Baby Driver – Music/Motion

baby-driver-poster

It’s much harder to make an action film today. Not only might you have to compete with the tectonic plates of the Earth being upturned by whatever superhero/robot/monster/weird mix of three in a visual rain of CGI, but you also have to deal with audiences who are far more cynical and far more media literate than ever before. You can’t get away with half of the culturally offensive stereotypes, cheap sexual pandering and relentless bullet violence that filled the action film genre from its more recent generations. To make action films now, you either have to have a lot of money or you have to be smart.

Edgar Wright managed to get both, and came out with one of the most thrilling action films in a long time.


Baby Driver (2017, Dir. Edgar Wright) is the story of a getaway driver, Baby (Ansel Elgort) who is just “one last job” from getting out of his profession, being able to leave behind the life of high-speed car chases and high-risk, high-stakes bank robberies. He’s got a heart of gold, but a head tainted with the mud of the criminal underworld. He’s unwilling to continue, and unwilling to risk getting out.  In the mix of all this lays a girl he falls in love with, Debora (Lily James), his deaf adoptive father Joseph (CJ Jones), the cast of dangerous criminals he pulls jobs with (Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza González) and finally his employer/Machiavellian father figure Doc (Kevin Spacey). With all those elements in the pot boiling, it’s only a matter of time before the tension spills out into explosions.

Not literal explosions though. In fact I’m pretty sure only one actual explosion occurs, a visual note to mark off the film’s nail-biting climax. A pretty low number for a modern-day action film, but what it’s replaced by is unbelievably tight, kinetic car chases and character conflicts. The film draws from that incredible 70s tradition of tense, expertly framed sequences of drawn out games of traffic cat and mouse, as Baby spends most of the film swerving and skidding various cars through the sunlit streets of Atlanta, and goddamn are these well shot. They pulse with energy and keep the action focused into such an intense quality, the film races by. Talk of him meeting with George Miller surfaced awhile ago, and it’s not hard to see the DNA of that specific brand of visceral car chase energy.

When the film is not wrapped up with doing it’s fierce physical car chases, it’s embroiled in Baby’s life. There’s no filler to him, and as Guillermo Del Toro described it recently, it’s a fable. It’s world isn’t a reality close to ours, filled with vibrant and bold colours and archetypes rather than complex three-dimensional characters. But doing this isolates the film’s purity, as these larger than life symbols constantly negotiate each other, some like Baby who do it carefully and earnestly, others like Bats (Jamie Foxx) who negotiate that world with extreme violence. The characters clash with the world, and they clash with each other, and they clash with themselves. Wright’s script really stuns in its expert handling of meshing these characters together, and making sure they stay believable. Especially for a writer-director so renowned for his irony and comedy, it’s impressive to see the restraint on show to keep this film serious and simple. It’s not trying to take the piss out of itself, it really is an action film with great characters.

Of course, its technical choices ripple across the whole of the film’s surface and it would be a disservice not to mention them. First and foremost is its sound, both its sound mixing and soundtrack. The soundtrack is the shining jewel in the film’s crown, weaved impeccably well through Baby listening to his iPod in near constant fashion throughout the entire film. The music video generation bleeds through here, as the editing and even the gunshots on-screen are perfectly synced to keep in time with the music. This is that ballet of violence that lies in the same DNA as Hard Boiled (1992, Dir. John Woo), that choreography of action into an order which is just so exhilarating to watch.

You could have all these elements, the great characters and exhilarating soundtrack with the expertly filmed car chase sequences, and you could still end up with a film getting out of control, still end up with a film that doesn’t work and falls apart. It takes the work of a great director to unify individual great elements. Wright does that, just by making sure the audience stand alongside Baby. He cares for his adoptive father. He lost his parents in an accident he didn’t cause. He’s not superhumanly confident or a badass untroubled by anything with only a catchphrase. There’s moments of awkwardness, of vulnerability, of joy and sadness and anger and frustration. He’s a very human protagonist, one who tries to do the right thing and if he can’t do that at least the best thing. And his obsessive, nerdy traits stand alongside his cool chic, his sunglasses and clothes. Wright is in the tradition of a long line directors who are movie nerds, and the key word in there is nerd. It’s a film made by a human, one who obsessively loves the medium he works in. It only makes sense that Baby would share that same obsessive love.

