Category Archives: cinema

➤ A chapter of Bowie’s musical legacy best forgotten

David Bowie, Lazarus, msjuicals, Michael C Hall, Enda Walsh,

Click to enlarge: cinemascopic stage for Lazarus in New York with Michael C. Hall (left), Cristin Milioti and Michael Esper. (Photo Jan Versweyveld)

WHOEVER GULLED DAVID BOWIE into endorsing the inconsequential and tedious off-Broadway production of Lazarus which opened in London this week can never be forgiven. It is a disgrace on two levels: there’s not an ounce of theatre to this live “play” in which Bowie’s songs are the sole source of inspiration. And the theatre’s sightlines are atrocious.

The only merit in the entire performance comes from the live musicians. The actors have forgotten any training they had, merely meandering around the stage, sitting or lying on it, semaphoring superficially; the script, “a new story” written by Enda Walsh with Bowie, hasn’t the first idea about how to deliver their characters; and the plot moves no further than it was left in the book by Walter Tevis and the cult film on which Lazarus bases its existence, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), directed brilliantly by Nicolas Roeg and starring Bowie. In this musical claiming to be a “sequel”, after two mind-numbing hours nothing has been advanced for the immortal Earth-bound alien Thomas Newton who lives on gin and television.

Lazarus, Michael C Hall

Michael C Hall as Newton on the London stage

It creaks like a period piece of sci-fi by ignoring the major technologies that have transformed fiction no less than real-life during the past 40 years: the personal computer, the genome, the internet, artificial intelligence. This year’s TV drama The Night Manager, as an updating of John Le Carre’s 1993 novel, was infinitely more electrifying about the nowness of progress.

Nostalgia does find its place in the best new number Bowie wrote for Lazarus, Where Are We Now?, a deeply affecting tour of the melancholy old postwar Berlin which anybody who visited before the fall of the wall will never forget. Alas, here a culture gap yawns between the imaginative compass of music and the human efforts live onstage which all musical theatre must reconcile. Lazarus is a rock-world concept, bereft of dramatic chemistry, that relies on projected light to evoke the visual kaleidoscope of music videos, from which The Message is whatever key image the PR machine decides to promote. Theatre, it ain’t.

Worse, the biggest insult of all are the ticket prices in the 900-seat temporary installation calling itself the King’s Cross Theatre and being charged by Robert Fox and Jones/Tintoretto Entertainment. Quite apart from the external soundtrack from traffic and aircraft and railway activity, whoever designed this space and its sightlines has never sat in a theatre before.

From our so-called “TOP PRICE” * £65 tickets, situated about two-thirds of the way back, we never had a view of more than the top half of the wide cinemascopic stage. The angle of the raked auditorium was entirely to blame for placing at least six heads directly in front of each paying customer, and everybody else within range spent the duration bobbing their heads and weaving sideways to catch a glimpse of the stage and its often inanimate actors. The bigger disgrace is that other customers had been charged at “Premium” price levels from £160 downwards.

Frankly, I am convinced Bowie is turning in his grave at this presentation of his music.

* Surely a trades mis-description when there are THREE “Premium” price tiers above the so-called “Top Price”!

➢ Tickets still available for Lazarus which runs
until 22 Jan in London

13 NOV UPDATE: THE LONDON REVIEWS

➢ Michael Billington, the Guardian: “an exploration of the existential angst that pervades Bowie’s music: this is the story of a man never wholly at ease in himself or his surroundings. I found myself more impressed by the visual sophistication than emotionally engaged by the story.”

➢ Susannah Clapp, The Observer: “an extended pop video. Woozy and rapt. Long on style but short on wit.”

➢ David Jays, Sunday Times Culture: “an otherwordly muddle… Bowie devised a portentous scenario; Walsh keeps it dead on the page.”

➢ Roundup of reviews in The Stage: “Pretty much the entire world’s press turned out to review its London opening. And everyone disagrees.”

➢ Singer Andy Polaris experiences his own unsettling realisation during Lazarus the musical

David Bowie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Nicolas Roeg, films,

Bowie as Newton in the film TMWFTE, 1976: androgynous rock star as an alien visiting Earth from the planet Anthea

➢ David Bowie’s last three songs: decoding the final transmission – Dorian Lynskey at The Guardian

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: A sensational portrait of Bowie as the man who shaped our responses

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
“I’m not a rock star” Bowie often said

LAZARUS FROM BOWIE’S ALBUM BLACKSTAR

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2016 ➤ On film: two electrifying hours of The Beatles as they’ve never been seen and heard

The Beatles, Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard, documentary, film, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison, Swinging Sixties, live concert, vintage, pop music, Shea Stadium, touring,

Pristine footage: The Beatles play Shea Stadium in August 1965. (Image: SubaFilms)

LAST NIGHT AT A LONDON CINEMA I saw the most exciting live pop concert since the same band played live in the Swinging Sixties. Ron Howard’s new Beatles documentary, Eight Days A Week about the touring years 1963-66, is a sensational feast of long-lost performance footage that confronts us with the Fab Four’s raw onstage energy and pounding tempo – the audio as gorgeously restored as the images. This two-hour celebration of Beatle genius goes behind the clichés of hysteria to give us Access All Areas. It delivers one revelation after another, from Paul’s “Oh-my-God” moment when Ringo joined the band, to the jaw-dropping recording of a top-ten single in 90 minutes of studio time, to their 1964 triumph for civil rights when the band refused to tour in the US until audience segregation was abandoned at their venues.

