She Looked Good She Looked Fine… (Paul Jones and Privilege)

In the Swinging Sixties British Music Explosion it was all about the beat groups. There were singers of extraordinary individuality who stood out front in the spotlight but the boys in the band had got their back. This gang mentality became so entrenched that young solo singers, particularly the men, seemed a little solitary, like something was not quite right. The charts show that Tom Jones, Engelbert & others had big hits but our parents were still buying records…that was nothing to do with us.

Manfred Mann came out of the same West London rhythm & blues scene as the Stones & the Yardbirds. They were pretty wild & the 3rd single, “5-4-3-2-1” was the theme for the coolest show around “Ready Steady Go”. In the same year, 1964, they covered a song written by Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich out of New York’s hit factory, the Brill Building. “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, smashed it around the world. There were a lot of good bands caught on the “you’re only as good as your last single” treadmill in those pre-Sergeant Pepper’s times but the Manfreds made the move from Blues Brothers to pop poppets with a touch too much haste.

Out front was singer Paul Jones (Mann was the beardie, Jazznik keyboard player). Handsome, articulate, smiling & telegenic Jones was Jagger-lite. No stranger to soap, Jones was the rocker you could bring home to meet your mum. He was at Oxford University before the music thing got serious. The screams from the audience in this live appearance are for him. “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” is one of a run of assured commercial choices, a good Dylan cover usually worked out. The next single, the lovely “Pretty Flamingo”, was a 2nd UK #1 then Jones left the group. This was big pop news. The singer remained with the label while the group were moved along.

“High Time” was the teen idol’s debut solo single &  boy does it suck. Producer John Burgess had worked with Manfred Mann, both he & writers Chas Mills & Mike Leander were pop people. Any tinge of R&B had vanished. The hip-shaking, harmonica playing Jones was reduced to bouncing around to bubblegum. The song was a hit, he was prepared to work for his money. There is a certain nostalgic camp about the jingle but “Paint It Black” it is not. In 1966 a couple of young Stevies, Winwood & Marriott, spent a lot of time in the Top 10 with their bands the Spencer Davis Group & the Small Faces. These sharp dressed, blues-influenced shouters were the thing. In comparison Paul Jones seemed old-fashioned. In 1966, this was not the thing.

When he left the band Jones said that he wanted to act. His debut was in “Privilege” (1967), the first made for cinema project by the faux-documentarist director Peter Watkins. Now I’m the wrong guy to be telling you about Peter Watkins. His films have always stirred conflicting opinions. His committed, innovative, emotional style of film-making captures an honesty which gets his work banned or marginalized.  “Privilege” was trashed as “hysterical”, “amateurish” even, by the cinema owners, “immoral”. It is none of these things. The film is a companion to “If” (1968), Lindsey Anderson’s classic about youth revolt.

Paul Jones, the real pop star, plays Steve Shorter, the same only allegorical.Shorter is used by the media, religion, government, all those bad boys, to subvert popular culture in favour of profit & power. It all gets a bit much for Steve & the grass seems greener on another side when he meets an artist played by Jean Shrimpton. I’ll write that again…Jean (supermodel) Shrimpton. Bad craziness & an exaggerated satire ensues. Within a few years the US Government are commercializing thus controlling the anti-war/counter-culture movement. Here in the UK the cynical manipulation of public opinion by Thatcher’s government so that they could fight a war with Argentina…well, it reminded me of this movie. The full movie is on the Y-tube right now, just a couple of clicks away. Patti Smith’s take on the film’s theme is just one click away.

Paul Jones did not make too many films or too many hit records after “Privilege”. His old band hired another good-looking, articulate, presentable young singer & retained their place in the UK Top 10 for the next 3 years. Jones retained his boyish looks for far too long, he did work in a lot of musical theatre. I have an almost forgotten memory of his starring role in a very forgotten musical in Birmingham. He was, always, the guy who sang “There she was just walking down the street singing…” & that counted for a lot.

He gigged regularly with the Blues Band & the Manfreds, a band with some of his old mates. He now has a well established national radio show playing the best of traditional & modern Rhythm & Blues. The last Blues DJ held in such high regard was Alexis Korner. Way, way back in the early 1960s, before any of this show business stuff seemed at all possible, Paul Jones (P.P.Pond) duetted with Brian Jones (Elmo Lewis) at the Ealing Club, home of a Blues scene centred on Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Man, those West London boys got around & stuck around !

Those 70s Movies (Part Four).

Punishment Park (1971)

director: Peter Watkins.

The most personal of my choices, “Punishment Park” never received a general release and, like other Watkins’ films was pretty much buried. It is now available on You Tube and I was delighted to be able to view it again recently. His earlier film, “The War Game”, made for the BBC and about a nuclear attack on the UK, had been banned. Over 10 years later the film was still relevant but could only be seen in local community centres and church halls. How effective, how true does a movie have to be for authorities to not want us to see it ?

“Punishment Park” is a similar documentary style (I refuse to use the prefix “pseudo”) projection into a dystopian near future. It posits a reaction to the counter- culture by the authorities whereby, after a tribunal, those arrested are given the option of prison or going to Punishment Park, an area in the desert where those who choose have to travel 50 miles to the American flag pursued by the National Guard. The film intercuts between a group in the desert and the tribunal for the following group.

It is obviously a political film. Watkins has an agenda and pulls no punches in showing which side of the fence he stands. It is this “fence”, the polarization of American society in the late 1960s, which is shown more effectively than in any film I have ever seen. The absence of any mutual understanding between the two opposing groups is repeatedly made. The treatment of the black activist at the tribunal seems crass and ridiculous yet mirrors the treatment of Bobby Seale who was bound and gagged in the courtroom during the trial of the Chicago 7. There is always an element of “this could happen” about this movie which makes it so compelling. A monotone English voice coldly narrates adding a veracity to the images.

Seeing “Punishment Park” again is not like watching a view from another time. The same polarization exists today, the potential for oppression remains. The arguments are the same and the film is still relevant. The style is also wonderfully modern. The rapidity of the editing , the hand held shots, the involvement of the film makers as the events unfold bring to mind the films of Nick Broomfield, “Man Bites Dog”, even “The Hurt Locker. The legacy of music video on cinema is the eye-blinking speed of cuts between shots. Watkins uses this so effectively that it is difficult to believe that the film is 40 years old.

On leaving the cinema in 1972 a friend asked if we had just watched a documentary. We were surprised at his reaction but this reflects no deception on the part of the film-maker rather how effective his methods had been. A film which still provokes thought, discomfort and anger after all this time.

Taxi Driver (1976)

director: Martin Scorsese. starring: Robert de Niro.

“Taxi Driver” is the director’s first major, big budget, movie. He had made good films previous to this and “Mean Streets” is a great one. The later film nicks it because it is a more collaborative and thus more structured film than the labour of love that is “Mean Streets”. Scorsese even had a bona-fide movie star in the lead role after his boy De Niro’s turn as the young Vito Corleone in “Godfather 2”. Robert was on a roll which brought us “1900”, “The Last Tycoon”, back with Martin for “New York, New York” and then “The Deer Hunter”. (Blimey, I have missed some quality movies from this list of 10). The script, by Paul Schrader, a man as driven as the director, was a ready rolled portrait of alienation and it’s consequences. Scorsese gave notice of his intentions to make a film about urban and personal claustrophobia by employing Bernard Herrmann to score the film. Herrmann had written the music for Hitchcock’s great run of 50s classics. He wrote the music for “Citizen Kane” for Christ’s sake. This was to be his final work.

Travis Bickle, our hero, is a man estranged from the world around him. He wants to make connections but is unable to. He hates the world he sees through the  windscreen and in the back seat of his cab. When he tries to make connections he meets the platitudes of fellow driver Wizard (Peter Boyle) or fails through his own social inadequacy with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). He is, in his own words, “God’s lonely man”.

The film’s progression to the violent climax is perfectly pitched. Bickle tenses as Tom (Albert Brooks) tries to move him along and you just know that the Vietnam vet could do some real damage here. The destruction of his TV is as funny as hell. When Travis shows up at a political rally sporting a mohican it is obvious that it is all over for him and for whoever gets in his way. The involvement with a teenage prostitute, Iris, (Jodie Foster) and her pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel) inevitably ends in violence because Bickle is, by this time, too far gone.

Scorsese with “Taxi Driver” brought the urban cinema of Hitchcock, Kazan, Lumet and others into the modern age. He paved the way for Tarentino and Ferrera to make their provocative films. More than any director he was aware of cinema history and, I think, it was no accident that he did this. “Taxi Driver” is a modern film. Every year in the USA there are shocking murders such as the Columbine shootings. This film forewarned of these events and explains the psychology of the disturbed loners who commit them.Travis only ends as a “hero” because society will always interpret violence to suit it’s own ends. A great, GREAT film.

As a change of tone here is Michel Gondry’s “sweded” version. (see “Be Kind, Rewind).