Category Archives: Reviews

2022 ➤ New Romantics? Here are some who won’t own to that name

BFI Flare Film Festival 2022, Tramps!, Kevin Hegge, Brian Robertson, movies, New Romantics

After yesterday’s Gala premiere of Tramps! – BFI host at left, then director Kevin Hegge, Scarlett Cannon, Jeffrey Hinton, Philip Sallon, Verity Susman (music), Matthew Sims (music) and Brian Robertson (producer). (Photo © Tessa Hallmann)

❚ 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.

Tramps!, BFI Flare Festival, Mark Dooris, review, movies

FILM REVIEW BY
MARK DOORIS
(Photo Tessa Hallmann)

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.

BFI Flare Film Festival 2022, Tramps!, Kevin Hegge, movies,

Kevin Hegge, director of the documentary TRAMPS! © Kevin Hegge

“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

Blitz Kids, film, New Romantics, Swinging 80s, Michele Clapton, George O’Dowd, Lee Sheldrick , Princess Julia, Kevin Hegge, Tramps!, BFI Flare Festival

Leading the Goth wave in 1980: Blitz Kids Michele Clapton, George O’Dowd, Lee Sheldrick and Princess Julia, on the rooftop at St Martin’s School of Art, photographed by Graham Smith and dressed in Gothic mode for Stephen Linard’s “Neon Gothic” collection in the second year’s Alternative Fashion Show

➢ 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

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2011 ➤ Relive Duran’s 30th-anniversary comeback with All You Need Is Now

10
YEARS
ON

❚ THIS WEEK IN 2011 Duran Duran’s album All You Need Is Now was released as a 14-song CD in Europe and North America. Shapers of the 80s gave extensive coverage to Duran’s glorious comeback tour of North America and their 30th anniversary party for the same week in 1981 when their debut single Planet Earth entered the UK Top 20 where it was to reach No 12. Relive these highlights on the album’s tenth anniversary…

Duran Duran, streaming, live concert, Amex,YouTube, Unstaged, David Lynch, Los Angeles

Duran live on YouTube, 2011: a choice of three camera streams and “Lynchian effects” smothering John Taylor’s performance on All You Need Is Now

➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s: Crazee or crazed? David Lynch’s view of Duran from within his hellish cave…

❚ WHAT RUM NIGHTMARES DAVID LYNCH must have in bed at night, but then, he did direct Eraserhead after all. For the best part of two hours, today’s much vaunted Duran Duran live web concert in the Unstaged series kept making you want to hurl virtual cabbages at the screen, enraged by a director whose intent was to obscure the act from view with his relentlessly potty toy-box full of widgets. From 2am UK time till almost the dawn chorus, the band onstage in California had no idea what web audiences in 22 overseas territories (432,000 channel views by 6.30am) were enduring as they pushed on through 18 numbers… / Continued inside

Duran Duran, US tour, 2011, SXSW, interview, video

John Taylor and Nick Rhodes at SXSW in Texas, March 2011: Rhodes claimed to have 100,000 photos in his personal archive he’d like to get published somehow

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
Despite some sniffy critics, this is ultimately Duran’s best album since their glory years – Comprehensive round-up

Still hungry after all these years —
Adrian Thrills writes in the Daily Mail:

The band’s 13th album is much better than most of us could have anticipated. The nine new songs benefit from a diverse cast of special guests. Ana Matronic of the Scissor Sisters adds a seductive rap on Safe (In the Heat of the Moment). New York soul diva Kelis impresses on The Man Who Stole A Leopard. But if Mark Ronson’s input provides a creative spark, the most impressive thing is Duran Duran’s return to form as songwriters. The frontman, to his credit, also supplies some wonderful, multi-tracked vocal harmonies, superbly augmented by Rhodes’ clever electronic prompts and the urgent grooves of the rhythm section … / Much more inside

Spandau Ballet, 2009, press conference, HMS Belfast, pop music, free CD

Spandau Ballet answering my question at their own reunion press conference

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: In 2011 Spandau and Duran square up for battle just like the old days

❚ EVEN AS A UNIQUE CD COMPILATION of Spandau Ballet’s landmark hits was set for massive free distribution with The Mail on Sunday, Duran Duran announced a global concert live online at YouTube, along with their own album release on CD. It could be the 80s all over again when the two arch-rival bands vied for the title of leaders of Britain’s New Romantics movement. So which veteran band scored the bigger hit in 2011?… / Continued inside

Duran Duran, 2011, All You Need Is Now, YouTube, live stream, pop music

Duran Duran earlier in 2011, a year of US and European tours, plus a streamed concert

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2001 ➤ Blitz Kids nail the rites for a Tuesday night out

Blitz Kids, New Romantics, Spandau Ballet, pop music, fashion

Before the phrase New Romantics had been invented: Blitz Kids queue for Spandau Ballet’s second pivotal concert at the Scala Cinema in May 1980

20 & 40
YEARS
ON

❚ BBC4 REMINDED UK AUDIENCES this week how entertaining were many of the Blitz Kids who set the New Romantics ball rolling 40 years ago. When the documentary The New Romantics: A Fine Romance was made in 2001, these talking heads were of course 20 years younger than they are today and full of fizz.

