Tag Archives: 1980s

The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club posterWidely considered one of the quintessential films of the 1980s, The Breakfast Club is John Hughes’ exploration of life in American high schools remains as fascinating now as ever.

While I have seen the film in the past its been a long time and to such a degree that my memory of it was vague at best, but somehow, as soon as that Simple Minds riff kicks in it feels like some kind of time warp is in action and we are thrown to that Saturday morning in Shermer, Illinois.

The plot of the film, what there is of it as this isn’t really about a plot, sees a group of teenagers in Saturday detention with, essentially, each representing one of the archetypal groups of high school kids.

So we have the brain (Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson, the academic ‘geek’), the athlete (Emilio Estevez’s wrestling team member Andy Clark), the basket case (Ally Sheedy as eccentric loner Allison Reynolds), the princess (Hughes’ regular Molly Ringwald as spoilt rich kid Claire Standish) and the criminal (Judd Nelson’s aggressive, defensive bully, John Bender).

At the start the five all arrive in the school study hall at odds with one another and teacher Mr Vernon (Paul Gleason), one of only two adult characters in the main body of the film but, as the things go on, through a series of episodic incidents, the five begin to reveal more about themselves as they try to kill the eight hours they have in detention and gradually realise they are more than the stereotypes they all see each other as.

The Breakfast Club

Nelson, Estevez, Sheedy, Ringwald and Hall

This really is the story. While there is a thread of the five characters doing their best to subvert the power of the adult authority figure, what it really revolves around the five talking, antagonising one another, but ultimately revealing extra layers of themselves and coming out of the experience changed.

While this is set in the context of one day what it really feels like is a microcosm of the entire high school experience and, in this, feels in many ways pretty timeless, hence its ongoing reputation.

What really makes this work is how Hughes treads the line between a realistic world and a heightened one, something he demonstrated time and again with the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Here it takes a while to bed in as a viewer but Hughes works with this so the opening feels like a natural setting before the various episodes build to a point where it is something more than this.

Paul Gleason in The Breakfast Club

Gleason

While the film maybe isn’t as flawless as some would suggest, the episodic nature does feel a little bolted together in places (though in the end it becomes obvious this is part of the thematic intent), the ending is probably a little too cosy and the transformation of Allison is painful and really is the one moment where the film’s message runs into trouble, it is none-the-less genre defining and still stands up.

In a world where teen comedies descended into the likes of the later American Pies and really died a death after that, The Breakfast Club stands out as something defining and pretty well timeless with a generally good message in the end. It also shows Hughes as a master of taking what is in every sense a boring setting and filling it with characters and dialogue that create something with depth and purpose without resorting to the ridiculousness of what most who have tried to follow him have done.

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Paper Girls: Volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls Volume 1Generally when I pick up a new comic I have a fair idea what to expect. If it’s Marvel or DC that’s generally the usual superhero fare, while more indie comics will usually be recommended by friends or because there’s a movie or TV show based on it. 

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls then is something a little different as I took a punt on it based on a combination of the cover art and it being recommended in a few different comic book stores, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Telling the story of four young girls who, while out on their paper round, get embroiled in a mystery apparently spanning time and space the series, which was launched in late 2015, lands firmly in the same kind of zeitgeist as Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Set in the late 1980s the style evokes this excellently and it treads the line of nostalgia and truth brilliantly while its small town America setting just adds to the 80s movie vibe, a little like a more adult The Goonies or slightly more juvenile Back To The Future or The Lost Boys but laced through with the same sense of down to earth grit in the lead characters as all of those.

Paper Girls and objectI don’t want to spoil things in the story too much but, as it goes on, the design of the mysterious, somewhat alien, characters who appear contain the right level of grotesque and scary to again fit this style and, like the best of those 80s movies it doesn’t shy away from getting a bit more graphic than you might initially expect.

Artistically, Chiang’s style is a great mix of simplicity and detail so we get an idea of the settings quickly and easily but with everything we need to know where we are and who the characters are without things becoming over complicated.

