Monday, 14 February 2011

Breaking Glass (1980)



Released in 1980 but written and made in 1978, Breaking Glass is a not-major but under-rated and now almost completely forgotten youthsploitation movie. Like Rude Boy (similarly under-rated and much more interesting to watch than many better put-together, "fully realised" films) it captures--just through involving cameras and locations--the crapness of late 70s U.K.

Breaking Glass, it's always seemed to me, is obviously based on the Poly Styrene story (songs about anticonsumerism and anti-youthsploitation, turn their singer into popstar product, who then has a crack-up on account of the contradictions). (The honking New Wave sax is the give-away, there weren't that many bands who had that specific sound and instrumental line-up). (And 1978, when the film was written, was the year of Germfree Adolescents). By the end of the movie, though, the band's sound is edging towards Tubeway Army and Hazel O'Connor does also have a whiff of Toyah about her.

Always wondered who the reclusive prog-rock star producer is meant to be (Peter Gabriel? Roger Waters?). C.f. The Wall/"Welcome to the Machine"/"Have A Cigar", and in different way "Hotel California", why is that the rock market is so powerfully attracted to musical/filmic representations of the inevitable recuperation of rock's rebellion? How does the triumph of the spectacle/alienation become entertainment?

12 comments:

W. Kasper said...

"why is that the rock market is so powerfully attracted to musical/filmic representations of the inevitable recuperation of rock's rebellion?"

I reckon it was the overwhelming success of the Beatles - abandoning live performance early on, to become pure media event/spectacle 9and bigger than Jesus). They seem to haunt 60s/70s/80s rock movies more than they do the actual music. Also, the peculiar way hippy generation film-makers interpreted glam/punk at the time (especially as they tend to 'get' youth cultures rather late in the day).

There's 'Tommy' with its youth messiah compromised by the spectacle - Rock star as exploited cult/fascist demagogue (like Peter Watkins' Privilege, or even Ken Russel's 'biopics' of classical stars). The more 'multimedia' rock stars of the time, like Alice Cooper or Bowie, were quite conscious of this schtick.

But the primo example has to be David Essex in 'Stardust' where his cliched rock death is broadcast live to a hyped-up, manipulated worldwide audience. He's obviously based on Lennon, whose death was relatively 'private' and kind of proleish at the end of the day - I'm sure a lot of other people were being gunned down in New York that night, without crazed 'fandom' to explain it.

Greyhoos said...

God, I saw this movie like 25 years ago, but can only remember a couple of scenes from it -- and maybe just enough to think that the Tubeway Army and Toyah Wilcox comparisons seem so spot-on.

But: Peter Watkins' Privilege, anyone?

It might too have just been a general post-sixties notion/malaise. The early seventies marked a turn, with many people realizing that rock music was quickly becoming a big corporatized cultural product, with major labels throwing all sort of money and resources into it. Richard Meltzer may have committed career suicide over it, but it seems that he was far from the only person at the time to observe that it was increasingly becoming some big stinkin' business.

Or at least that's the way it seems to me. Perhaps I'm generalizing too much, or just thinking about how certain things transpired in the U.S.

W. Kasper said...

Privilege was indeed the one to get the whole 'meme' going. I saw this film ages ago too, and most I can recall was how morose it was for a 'musical'.

Wasn't there a well-known Rolling Stone review of Led Zep's first album, where it basically accused them of ushering in the 'death of the 60s' as a big, ugly corporate monster of bad vibes? Was it Meltzer, maybe? I wish I could find a link, cos I may have imagined it, but it did stick in the mind when I read it a while back.

SIMON REYNOLDS said...

good points / comparisons

but what i wonder is why audiences find it entertaining to listen to this stuff?

i suppose the other obvious parallel is the Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle... i recall really enjoying the idea of it (punk) all being a con... there was something liberatingly naughty about the "cash from chaos" idea... which Virgin after dislodging McLaren then wrung out with spin-off rip-off releases like Some Product, Flogging A Dead Horse, the Sid Lives posthumous LP...

like, for me and my brothers, the Great Rock'n'Swindle LP was just as important/thrilling/endlessly listened to as Bollocks was, and we were 14 to 16, too young to be genuinely cynical

and then, at the same time as all this, with the Old Wave you have Animals and The Wall... with Pink Floyd, what's interesting (here i'm cribbing a line from Ian MacDonald) is how relentlessly bleak the worldview is, from "Echoes" off Meddle onwards... and yet it is consumed by millions and millions of fans

is there a kind of pleasure and relief in fatalism/disillusionment?

comfortably numb indeed - cosy music/lyrics of resignation and withdrawal

i suppose also in this vague area you have The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again", Don Henley "Boys of Summer" ("i saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac... never look back etc"

actually that is Henley's whole shtick/career-ticket from "Hotel California" through The End of the Innocence

Steely Dan in here too maybe

W. Kasper said...

One word: drugs.

I grew up around stoner teens who loved the bad vibes of Pink Floyd (I hated them) and other morose prog/metal (later on, grunge). Every other Sabbath song seems to be about bad drug side effects. It was interesting to me that it seemed to be the kids destined for menial work who loved it the most - a reassurance that even rock stars have dreary, bewildered lives? If you were more 'bookish' then it was Joy Division and Berlin Bowie.