However BBC Manchester fell for some faulty memories that had gelled into mythological “truths” to create several laugh-out-loud howlers in the voice-over script as the price of believing odd Blitz Kid fantasies. Another irritation, amid much classic vintage footage, was the repeated montaging of film footage irrelevant to the Blitz club-night run by gender-bending Steve Strange and electro-deejay Rusty Egan, mainly because no more than about 11 minutes of live footage inside the Tuesday-night Blitz exist, and only one of which was used in this doc. That’s history for you. Set in video.

At least we can enjoy the many gnomic quips tossed out by the stars of 1980’s clubworld during the 48-minutes of A Fine Romance…

St Martin’s designer Fiona Dealey on the New Romantic credo: “Dressing for the Blitz was REAL THEATRE. It wasn’t just another uniform.”

Blitz Kid Stephen Linard’s trade secret: “Make-up was the big thing: make-up and Elnett. We used to get our make-up DONE FOR NOTHING down at Selfridges at half-past five and the girls there would do a makeover on you.”

Steve Strange on the term New Romantics: “I’d rather call it THE CULT WITH NO NAME, because the papers can never put one finger on it.”

Rusty Egan on gender confusion at the Blitz: “By the end of the night you’d hope to go home with someone – same sex, opposite sex, NO SEX AT ALL, you were never quite sure.”

Spandau manager Steve Dagger on their music: “Over the period 78-79 in the rehearsal studio the band gradually changed from a rock-pop sound to a modern SYNTHESISED TYPE DANCE SOUND.”

Duran’s Nick Rhodes on first seeing Spandau Ballet live in Birmingham in 1980: “We saw them play at the Botanical Gardens and when we left we were smiling. We just said: WHAT’S THAT ABOUT?”

New Romantics, Duran Duran, pop music, frilly shirts, Top of the Pops

Happy even to work “New Romantic” into their lyrics: frilly Duran Duran’s debut on Top of the Pops in March 1981

“Boy” George O’Dowd: “Duran Duran brought the FRILLY SHIRT through to the masses.”

Gary Kemp on shooting Spandau Ballet’s video for Chant No 1 at the Beat Route club in 1981: “That was our LAST HOORAH – Spandau being part of this movement.”

Spandau manager Steve Dagger on the early 80s: “There was this COLOURFUL BANG which revitalised pop culture and fashion and London as a swinging city.”

Robert Elms on the clubbing revolution initiated by the Blitz Kids: “It introduced one-off nightclubs, warehouse parties, the deejay as the centre of attention, clubs where they tell you you can’t come in UNLESS YOU LOOK RIGHT. None of that had existed before.”

George O’Dowd speaking as an old Boy: “Strange and Egan were the gruesome twosome of the time – the HINGE AND BRACKET of New Romanticism.”

➢ View A Fine Romance (BBC Manchester 2001,
last shown 2015, on iPlayer now for another month)

➢ Says one observer: “If you stepped out and didn’t get
abuse, you hadn’t done it right” – Daily Mail review, 2001

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s:
How real did 1980 feel? Ex-Blitz Kids give verdicts on the TV play about Boy George, Worried About the Boy in 2010

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➤ It’s A Sin reviewed: “Supporting the sadness there is an abundance of humour”

It’s A Sin, Lydia West, TV drama, gay issues, youth culture, Channel4, Olly Alexander

Good times in the Eighties: Olly Alexander fronts the It’s A Sin gang. (Channel 4)

As It’s a Sin is premiered on Channel 4 amid great expectations, Eighties singer Andy Polaris reviews the exuberant five-part TV series. Here’s an extract…

“ ❚ The much-feted writer Russell T Davies broke barriers with the pioneering British TV series Queer As Folk in 1999 and more recently with Cucumber, both lively depictions of gay life in contemporary Britain. Now comes It’s A Sin which focuses on a diverse group of gay friends mostly escaping from the familiar claustrophobia of suburban life (mostly closeted) and attracted to that well-trodden lure of big-city life. We are off to see the wizard, but this time we’re thrown back to 1981, the year of the first recorded British death from Aids at Brompton Hospital in London.

Ritchie (popstar Olly Alexander) is a gauche, attractive, closeted twink leaving home to study law in London, and his send-off from the Isle of Wight is a multi-pack of condoms from his bigoted dad (Shaun Dooley) as they both stress “It’s different on the mainland”. Roscoe (Omari Douglas) is a flamboyant young Nigerian whose strict religious parents are so fraught over his sexual orientation that he bolts defiantly before an intervention. Colin (Callum Scott Howells) leaves the Welsh valleys to lodge with a family and start his apprenticeship with a Savile Row tailor.

It’s A Sin, Lydia West, TV drama, gay issues, youth culture, Channel4,

It’s A Sin: Lydia West as Jill emerges as the anchor for her hedonistic friends. (Channel 4)

Soon the group become fast friends with Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) becoming Ritchie’s first lover. We follow the group with Ritchie as lynchpin while his horizons broaden along with the thriving bar scene. Casual sex becomes addictive and flashes past in a blaze of encounters against a soundtrack of the hideous but popular Hooked on Classics.