It also treads the line between realism and cartoon excellently with some very nice design flourishes in the more fantastic elements. In my experience this is often a highlight of the more independent end of comic books and Chiang is clearly a fine exponent of it.

Erin - Paper Girls

Erin

As a whole then Paper Girls is something of a joy combining a healthy mix of nostalgia and creativity to produce a comic book with a unique feel that captures a current spirit but has everything it should need to be a highlight of the medium for a long time to come.

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Arguments Yard: My Autobiography by Attila The Stockbroker

Arguments Yard by Attila The StockbrokerThe lives of many punks from the late 70s and 80s have been rendered in text in recent years with varying results, I have in the past particularly enjoyed John Lydon’s first autobiography, but none I have read thus far have quite left me with the same feeling as this one.

Attila The Stockbroker, aka John Baine, has been something of a punk journeyman, starting out as a bass player before taking on mandolin, mandola (specifically one called Nelson), fiddle, medieval recorders and it seems anything else that comes his way. But it was his brand of ‘ranting’ performance poetry that made his name.

As well as the stories of gigs and tours, from Harlow in Essex to New Zealand, Canada and pretty much all over Europe, what really stands out in Attila’s story is how everything is related to his strong political beliefs and how these associate with his work.

From the start its clear (even if you didn’t know before, though chances are if you’re reading Arguments Yard you do) that Attila’s politics are, to say the least, to the left of things – I won’t go into detail as I know I’ll just get the specifics wrong. This informed a lot of the choices of gigs and tours he made and leads to us getting a very interesting insight into a side of the world in the 1980s the mainstream media tends not to discuss very much.

Particularly fascinating in this are the chapters on his tours of East Germany (and other Eastern Bloc countries), which paint a far more balanced picture than I’d ever heard. Certainly it wasn’t all wine and roses, and in some places things seem particularly bleak, but there is also a strong streak of free discussion and creativity evident – at least in East Germany.

Attila (seated) with fellow ranter Seething Wells

Attila (seated) with fellow ranter Seething Wells in the mid 1980s

What this serves to show, along with his discussion of his role in miners strike protests, is the level of truth Attila seems to imbue all his work with – again if you’re familiar with his oeuvre this won’t come as a surprise but its impressive to read none-the-less.

More fascinating stories are told of Attila’s formative years on the punk circuit delivering his left-wing message in the face of the National Front and the British Movement, far right organisations that had a worryingly large following in the early 1980s (and sadly seem to be raising their ugly, likely shaved, heads again today – boneheads though, not skinheads).

Much like the East German passages, these shed a new light (for me) on a period I’d only really ever heard one side of.

All these stories could be rather heavy going, but, in the deft words of Attila, they are engaging and absorbing throughout – even when he’s talking about football!

Having seen Attila perform a few times (and I’m proud to say having supported him once as my musical alter-ego) its clear he writes very much as he speaks. Throughout his voice came across, making it almost like having the audio book playing in your head, or Attila there telling you these stories first hand.

Dropped in at appropriate times across the book are some of Attila’s poems and the lyrics to some of his songs that help in telling the stories and setting the scene. Many of these are out of print elsewhere and are no longer performed making Arguments Yard the only place you can easily find them and again, through Attila’s writing style, they really leap off the page if his voice is kept in mind while reading.

Attila The Stockbroker on stage with Barnstormer

Attila on stage with Barnstormer at Vale Earth Fair 2014

The final third of the book deals with much more personal matters but again these are rendered in fascinating and truly open style, and still run through with a (mostly) more relaxed string of gigs and tours. This all culminates in Attila’s most personal and emotionally effecting work, in many ways his masterpiece, The Long Goodbye.

