In a terrific article in todays edition of The Guardian, the never less than interesting critic, broadcaster and author of England’s Dreaming, an atvery honourable attempt to examine the British Punk movement and set it into historical and socio political context, Jon Savage argues that while the British music films of the late 1970s and early 1980s – such as Babylon and Breaking Glass – “had their flaws, … they were stunning documents of a nation in flux”.
… what is fascinating about these films is how they all relate music to a period of social and political crisis. By the late 70s, deepening recession and spiralling unemployment had pitched Britain into uncharted waters. There was the threat of fascism, the rise of the new right, a pervasive mood of decay and riot. Youth bore the brunt of these conditions: the first to be sacked, the last to find jobs, exploited and/or victimised by adults and government. Music and pop culture was one of their only sources of hope and inspiration, and it was pursued with a fanatic determination. So within a three-year period, these films were able to explore punk, disco, the mod revival, reggae and dub, synth pop, and 2 Tone. At the same time, they were mostly shot on location, mapping a capital city of dark corners, queasy neons and blasted bombsites.
The relation between pop and the outside world had been explicitly heralded by punk, which – after its arty beginnings – took on a distinctly social-realist hue. The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen made a perfect anti-story in summer 1977: the sound of things falling apart versus the false nostalgia of the silver jubilee. As you might expect from film people – not always totally attuned to the subtleties of pop culture – clunky punk cliches abound throughout the music films of the period: graffiti-strewn walls, corrugated iron, piles of rubbish, the very notion of “street credibility” (see the 1980 Hazel O’Connor vehicle, Breaking Glass). This feeling that everyone concerned has speed-read too many Clash articles is exemplified by the band’s own “documentary”. Rude Boy, made in 1980 by Jack Hazan and David Mingay, has great swathes of tedium, thanks to the drunken lead Ray Gange, while the Clash and their principally male entourage oscillate uneasily between bravado, empathy and staginess…(read on)
I, like many others of my generation, did not have a great deal of sympathy for the whole punk movement. But that was probably because we were too busy doing other things – like putting food into the mouths of young families – to be too aware of what it was those who embraced punk thought they were doing or why it was we should have been a little more understanding.
Now that the children have grown and are having children of theri own, and we have got the leisure to examine critically that whole period, it it good to have someone like Savage around to help us get started.