A scene where Ritchie’s pals party at Heaven, the biggest, brand new gay club, was a baptism by sexual freedom for gay men in a pre-internet landscape including myself and friends. (My group Animal Nightlife played early concerts there along with Culture Club, Spandau Ballet and Musical Youth). The scene was blossoming through a whole network of bars and clubs. Safe sex had not yet been advocated, neither had the government’s “Don’t Die of Ignorance” leaflet campaign. It seemed to be abstain or die. Aids awareness was bad for business. As the Eighties proceed in the TV drama each gay character has to deal with the possibility of an early and lonely death if the dreaded health-test proved positive… / Continued at Apolarisview

➢ Read Andy’s full review – It’s A Sin: Pitch-perfect drama about the worst of times

➢ Catch up on the whole series of It’s A Sin online at All 4

➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: More background discussion about the making of It’s A Sin

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2021 ➤ Olly Alexander fronts new C4 drama series exploring Aids in the Eighties

TV drama, gay issues, youth culture, It’s A Sin, Channel4, Olly Alexander

Gay activist as Aids casts its shadow: Olly Alexander as Ritchie in It’s A Sin

GAY TIMES has teamed up with Channel 4 for a series of video conversations between cast members from tonight’s new series It’s A Sin and artists and activists who lived through the decade, offering social and political context to the themes explored in this LGBTQ+ drama from Russell T Davies. . .

Gay Times, Omari Douglas, Andy Polaris, video, It's A Sin,

Comparing notes: Omari Douglas and Andy Polaris in conversation for Gay Times

❏ “People forget how homophobic and racist it was in the 80s. People would actually say to you bluntly ‘You’re going to die of Aids – this is going to happen to you.” So says Andy Polaris – Eighties pop-singer with Animal Nightlife – to Omari Douglas, star of It’s A Sin. Omari plays a character called Roscoe who is forced to leave home when he’s 17 and his family finds out he is gay. The character quickly finds his tribe and a new group of friends who support each other during the decade that revealed the horrors of a new deadly virus.
➢ Click to watch Omari and Andy’s conversation at Gay Times

TV drama, gay issues, youth culture, It’s A Sin, Channel4, Olly Alexander

Hedonism in Heaven: Olly Alexander on the dancefloor in It’s A Sin

Russell T Davies has given us iconic television shows such as Queer As Folk, Years & Years, Banana, Cucumber, A Very English Scandal, and more. Set during the 80s, his new queer drama It’s A Sin has a soundtrack (guided inevitably by Murray Gold) that evokes the youth, vibrancy and gay sensibility of the era – big electronic anthems that have stood the test of time and changed the musical landscape.

Asked for an iconic tune that he loved, singer-actor Olly Alexander chose for his ambitious and complex character who leads the show Hungry Like The Wolf by Duran Duran. Omari chose Respectable by Mel and Kim, saying: “I just went through a phase of being completely obsessed with them.”

It’s A Sin starts today 22 January at 9pm on Channel 4, with all episodes available immediately after on All 4.

TRAILER PLUS DISCUSSION


❏ At YouTube, the BFI organised a 40-minute panel discussion on It’s A Sin, hosted by comedian Matt Lucas with guests Russell T Davies, exec producer Nicola Shindler, director Peter Hoar, Channel 4 head of drama Caroline Hollick, and from the cast Olly Alexander, Keeley Hawes, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Lydia West and Nathaniel Curtis. The trailer for the series precedes the discussion.

➢ AnotherMag airs the vital role today of It’s A Sin with its creator Russell T Davies who declares: “Cast gay as gay – you not only get authenticity; you get revenge”

A HIT WITH REVIEWERS

TV drama, gay issues, youth culture, It’s A Sin, Channel4, Omari Douglas

It’s A Sin: Omari Douglas assumes the role of entertainer

➢ Aids drama is a poignant masterpiece – Lucy Mangan in The Guardian: “Humour and humanity are at the heart of this sublime series about London’s gay community in the 1980s, from the creator of Queer as Folk.”

➢ Aids drama is a reminder to find joy in the scariest times – Ed Cumming in the Independent: “For anyone who’s been through the agony of coming out, especially to a hostile family, or who lost loved ones to Aids, this series will be especially moving.”

➢ Living young, free and under the shadow of Aids in the 1980s – Hugo Rifkind in The Times: “Russell T Davies is a thousand miles away from, say, Hugo Blick or David Hare with their darkness and portentous heft. And yet I’m pretty sure he’s a far more important dramatist than either of them.”

➢ A dance in the face of death – Euan Ferguson in The Observer: “Russell T Davies depicts with wisdom how so many, shunned and ‘othered’ for most of their lives, might have chosen to adopt a defiant mood towards yet another orthodoxy, that of scientific reason.”

➢ Aids-crisis drama will break your heart and fill you with joy – Anita Singh in The Telegraph: “Russell T Davies’s best series so far.”

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