As a fan of Attila already, and sharing some (if not all) of his political ideals – I think it was Fat Mike from NoFX who said if you agree with everything someone else says it’s deeply suspicious – I very much enjoyed Arguments Yard, but I think for anyone with an interest in punk rock, performance poetry, and life in Britain and Europe in the last half century there is a lot to enjoy, all told through the unique, honest and powerful voice of a true ranter.

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Love & Mercy

love and mercy posterThe Beach Boys are a band that have always been a part of my pop music landscape. With their songs of sun, surf and teenage Californian life as a youngster living at the beach this all seemed to click. Then later Good Vibrations was clearly a pop anomaly that stood alongside the work of The Beatles in their psychedelic era – and of course what music fans hasn’t heard of the critically acclaimed Pet Sounds album.

The story behind all of this however was something new to me; there were familiar names and urban legends – who was Dr. Landy? Did Brian Wilson really spend two years in bed? How did a sandpit fit into proceedings? – so going into Love & Mercy I was intrigued to find out just what did happen and why did it take the best part of 40 years for the album SMiLE to get completed?

Bill Pohlad’s film opens with a montage ending on a brief shot of a man (Wilson) in bed before sending us back to the mid-1960s, when The Beach Boys were at the height of their powers, and 20 years later, when Wilson was a recluse under the guardianship of Dr. Landy.

Brian Wilson - Love and Mercy

Wilson with the film’s Beach Boys

Throughout Pohlad cuts between these settings telling parallel stories of the beginning of Wilson’s troubles and his the start of his eventual return.

The crossing between the two eras is very well handled and, throughout, makes perfect sense in telling its story showing many aspects of Wilson.

From a troubled youth with an abusive father (which amazingly left him all but deaf in one ear) to a troubled, creative genius in the studio in one era and a reclusive, over medicated shut in to someone taking the first steps in rediscovering themselves and the world in the other all revolving around this image of him in bed.

The 60s set scenes do a great job of evoking their era with real attention to detail, particularly in the studio session scenes, including the use of 60s era cameras and film stock, along with what look to be genuine props of the time and of course the band’s music that defined a certain portion of it.

Paul Dano as Brian Wilson

Dano in the studio as Wilson

Paul Dano is uncanny as the young Brian Wilson and does an expert job in getting across the internal strife he is undergoing, coming across variously, awkward, relatable and, as it goes on, seemingly entirely lost in his own mind.

Certainly there are parts here that condense time and come across as fictionalised for the purpose of the movie, though at no point does it feel as if the meaning and spirit is not true. As these sequences reach their crescendo Dano’s portrayal of the conflict between paranoia and creativity in Wilson is genuinely affecting.

For the 1980s sequences Love & Mercy brings out the star power with John Cusack taking on Wilson, Paul Giamatti in excellent form as Dr. Eugene Landy and Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter.

John Cusack as Brian Wilson

Cusack as Wilson

While not as physically similar to Wilson as Dano, Cusack still portrays him excellently with another affecting performance that shows both the troubled paranoid young man (albeit in an older body) and the drug dependent shell of himself Landy created in a supposed attempt to cure the former Beach Boy.

Giamatti is genuinely scary but believable as Landy, portraying him as an almost cult leader-ish figure controlling every aspect of Wilson’s life which, going by accounts of the time, is entirely accurate. While Banks is our route into this story that, if it weren’t known to be true, would be almost unbelievable and really does need a civilian route in for the uninitiated.

Of course a big part of this film is the music and the studio session scenes are particularly impressive at recreating the essence of what it must have been like in the studio. Elsewhere it seems composer Atticus Ross has taken The Beach Boys and Wilson’s music and used it to create a score that entirely fits the mental state of the film’s protagonist.

Paul Giamatti as Dr Eugene Landy

Giamatti as Dr Landy

Though untraditional in structure Love & Mercy uses this to tell a story unconventional even by the at times weird and wonderful world of the music industry. In doing so it is succesful both in terms of telling a true life story that is compelling for a music fan while being genuinely moving and, at times, troubling on an emotional level for any viewer – a combined feat which is undeniably impressive.

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