❚ MAYBE IT TAKES AN OUTSIDER to see a whole decade with a fresh perspective? Saturday night saw the launch of a documentary called Tramps! that attempts to do just that in almost two hours. The much-spun truths and fables of a movement which, even after this film’s premiere, refuses to own its given name, appears to have a new champion. In truth there was not just one group of people who started the emerging movement, there clearly were many who at times intermingled but also grew their own quiet revolutions under a greater umbrella that later came to be called a cult: the New Romantics. This is the story of some of them.
The Canadian Kevin Hegge’s film opens cleverly to a domestic picture of the model Scarlett Cannon tending to her sun-drenched garden as she recollects her formative years. In this unexpected view of a woman whose powerful and iconic imagery has been documented and used as one of the least compromising style statements of the Eighties (playing “key identity” for the V&A Museum’s major exhibition From Club to Catwalk), she speaks about simply being there!
Just like the film’s poster, this is well-placed bait that slowly draws you into what will turn out to be a very well-constructed game plan. A definitive film about the so-called New Romantics has yet to be made but this contribution to the BFI’s annual Flare Film Festival offers a well-stacked sandwich of people and events that gives a very personal view of their experiences through a uniquely creative period of history.
Driven by a musical score that both emotes and supports the story, we see unfolding before us spliced and collaged pictures and film clips of a selection of renegades who love and survive in punk’s underlying gloom and spend ten years carving out a brighter world through Thatcher’s hectic Britain. The patchworking together of views and motivations of some of the witnesses proves that the movement was bigger than its over-used title.
Judy Blame steals the show by saying it as it is. The unrepentant gay designer, who has sadly died since being interviewed by Hegge, is often overlooked for his contribution to Eighties style and gay culture. Disc jockey Princess Julia remains a constant through the film, as indeed she should, as a very relevant force in style and club culture to this day.
In a new twist, nightlife entrepreneur Philip Sallon was given credit and indeed respect for his very singular influence on both the scene and indeed the followers who helped change the growing movement. Unlike many previous interviews, this time they let his wit and views be heard rather than using him as the cymbal-clapping monkey who offers only light relief to the story of the times. At Saturday’s screening, the effervescently clad Philip asked the audience to be kind to each other and to look beyond the superficial outer paint to the person within and that, at its core, is what this film itself does.
“If you have a bone of contention with
the movie… make your own movie”
– director Kevin Hegge
John Maybury talks of his film-making career and the people who appear in the clips we see of his days in the legendary Warren Street squat, plus the influence and support that director Derek Jarman gave him to discover and use his skills after being invited to join what turned out to be the cult film Jubilee in 1977. Artist Andrew Logan with his occasional Alternative Miss World competitions is rightly identified as a pioneering force in the new bohemia party scene that was emerging, while the painter Duggie Fields added some graceful recollections of this time gone by, he too having passed on since filming.
Thrown aside are the frilly shirts in favour of the BodyMap duo of David Holah and Stevie Stewart, offered up as the fashion revolutionaries who, hand in hand with Michael Clark and Les Childs, danced to a different beat. Performance artist Leigh Bowery is featured throughout the film and images of his eccentricity almost drive the visual impact with its cinematic styling and its Venus in Furs-esque vibe. An intriguing insight is given into the apparent genius of Bowery’s room-mate Trojan (Guy Barnes), his part in the Taboo nightclub set and the impact he might have continued to make if not for his untimely death.
Michael Costiff and his amazing partner Gerlinde are acknowledged for their roles in both the club world and the counter culture that was emerging, as were Miss Binnie and the Neo Naturists who are almost forgotten in most reviews of the Eighties. Sadly many people were lost to the Aids epidemic that cut its way through the careers of others referenced within the film and their contribution to gay culture, as was the demise of many in the drug-fuelled parts of club world. What and who are missing is a list too long to type but a refreshing and often underplayed star emerges in disc-jockey Jeffrey Hinton’s outlook during a pivotal chapter in the history of style.
Curiously, the title Tramps! and its poster are misleading about the ground this film covers and what it offers instead, but as an insight into how key people saw their time in the sun, it’s a winner. And impressively moving.
The Gala evening was not awash with big names from the Eighties and indeed a grave lack of New Romantic superstars was evident at both screening and drinks party after. Sadly the promised Questions and Answers section never really hit the mark and no chance was given for the audience to question the director or cast. That said, Tramps! made a great choice for the closing night of the Flare Festival.
❏ The film is not yet on general release
➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: 1981, Who are the New Romantics, what are their sounds and how do they dance?
➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
1980, The year the Blitz Kids took their first steps into the headlines