A lot of us held on for hiphop, ragga, house, ambient, jungle etc. for 'drug music'. We didn't much care if their DJs/MCs were happy or not, not least because the whole 'illusionment' was orientated towards the audience (and arguably most popular with 'immaterial' labourers).

As for the Californian bad vibes that sold so much, the music at least seemed to be informed by the desolation that comes after copious coke snorting. Maybe more of the "being rich and fabulous is crap, really" appeal (a lot of the above prog stoners dug the Eagles too, if memory serves)? Like soap operas/celeb tragedies for boys? A lot of it was basically male melodrama, after all.

W. Kasper said...

I should qualify mention of Joy Division and Bowie (and Lou Reed, Talking Heads, Roxy etc. and in later years, IDM).

Their appeal to certain working class lads seemed to be "Yes, my life's dreary too, but I read wacky books by Kafka, Vonnegut and Burroughs to make it more interesting."

The type who took drugs to 'stimulate' their minds instead of just 'mong out' like the proggers did... I'm sure many are familiar to us as bloggers now!

Greyhoos said...

@ Wayne: Sounds like Meltzer's position on Zeppelin (and most everyone else), but not his style (he was seldomly so linear as to make a direct or coherent accusation). From what I can tell, it was RS writer named John Mendelsohnn.

@ Simon: Very interesting points about the Pistols.

As for the bleakness of Roger Waters, et al. and it's appeal...dunno. Most people I've know who liked it did so because they thought it was "profound," "deep," "poetic," "mature," and "intelligent," and thus proved that rock music could reach that level of seriousness and sophistication, thereby proving that they themselves possessed some of those same qualities since they appreciated it as such. Whereas other people just tended to hear some boring rich geezer pretentiously moaning about everything and feeling sorry for himself.

In a grander arc, not sure how to theorize it on a cultural level. Thinking maybe it ties with some subconscious awareness that it is (for most intents and purposes) music for young people/teenagers (y'know...the energy, the audience, the target marketing, etc.) and thus a soundtrack for a transient (tho' formative) part of one's life. And the whole matter of cynicism about selling out and the alienating effects of fame serve as an allegory of adulthood (i.e. being aware that you won't be able to feel this way for very long).

It's far more complicated than that, and there are other aspect, granted. But I'm just tossing that one out there.

Not to murk up the waters further, but the question that comes to my mind: Does this "bleakness" that we're taking about appeal to/attract female listeners much, or is it mostly a guy thing? My experience tends to suggest the latter.

W. Kasper said...

"Whereas other people just tended to hear some boring rich geezer pretentiously moaning about everything and feeling sorry for himself."
LOL - sums up my teenage attitude to it, anyway.

It is mainly a 'guy' thing, but most (white) girls I've known were fans of the Smiths or the Cure, in adolescence at least.

There seems to be a shift with teen/cross-gender appeal of hiphop and dance music though, ie. "yeah the world is a grim, shitty place. Go deal with it if you wanna be cool."

Greyhoos said...

Yes, Wayne, drugs.

Drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs...DRUUGGGGGGGGS!!

But other things, too. Such as...

The problem with fame being that one's realm of experience and human contact drastically shrinks or becomes very filtered and lopsided. You're surrounded by sycophants, spongers, opportunists, etc. Thus removing one from (what is for most people) the sphere of everyday life and relationships. Thus the alienation and bleakness. And the increasing inability to write about anything that the aforementioned most people can relate to. (Except, perhaps, in the most cynically contrived, shallow or unconvincing of ways.)

I remember reading a quote from Joe Strummer back nearly 30 years ago. Something like, "If anything, punk rock helped rejuvenate the Rolling Stones. If it wasn't for punk rock, they'd just be writing songs about owning Rolls Royces."

But perhaps the above is all so obvious that it goes w/o saying.

W. Kasper said...

"And the increasing inability to write about anything that the aforementioned most people can relate to."

I think some of our bigger pop stars have got round that now by using their third/second albums to self-consciously address their own PR machine:

"Track 2: What really happened at the MTV awards.
Track 3: Sorry for being an asshole on Twittter.
Track 4: Fuck you, National Enquirer"
etc etc.

Pop music as another tabloid headline.

Phil Knight said...

In response to the last paragraph, it's simply the ancient pattern of the magical rebellion of the individual against the super-ego, resulting in either their destruction or re-absorption into the super-ego (which may have been altered during the course of the rebellion).

This is why all antinomian rock stars either end up dead or appearing in insurance adverts.

Of course today the super-ego isn't simply the tribal elders, but the roving media and the spectating viewers. Which makes it both more powerful and pervading, and yet also more vaporous and intangible.

JM said...

Speaking as a woman, I can see the appeal of Pink Floyd's Bleak output and all the other examples mentioned here: I just like them because they're good at actually expressing their own feelings and I can relate to that honesty. Oh don't get me wrong, I do like the occasional pop song(Beatles' output especially), but I dunno, I just like singers who can be themselves and such.
Simon: I dig Rock n roll swindle too, but more in a so bad it's good way. The movie has some neat footage of the Jubliee boat gig too.