People move in the world of Baby Driver. People sing (or rather sing-a-long) and dance and love and fight and kill and do everything in between. It’s just so good to see that frenetic human motion scored by such good music.

Oh yeah, and they drive a lot.

-Alex

If you enjoyed this, follow us on twitter here.

Advertisements
Baby Driver – Music/Motion

(British) Hidden Gems #1 : Telstar: The Joe Meek Story

telstar

 

What is it to be forgotten? To just fade from memory. Not to vanish, as if a magician’s trick, but to simply be there in an instant, and then as the infinite train of time rattles along, to be left behind. More importantly, what is it to be forgotten when you’re desperately trying to be in the limelight?

This film, in so many ways, asks these questions.Everything, from its actual content to its meta-content, comes to help push these questions to light.

For a little history lesson, Joe Meek was a man I’d never heard of until I saw this film, and history seems to have little time for him either. A music producer in the very early 60s, Joe Meek managed to produce a No. 1 hit, “Telstar” by the Tornadoes, which was the first British song to reach Number 1 in the US Hot 100. He also produced the British hit ‘Johnny Remember Me’ by John Leighton,  a man now forgotten to time, who was a big actor/heart-throb who starred alongside Frank Sinatra. He is also known as one of the men who passed on the Beatles, Rod Stewart, and a then unknown David Bowie. Ultimately, with a court case leaving him unable to procure any of his royalties for Telstar, mounting debts and depression, he shot himself and his landlord in 1967.

However the film is so much more than that, and a for a film about someone popular culture never even elevated, it is one of the most poignant portrayals of the tireless workers behind the surface layer of music. Down here, we can only see the album covers in the shelves or on itunes, we don’t see the backing band, the back-up singers, the producers, the record execs, the studio owners. All the workings from behind the curtain are uplifted and shown to be so damn full of life, that it makes you feel melancholic for the amount of work gone unnoticed, unsung by the countless musicians streaming in and out, completely distant and not cared for by the general public and their obsession with pigeonholing bands into their front-mans and their names.

(WARNING: Skip this part if you have no interest in British culture, or just don’t want to read it.)

————————————————————–

The film and the story itself are a veritable treasure trove of Britain and its culture. Let’s start with the characters, and their acting counterparts who help to illustrate my point:

-Joe Meek (Con O’ Neil), a genuine pioneer in musical history, whose torch is carried still by the older generation of musical fanatics.

-Major Wilfred Banks (Kevin Spacey) – Meek’s partner in the record company. Went on to make the first artificial Christmas trees. Mr. Spacey of course, is a veritable phenomenon at this point, achieving the kind of super level where money is so redundant that he can genuinely pursue whatever he wants. And it shows, because he’s the only really high profile name in a film that would fly by the radar of most people, let alone most A-list celebrities and their agents.

-Clem Clattini (James Corden) – A session drummer who has appeared on more No. 1 songs than anyone. As for James Corden, a man who I didn’t like until I’d seen this, he’s a British jewel at this point, famous for the BBC show Gavin and Stacey and for his frolicking and karaoke with stars.

-Chas Hodges (Ralf Little) – Chas is one part of good ol’ Britain in his duo, Chas and Dave. Famous for being absolutely British to the fucking core, these guys are not the British Legends of the 60s, but they are truly British legends. Ralf Little, is an actor I love who starred in the grotty cult BBC show, Two Pints of Lager and A Packet of Crisps. Possibly the most English thing ever committed to screen right here.

-Ritchie Blackmore (Matthew Baynton) – Ritchie Blackmore, a name that doesn’t resonate immediately, was one of the founding members of legendary rock group Deep Purple. Matthew Baynton, was one of the stars of beloved children’s show also for adults based on classic British book institution, Horrible Histories.

-Billy Kuy (Shaun Evans) – not a famous name, but his actor plays a young Inspector Morse in ITV’s Endeavour.