New interviews from Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney keep dropping gems of insight about this the most commercially successful group in pop history, while vintage footage does as much justice to lippy John Lennon and “quiet” George Harrison who are no longer with us.

Throughout this joyous moptops-into-men odyssey we’re wide-eyed at the sheer cheek of these multimedia superstars, aged between 19 and 22, who created their own interview style by pinging back witty ad-libs to questions from the world’s media. The downside was mass hysteria from teenaged babyboom fans laying siege to hotels and airports where they repeatedly overwhelmed police and security on an often scarifying scale.

Beatle albums sat at No 1 in the charts for 20 to 30 weeks at a time – more No 1 albums than any other musical act. Their 20 No 1 hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart remain unchallenged.

The Beatles, Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard, documentary, film, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, George Harrison, Swinging Sixties, live concert, vintage, pop music, Shea Stadium, touring,

Ron Howard with Paul and Ringo this week: “I love this photo that was taken yesterday at Abbey Road Studios in historic Studio 2 while we were promoting The Beatles: Eight Days a Week”

Everything The Beatles did was without precedent. Among their innovations they launched arena rock and at Shea Stadium Howard’s doc ensures that we hear George’s guitar chords above the screaming audience of 55,000 fans. As a shock reminder of Sixties technology, Vox had built three new amps for the Beatles, each souped up to 100 watts (!!!) specially for touring America, their output being relayed via microphones to feed the stadium’s tinny loudspeaker system!!!

It is a breath-taking source of inspiration to know that during The Beatles’ far from meteoric early years, this Liverpudlian band of brothers had played at least 456 live gigs before signing their recording contract with EMI. Yes, 456 !!! With that amount of practice, it should be no surprise to find that their legacy amounts to 237 original compositions – songs which most people on the planet can hum, while the most radical among them personify the Sixties counterculture. As the best-selling band in history, the Fabs revolutionised all of music for ever.

Howard’s previous reality epics include the wonderful Apollo 13 and the gripping joust, Frost/Nixon. This week he told The Guardian: “I began to think of the Beatles story as like Das Boot: they’re in it together, they have each other, they know what their objective is, but, y’know, it’s a dangerous world out there.”

WHAT THE PRESS ARE SAYING

➢ Ron Howard trashes the idea that there’s nothing new to say about the Beatles – The Guardian:
This is about the Beatles as live phenomenon, and the fact that their music was all the more remarkable because it had to be heard above the scream – that ambient sound of sex, excitement and modernity, mixed in with a thin chirrup of press envy. The scream was an important part of it. . . an almost unbroken four-year, semi-improvised multimedia performance for which there was no pre-existing template – not simply the music but the giant public spectacle and public scrutiny.

➢ 10 Things we learned from Eight Days a Week
– Rolling Stone:

In February 1964, the band and their entourage occupied nearly the entire 12th floor of the Plaza NYC, including the 10-room presidential suite. But despite the space, the four friends retired to smaller quarters. “The four of us ended up in the bathroom just to get a break from the incredible pressure,” Starr says.

➢ “We were force-grown, like rhubarb,” says John Lennon
– Daily Telegraph:

The film shrewdly draws a line between the Beatles’ mischievous sense of humour and their long-time producer George Martin’s earlier life recording alternative comedy. Martin had worked with the Goons, an enormous influence on the band’s growing lyrical eccentricity in that period, as well as their off-the-cuff ribbing of strait-laced reporters.

REMASTERED UK FOOTAGE, MANCHESTER 1963

Previously at Shapers of the 80s:

➢ No wonder The Beatles changed the shape of music after 456 sessions practising in public

➢ 1963, With The Beatles the day Kennedy was shot: “The second house was distinctly more subdued”

➢ 1966, More popular than Jesus: the fascinating Lennon interview in full

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➤ “I’m not a rock star” Bowie often said – No, David, you were a messiah

David Bowie, death, obituaries, tributes, rock music, Man Who Fell to Earth, media, videos, films,

A humanoid alien comes to Earth with a mission… What a spooky coincidence that David Bowie played the alien Thomas Jerome Newton in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth

David Bowie, death, obituaries, tributes, rock music, TheTimes, UK, newspapers

Today’s Times: the masks and the man behind them

◼ ALL 10 BRITISH NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS filled their front pages today with the death of David Bowie at 69 – and so did scores of newspapers overseas. The last pop star whose death justified such deification was Jacko in 2009; and the last British pop star to do likewise was John Lennon, in 1980. The Times of London dedicated 18 pages including an outer broadsheet wrapper to honouring Bowie, plus an editorial comment as blessing. The Guardian topped that with 20 pages, plus the most enlightened editorial comment of them all. Not only did this misfit megastar and cultural icon radiate consummate flair as a performer but he displayed “an instinctive affinity with his times”. He had a “way with the zeitgeist”.

All media, notably social media, captured the dominant sentiment of generations of fans suddenly plunged into mourning. Again and again they claimed: He changed my life. . . He taught me how to be myself. . . David was my inspiration. . . David was my tutor. And most could quote their own favourite song lyric expressing their faith: Oh no, love – you’re not alone. . . Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it. . . It’s only for ever, not long at all. . . All you’ve got to do is win. . . We can be heroes just for one day.

David Bowie, death, obituaries, tributes, rock music, front pages,media, newspapers

Blanket coverage: Bowie on all UK front pages… Image updated 14 Jan to include news magazines

➢ ‘THE WORLD HAS LOST AN ORIGINAL’ DECLAREs THE GUARDIAN – MORE OBITUARIES AND KEY VIDEOS INSIDE AT SHAPERS OF THE 80S

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