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Sunday, June 15, 2014

DVD Review: Vinyl

Vinyl is a fun, enjoyable rock and roll film based on Mike Peters’ 2004 hoax, in which he released a single under a fake band’s name. In Vinyl, Phil Daniels plays Johnny Jones, who was lead singer and guitarist for a group called Weapons Of Happiness. Twenty years after the band’s breakup, the members are re-united because of a friend’s funeral. An impromptu late-night jam session at the mansion of one member results in a song which Johnny believes is good enough to be a single, but which the band’s old record label won’t listen to because of the age of the members.

The film opens with Johnny, in an animal print fake fur coat, walking across a field to make a drug purchase from a child. He lives in a trailer with his wife, Jules (Julia Ford), and early on we see him going through old concert posters and other mementos from his time in the band. Clearly things aren’t going all that well for him, and he is still caught up in his more glorious past, but he’s not depressed or anything. He and Jules seem to have a good relationship. When they go to the funeral, Jules is now wearing that animal print coat, and it’s obviously hers. It’s a nice detail, him throwing on something of hers when the need be, and it’s something that comes into play again later in the film.

By the way, the funeral scene features an appearance by Steve Diggle – a very cool cameo by a member of one of my favorite bands, The Buzzcocks. Steve Diggle also provides some music for this film, though most of the music was written by Mike Peters (who is most well known as the lead singer of The Alarm).

Johnny meets the other members of Weapons Of Happiness at the funeral, and there is still some bitterness among them. But they get together for a little jam session at the mansion belonging to Robbie (Perry Benson). When the band’s old recording label refuses to even listen to the resulting track, Johnny has the idea of creating a fake band of attractive young people and putting one over on the label. Johnny says, “And when the single hits the charts, we reveal the scam to the press and shame the corporate tossers for the hypocrites they are.”

I like this cast, and there is something of a music background to several of them. Phil Daniels starred in Quadrophenia. He’s also in one of my favorite rock and roll movies, Still Crazy (which is another film about an aging rock group). And he is a musician himself (he co-wrote "Free Rock 'N' Roll," the main song of this film, with Mike Peters). Keith Allen is also a musician, a member of Fat Les. On film, he portrayed Irving Berlin in De-Lovely, and was also in the television series The Young Person’s Guide To Becoming A Rock Star. Perry Benson appeared in Sid And Nancy. (In addition, several cast members have been in Shakespeare productions. That's not really related to music, but is impressive.)

There are some things that don’t quite work in this film. When Johnny goes to the record company, the secretary is wearing a Buzzcocks T-shirt. But he has apparently not heard of the band, which doesn’t seem believable (though I knew a guy who wore a Cleveland Steamer T-shirt and swore he didn’t know what it meant – right). And the montage of auditions they hold for the fake band is nothing new. There is also a scene where they film a music video for their fake band, and one of the blokes holds a boom microphone. That’s ridiculous for two reasons. First, it’s clearly not plugged into anything; the wire dangles from the end of the pole. Secondly, and this is more important, no sound would be recorded anyway. It’s a music video. And they do smash a guitar at the end of that sequence, something I never like to see. It always pains me.

But those are relatively minor complaints, and there is a lot of really good stuff in this film. I like that when they have their first press conference for the fake band, the girl in the band wears an animal print fake fur jacket similar to the one Johnny’s wife owns. It’s a small detail, but it shows sort of where Johnny's heart lies, and that this project really is his baby. I also like that the “drugs” in this band’s “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” is Viagra. There’s a brief, but funny and actually charming and sweet scene where Johnny pops the pill. There are some other good music references as well. Jules at one point wears a Clash T-shirt. And of course there is a shot of Johnny walking across Abbey Road.

Another thing that really wins me over is that this film has heart.

Bonus Features

The DVD contains a behind-the-scenes featurette, with interviews with several cast members including Phil Daniels, Chris Turner, Keith Allen, Perry Benson and James Cartwright. Mike Peters is also interviewed, and he talks a bit about the real hoax (though I would have liked more on that). Jules Peters, his wife and the inspiration for the Jules character, is interviewed as well. (She is absolutely beautiful.) And co-writer/director Sara Sugarman is also interviewed. But all of this is quite short.

The DVD also includes the “Free Rock ‘N’ Roll” music video, which is partly the music video from the film, and partly other footage. A photo gallery and the film’s trailer are also included.

Vinyl was directed by Sara Sugarman, and is scheduled to be released on DVD and Blu-ray on July 1, 2014 through Shout! Factory.

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