-Billy Fury (Jon Lee) – A largely successful singer during this time. His actor was part of S Club 7, a pop group beloved in my childhood of the noughties.

-Jess Conrad (Nigel Harman) – A lesser known star, in the same vein as Billy Fury. Nigel Harman was a long running star of the never-ending British soap Eastenders, about Cockney’s in East London. Also a runner for the most English thing ever committed to screen.

-Mitch Mitchell (Craig Vye) – Mitch Mitchell, a week after the life-threatening audition shown in the film, shortly went on to be the percussion part of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. You know, Jimi fucking Hendrix.

And finally, the footnotes. Jimmy Carr and Marcus Brigstocke, both famous British comedians appear, alongside George Bellamy, a session musician featured in the film who is the father of the frontman of Muse, Matthew Bellamy. Also the guy who calls Will in The Inbetweeners a “BRIEFCASE WANKER” is in it.

————————————————————

So good for them. This may be one of the most culturally British films ever to have been made, but that doesn’t make it good or bad. Thank god then, that its good. It’s actually incredible, brimming with raw power and emotion from an absolutely monolithic performance by the lead.

Because what is it to think you’re right until you’re wrong? To shout into the ether and expect it to shout back at you? One part comedy two parts tragedy bursting forth (another classic British sign, thank you Shakespeare), Joe is a pioneer, and by being so, has no one around to compare himself to. For a single moment he walks onto the cutting edge, manages to capture and enrapture those artistic spirits into something successful. And the world, or at least the music charts, listen. And when you look around, walking that edge, and can’t see anyone else around you, well it either catapults you into echelons unknown or absolutely rips you apart. And for Joe, it was the latter.

Joe is crushed and ultimately doomed by his success, along with a helping dose of paranoia, depression and being a homosexual at a time when it was illegal, immoral and possibly life-ruining. Joe’ manic and desperate need to create becomes tainted, and the people who once stuck by him continue to disappear, while Joe pushes the others away.

Because at the end of the day, Joe was an artistic gambler. That’s what pioneers do. They forge forward, but not always in the right direction. He pushed forward, opening doors and closing others, closing doors which went on to be severely popular. He gambles on the wrong horse, and throughout history, we forget those gamblers. Joe isn’t a poor music producer, at least in spirit, he knows what he’s doing. But he hedged his bets on a horse which didn’t win. But unlike horse racing, whose outcome is determined, happily or grimly by the fastest horse, music is far more nebulous. What is the reason people didn’t like Joe’s music? Well they were listening to something else, something different. How can you tell what people are going to listen to next? You can’t, so you try and replicate what is already there. It’s what Joe does with his acts, who replicate those dream boys of Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochrin. But that never lasts for long, and so you gotta keep moving forward. But moving forward can also mean abandoning what you love or think is the right way. So what it ends up as is hundreds of producers, all trying to find something different. That’s the easy bit. The hard bit is making different popular.

The film suffers from these same problems. It’s different, its radical, it’s not perfect, and it didn’t find an audience it needed or deserved. It will probably be consigned to the vaults of obscure British cinema, and its a damn shame. Not because its poorly made, or its parts are weak. The script is electric, if faltering a little towards the end, the acting is excellent, the cinematography is overstuffed with excellent uses of both the physical space in the film and the frame of cinema itself. It’s different to so many films, so many blander music biopics, and the film itself shines with life, same as Joe Meek. It’s just not the right kind of different at the right time for people to seemingly care.

There’s an excellent video game critic, who runs a series called Errant Signal who talked about the ethos that runs through artistic thought, “That if you build it, they will come.” but as he elaborates “Sunset [game in question] shows that if you build it, they might not come.” Telstar: The Joe Meek Story is a brilliant, ragged and jagged piece of cinema. And it will be lost. No one will even count this among a movement, like the New British Wave So here’s me celebrating this hidden gem.

I leave you with the best thing Britain ever produced.  Thanks Chas and Dave.

-Alex

If you liked this, follow us on twitter here.

(British) Hidden Gems #1 : Telstar: The Joe Meek Story