Categories
Boppin'

Lights! Camera! REACTION! My Life At The Movies: Rock ‘N’ Roll


For me, it began with The Beatles. My first rock ‘n’ roll movie was A Hard Day’s Night in 1964, which I saw at The North Drive-In in Cicero, New York when I was four years old. Don’t worry, I’m not telling that story again here. That was a tough act to follow, but I managed to see–and even enjoy!–a few more jukebox flicks after that.

My second rock ‘n’ roll movie was Hold On!, an awful film vehicle for Herman’s Hermits in 1966. I’m sure I liked it at the time, but I’ve made a few attempts to sit through it again as an adult, and each time it was torture. Decent soundtrack LP, with “A Must To Avoid” and a version of “Where Were You When I Needed You” that predates The Grass Roots‘ hit version. The album meant a lot to me in the summer of ’78, when I routinely played it alongside my cache of punk and power pop. I own two copies of that LP, both more than slightly beat-up, one of them autographed by 4/5 of the original Hermits; I got autographs from Karl GreenDerek Leckenby, and Barry Whitwam (plus guitarist Frank Renshaw, who’d replaced Keith Hopwood) at a Hermits show in ’78, and added Peter Noone‘s signature many years later. I still like Herman’s Hermits. I still find Hold On! unwatchable.


I’m not exactly sure of my chronology of seeing rock movies after Hold On!, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t see any more of them until the ’70s. In whatever sequence, the Me Decade brought me opportunities to see the rest of The Beatles’ filmography: Help! on a local TV station’s afternoon matinee, Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be on a double bill at The Hollywood Theater in Mattydale (same spot where I’d seen Hold On! years before), and Yellow Submarine…somewhere. I caught The Monkees‘ dark ‘n’ brilliant feature film Head on CBS‘ late movie; it had been shown in that slot previously, but preempted locally, and young teen me did indeed call Channel 5 to complain about that! When I finally did see Head, I didn’t really get it. Appreciation of the film (and its sublime soundtrack) would come in due time.

By the end of the ’70s, I’d also seen The Rolling Stones‘ disturbing Gimme Shelter and Elvis Presley‘s engaging Loving You on TV. I don’t know whether or not Loving You was my first Elvis film, but it was one of the few I liked, and I liked it and (eventually) Jailhouse Rock just fine. 1969’s A Change Of Habit? Not so much. I saw The Buddy Holly Story at the cineplex in 1978, and The Ramones‘ awesome Rock ‘n’ Roll High School screened at a nightclub called Uncle Sam‘s prior to live sets by The Flashcubes and The Ramones themselves. I saw 1978’s American Hot Wax (a far-from-factual dramatization of the life of DJ Alan Freed) well after the fact, but found it thoroughly entertaining, even as it ventured into the realm of science-fiction by showing the notoriously miserly Chuck Berry agreeing to perform for free–hokum, but engaging hokum!


I also saw Grease and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band during their theatrical run; I liked the former at the time, and now say a full-on yechhh to both. I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a matinee showing in the ballroom at college in 1978, with no knowledge of its attendant props and hoopla, and thought it was a hoot on its own merits. I didn’t experience the film’s legendary audience par-ti-ci-pation elements until subsequent viewings.

What else? Oh yeah: the tepid When The Boys Meet The Girls (with Herman’s Hermits and Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs) and Sonny & Cher in the fairly interesting Good Times on TV, both some time in the mid ’70s, and Cliff Richard in Expresso Bongo, as well. I dug The Girls On The Beach, whenever it was that I saw it. I must have seen some concert films at some point, but they were never really my thing, and the only one I remember right now is Chuck Berry’s Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. I always wanted to see more jukebox musicals in the tradition of A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, but opportunities were few and far between. I saw The Girl Can’t Help It–the first great rock ‘n’ roll movie!–on VH-S in the ’80s. I longed to see The Dave Clark Five in Having A Wild Weekend and Gerry & the Pacemakers in Ferry Cross The Mersey–hell, even Freddie & the Dreamers in Seaside Swingers–but there was just no chance to do that. I still haven’t seen the Pacemakers or Dreamers flicks, but I did see the DC5’s cinematic opus on TV in the late ’80s or thereabouts; Having A Wild Weekend was a much more downbeat movie than the fluffy trifle I had expected, but I loved it. I also saw Herman’s Hermits’ other film, Mrs.Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, but it wasn’t much more palatable than Hold On! 
I admit that I liked Eddie And The Cruisers, though the original novel by P. F. Kluge is better. Director Allan Arkush‘s Get Crazy was nowhere near as great as his Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and producer Roger Corman‘s Ramones-less Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever made Hold On! look like La Strada. I have never seen Repo ManThis Is Spinal Tap is still hilarious. Paul McCartney‘s Give My Regards To Broad Street had a great soundtrack staggering under a pedestrian film. I’ve seen most of the biopics over the years, from La Bamba to Ray to Walk The LineChadwick Boseman‘s portrayal of James Brown in Get On Up was the king of ’em all, y’all.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something I should mention, but I’ve saved my favorite for last: 1996’s That Thing You Do! is a cavalcade of one-der, chronicling the short career of a fictional one-hit wonder band from Erie, PA in 1964. It has superb rockin’ pop music, winning performances, style, grace, humor, charm, and…everything. The scene where the members of The Wonders (and Fay, played by the lovely Liv Tyler) hear their song on the radio for the first time is the single greatest, most evocative expression of the pure joy of rock ‘n’ roll that has ever been captured on the screen. It’s even better than the We’re OUT! “Can’t Buy Me Love” scene in A Hard Day’s Night, which I’d say is the second most definitive such moment in filmdom. For decades, A Hard Day’s Night was not only my favorite rock ‘n’ roll movie, but my favorite movie of any description. That Thing You Do! has since claimed that top spot. The O-needers WIN!

