Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Hunky Dory, 1976 and The Long Hot Summer

I grew up in the 60's and 70's. A kid in the 60's - which looking back seemed more like the 50's, grey, old old cars, nothing open on Sundays, church. I was a teenager for most of the 70's, I loved the 70's. I can taste what that decade felt like; taste it, smell it, I can close my eyes and see it.

Ricky Gervais tried to capture it in Cemetery Junction, and went some way to bringing it to life. Some way, it has plenty of flaws.

But watching Hunky Dory, the new British indie movies, felt like I was back there, living it all over again. You sometimes wish you could go back - step into a time machine, relive moments in your life, or watch as a spectator from the future. Flip back, take a look, flip forwards. This movie was my time machine.

It is set against the heatwave of the the summer of 1976 that had we Brits gasping for water, filling bottles from stand pipes and being told to take baths together,  the birthrate went up 9 months later. Here, we find ourselves in South Wales where keen drama teacher Vivienne (Mini Driver) fights the heat, curmudgeons in the school and general teenage apathy to put on an end of year musical version of Shakespeare's The Tempest. 

All the songs are covers of classic pop songs from the 70’s, including The Who, The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, and a brilliantly glamorous performance of David Bowie’s song Life on Mars (a track off the record Hunky Dory, from which the film takes its name). Not only are the young cast all immensely talented singers, in particular the focal student Davey, played by Aneurin Barnard, but there was also not a bad performance to be seen.

Beautiful boy Aneurin Barnard (he is going to be such a big star) leads the teenage contingent, growing up, having his heart broken, falling for 'Miss', singing like an angel. But this is an ensemble piece and every single character that speaks a line here has an arc. They all have a story, however small, they are all three dimensional. That director Marc Evans and writer Laurence Coriat have managed such a feat in such a small - but wonderful picture - should be shouted from the rooftops. It can be done, it can be done.

This is quite glorious, funny and dramatic, full of hippy weird and full-on racist attacks (the skinheads here felt horribly real) performances that capture the teachers of the time and the kids and parents too.
There were just four of us in the cinema, it was lunchtime, but laughter rang out - and tears were wept. It did that thing Alan Bennett does so well; shows you something you think only happens inside your head, or something only you think you've experienced. Suddenly you discover that amongst the universal truth up there is also a specific truth. 

It's supposed to be a feelgood film - and it is - but it has 'bottom' as they say. It really affected me; watching my youth up there on the screen portrayed almost perfectly. You never feel a period prop has been placed, a room decorated, a costume newly made. This feels like the real thing. 

It won't get much publicity - and what the tired critics will do is link it in some way to Glee. That's bollocks, this is way better, a marvellous little movie, a gem. When people sing here there are real musicians, playing real instruments. 

And it feels just like the real summer of 76. Go and see it - it deserves to find an audience.

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