Thursday, 28 January 2016

Put On Your Red Shoes and Dance the Blues

It had to be a Bowie lyric: the ashes may finally have gone to ashes but the shock definitely remains the same.

The start of the year had me, like many others for whom Bowie was part of the tapestry of their life, thinking a lot about music. When I was growing up in the 1970s, music divided the generations like a giant Berlin Wall built on judgements and outrage. My parents moved from Liverpool in the early 1960s to the wilds of the Lake District - read that sentence and weep for the musical opportunities flung away before my tiny hands could grasp them. My dad regaled us with tales of his mis-spent youth following Bill Haley's Comets but seemed to only own albums recorded by bearded men in huge jumpers. My mother made disparaging comments about The Cavern club that she used to work near. It was a confusing time.

I too went through my challenged phase. There was the David Cassidy flirtation, the unrepeatable episode with those tartan terrors The Bay City Rollers, the Led Zeppelin light-bulb moment and then the sun really came out - David Bowie and Marc Bolan were unleashed on our living room and my parents' gnashing teeth. Pretty boys in make-up playing with sexuality before I even knew that was a thing (1970s, Lake District, equates to 1930s in rest of the world, Irish Catholic family, you get it) - I was lost before I even began. 

And so began my life-long love of boy bands, defined here as: loud, black-clad, 3 minute-song playing, miserable if possible, pretty lead singer preferred, badly-behaved, black-clad...From punk, through goth to indie rock, my tastes have never changed and people, I'm fine with that. I've tried opera - too waily. I've tried classical - too dull. But the thing I really don't get? Musicals: burst into song in the middle of the street where I live and they'd, quite rightly, section you.

There are some exceptions - I'd rather spend an evening discussing the nuances of immigration policy with David Cameron and Donald Trump than sit through anything by Sondheim but I'll confess a liking for a parody or two. The Rocky Horror Show can do no wrong - and if I was going to recast that wouldn't Kate and Wills make the perfect Brad and Janet - and I am completely smitten with the madness that is Galavant:

Most of the time, however, I'm happy, if not determined, to have my viewing content delivered to me through the medium of speech. Then I got to thinking... perhaps there are some movies after all that don't need a re-cast but do need an overhaul and music might just help.

One of last year's biggest films, in terms of the press inches devoted to it if nothing else, was Suffragette. It was widely tipped to win Oscar nominations for Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep and yet the awards season has left it as unloved as a wallflower dressed in her mother's hand-me-downs. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Oscar committees which are 94% male, 77% white and have an average age of 63 may not be receptive to films about feisty women trying to break the status quo when there's all-male movies with  levels of violence worthy of an Islamic State posting to watch instead. Sometimes it's like feminism happened in a parallel universe.

But we need to be honest about something else as well: for all its worthy intentions, as a film Suffragette was miserable to the point of parody. I so wanted to like it, instead I felt I'd let the sisterhood down when I started to wonder whether Emily dived under the horse as an escape bid rather than a protest. 

Women in rubbish situations - that's where the best comedy is born. They even manage to raise a smile in Call the Midwife despite battling thalidomide, typhoid, squalor and that horrendous voice-over. So, with that in mind, I thought it was time to bring a little joy to Suffragette and reposition it as a musical...

The film opens with the women battling terrible working conditions in a laundry and an opening score redolent of state funerals and crepe-clad widows. Let's step it up and start with a rousing performance of Sisters Are Doing it for Themselves - this would also have the added benefit of encouraging a faster work-rate and improving production thus giving our jolly crew more time to blow up post boxes and save their children from really clumsily-acted child-snatching.

Moving through the action (I use the word in its loosest sense), we arrive at Oxford Street for some window-smashing. Ladies, you need a figure-head with a bit more command so let's develop our sound-track here with the doyenne of 80s pop that was Hazel O Connor and the biblical insanity of Eighth Day from the film, Breaking Glass. This would definitely get baby out of the corner...

Smashing things is one route, polite political discourse is another so our heroine Maud trots off to Parliament and makes an impassioned plea to Lloyd George on behalf of down-trodden workers...she doesn't, she mumbles a pile of cliches in a monotone to a man with improbable facial hair who's wondering what she might make him for dinner.

Time to take off that hat Maud and start busting some moves: get out your best Beyonce and let's rouse the room with a few verses of If You Like It, Then You Should Have Put a Vote In It. 

Poor old Maud, things continue to go from bad to worse: she gets menaced by factory-owners and detectives straight out of central casting's nasty-men with dodgy accents department; her strangely-wooden husband sells her child to a lady who knows how to behave and she has to go to prison with Helena Bonham-Carter's all-round good egg who co-opts her onto the local jolly hockey team, or something, I think I was praying for Tim Burton around about this point. But wait, what's this? Like an avenging angel in a fetching hat, Meryl Streep appears out of nowhere and glides onto a balcony above her adoring throng and, yes, unleashes yet another monotone speech on an audience now praying for the emergency text that will release them from this hell. Oh Meryl, it was your Madonna moment and you missed it - one chorus of Don't Cry For Me, Working Women and the world would have been yours...

It does end, eventually, with a funeral to complete the uplifting mood. It could have been so different: a rousing version of You Gotta Fight for Your Right to The Party and audiences would have left the cinema ready to kick the asses that still need kicking as opposed to downing a bottle of gin and wondering what the hell went wrong and why far too many battles are still not won.

So there we have it, a little feminist fantasy to prove that women really do know how to have fun. I shall leave the last word, as so often, to the delights of Psychobitches - if you're too young to know who she's talking about, there are pictures here but watch the video first or you'll really need the gin...


  1. I also reminisced when I heard of Bowie's death, his music was part of my teenage years as were Duran Duran, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet - a great time to be a teenager :)



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