I wish there were more jukebox movies, more rock ‘n’ roll flicks with a storyline (however flimsy) and wall-to-wall music. I wish there were more The Girl Can’t Help Its, more Help!s and Hard Day’s Nights, more Monkees, more Ramones, more That Thing You Do! In the ’70s, I imagined writing my own film vehicle for The Bay City Rollers, and in the ’80s thought of concocting a new wave successor to The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Bo Derek in Let’s Go Out Tonight! More recently for this blog, I slapped together a fanciful approximation of a 1958 movie called Jukebox Express, a movie which only exists in my mind. But I’d love to see it. I’d love to see all of these, real and fake alike. Screw documentaries. To hell with concert films. Gimme a jukebox flick any day.

Leather Tuscadero in Jukebox Express

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Categories
Boppin'

Lights! Camera! REACTION! My Life At The Movies

I’ve been trying to remember what could have been the first movies I ever saw. This was the early ’60s, long before there was any such thing as home video, so we’re talking about trips to the movie theater or drive-in. I suppose it’s possible I could have seen a movie on TV, but it’s not likely. My TV watching was exclusively devoted to cartoons, maybe some sitcoms, and kid’s shows like Shenanigans, our local institution Magic Toy Shop, and The Baron And His Buddies, the latter starring Mike Price as Syracuse’s own inimitable local TV vampire, Baron Daemon.

So , let’s say we’re looking around 1964, when I was four years old, or maybe even as early as three-year-old Carl in ’63. I remember occasional trips to The North Drive-In in nearby Cicero, piled into the car with family to see cartoons and a feature. There was a playground at the drive-in, right in front of the screen, for little ones like me to cavort ‘n’ frolic before the pictures started. I also remember wearing my pajamas in the car; the adults had a reasonable expectation that the kid would fall asleep long before the final credits rolled, so best be prepared to lift the li’l tyke outta the car and plop him in bed at evening’s end.

Although I remember all of the above, and I specifically remember seeing a Pixie And Dixie And Mr. Jinks cartoon at the drive-in, the earliest drive-in feature film I can specifically remember is The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. But I am certain that was not my first movie.

I think I have the answer narrowed down to four likely choices, though there could have been another forgotten trip to the cinema that predates all of them. But I know I saw the 1963 Disney animated film The Sword In The Stone, and I know I saw Don Knotts in the 1964 live action/animation hybrid The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Simple chronology suggests The Sword In The Stone would have been first, but it’s also possible I saw that film on second run, so who knows?

And it’s for damned sure I saw the 1964 blockbuster Mary Poppins at the movies, maybe at the drive-in (predating A Hard Day’s Night). Everyone saw Mary Poppins in 1964!

The fourth, vaguely-remembered flick in this group has been difficult to identify. I recall being in a movie theater–possibly in downtown Syracuse–when I was quite young; I remember a talking snake; and I remember a woman on screen, laughing. That’s it. My only other recollection is of us leaving the theater as this woman laughed; I would guess that the scene on screen rattled precious little me, leading to a decision that it was time for us to go. Bye bye, snake. By bye, laughing lady.

A little internet sleuthing leads me to believe this film was probably 7 Faces Of Dr. Lao, a 1964 fantasy film directed by George Pal and starring Tony Randall. I’ve never seen the film in its entirety–nor at all since we presumably made our hasty retreat from the movie house in 1964–but while the description and YouTube clips of the movie don’t precisely match my hazy memory, they’re close enough for me to call it. The intrepid Tony Randall played the title role, and a talking snake, and a laughing, creepy Medusa, among other parts. Eerie ookiness achieved–7 Faces Of Dr. Lao was one of the first movies I ever saw.

(One other movie worth mentioning in this context is Cinderfella, a 1960 Jerry Lewis flick. I was born in 1960, so I’ll go out on a limb here and conclude that I probably don’t remember seeing Cinderfella on its first run. But maybe a second [or third] run, at the drive-in? That would make sense. Let’s call it a kookie quintet of feature films, all mixed together in a photo-finish tie for the coveted title of Carl’s First Movie.)

I’m not a movie buff. I’ve always liked movies, but I don’t go to see an awful lot of them, nor do I catch up with many films on home video or on demand. I’ve never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve never The Godfather. I’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, other than seeing part of The Birds once on TV. I don’t say any of this for shock value, nor to be smug or iconoclastic or dismissive of the art of film. I’m not proud of the movies I’ve missed, but I’m also not specifically motivated to correct these omissions in my film-seein’ resume.

This sporadic series of Lights! Camera! REACTION! will look at some of the films I have seen, examine my history as a filmgoer, and just generally chat about my life at the movies. Grab some popcorn, and shhhh! The lights are dimming. I’m ready for my close-up.
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby!