some of the people, mostly retired persons, who invested a lot of their money into something that was obviously a bit dodgy right from the start. It was pure greed. When asked in interviews by the director about what happened in prison to him (he was shivved and barely survived), they just got plain nasty and wished openly that he had died.

The whole thing was shot in a kind of 1980’s style video-taped look which suited the story, and at only 69 minutes it is an easy watch. There is a comedy film based on this story on Netflix starring Jack Black, so with the background story fresh in my mind I will watch it next.

Jan is now out of prison and is back into his polka, I would say very much on the straight and narrow this time.

Date watched: January 26th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 6