The last day of the cinema: “Nocturnal” (2019), “White Riot” (2019), and “Bill and Ted Face the Music” (2020)

I will review these together as I saw them all on the same day (though not at the same tyme). Three films in one day? Had i gone mad? Perhaps, but if so I had been driven mad by the cruel world in which we live. Rising Covid-19 cases in Dublin meant that we were being put at Level 3+ of our restrictions map – it was announced on Friday 18 September that from midnight restaurants and the like would be closing, but also cinemas! The horror. If taking a half day off work so that I could see three films before the screens went dark means that I am mad then put me in a straitjacket. Though I should note that never having seen three films in a row before I was wondering whether I would enjoy the experience or perhaps suffer from massively declining marginal utility. Read on and see how this astonishing experiment panned out.
Nocturnal is set in a coastal town in Yorkshire. Pete, a handyman working at a running track, sees Laurie, a teenage girl, training and starts staring at her. She spots him staring at her and calls him out on it, but they somehow strike up a conversation and start hanging out together (despite dark jokes from the girl about how her photo wiil be appearing on Crimewatch and from the guy about disposing of bodies in hydrochloric acid). You might find yourself imagining where this story is going, but it doesn’t go that way (unless you are very good at guessing the plots of films, in which case maybe it does go the way you are imagining it).

Someone did say that part of the appeal of Nocturnal is that it is like an entire film based on Morrissey’s ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ – not the plot, but the feel of a seaside town as being kind of shit. It is the kind of place that anyone with half a brain leaves as soon as they can (though we soon learn that Pete is somehow stuck there and Laurie has been brought back). The way Pete and Laurie are presented is interesting, with the handyman inarticulate and unexpressive, something accentuated by the way for much of the early part of the film we barely see his face, and Laurie considerably more confident. Yet they are both outsiders to a degree, Pete a loner who struggles to connect with people (for all that he seems to be able to charm women, he is unable to maintain relationships with them) and Laurie a blow-in from exciting cosmopolitan Dublin who is now stuck in this provincial kip among locals who see her as stuck up and looking down on them.

And so it goes. Maybe the film is a bit slight and the reveal a bit predictable, but director Nathalie Biancheri has put it together atmospherically and the two leads, played by Cosmo Jarvis and Lauren Coe, deliver strong performances, so I recommend.

After a short break I had film number 2, Rubika Shah’s White Riot, which was about the Rock Against Racism movement that emerged in late 1970s in response to the increasingly prominent and confident National Front and the uttering of far-right or far-right-adjacent opinions by a number of musicians (notably Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and David Bowie). Starting life as small group of people putting together an anti-fascist fanzine, Rock Against Racism became a nationwide movement, putting on gigs, organising demos and eventually combining the two with a rally in Trafalgar Square followed by a big concert in Victoria Park.
The film is entertaining, focussing on the activists themselves. It avoids having Bono show up to tell us all how amazing RAR was – while there are musicians giving their side, they don’t take over the narrative. I particularly liked that they had the least famous member of the Clash giving his self-effacing but interesting spiel (this may have been making a virtue of necessity, of course).

The most interesting thing about the film for me was the evocation of that period of crisis in the 1970. I know we talk about the far right being on the rise now, but back then the National Front was marching proudly through British streets and looking like it was on the brink of an electoral breakthrough. Moreover, there was nothing dog-whistley about the NF’s racism, with its leaders upfrontedly campaigning on a platform of expelling all non-whites from the country (“What about people who don’t want to go?” an interviewer asks a National Front leader at one point, to which he smugly replies “Oh they’ll go”). The film is also interesting for the friendly relations between the NF and the cops who were assisting them in their marches and demonstrations, something that attendees at RAR counter-demonstrations were often shocked by (somewhat surprisingly though, the 1979 murder by cops of anti-racist activist Blair Peach is not mentioned, though I suppose it did not happen at a RAR event). But you also get that sense of the 1970s as a time of general ferment, with schoolkids passing out anti-NF leaflets to their classmates and a general interest in all kinds of politics.

There’s a lot of music in the film, as can be imagined: reggae obviously but also various punk tunes. ‘White Riot’ gets a look in but the acts whose mentions are most interesting are the Tom Robinson Band and Sham 69. Perhaps unfairly I think of Tom Robinson as a bit of a second or third division punker, right-on politics disguising some pretty mediocre music. The film though makes clear that he was an important player in the RAR movement and someone who leant his support early when it was neither profitable nor popular. The film largely climaxes with a big RAR concert in Hackney; one of the organisers talks about how although the Clash were playing and were a bigger and probably better band, she stuck her neck out to insist on Tom Robinson headlining, as he had done so much for RAR and played the kind of positive music that would bring people together (there’s a nice bit where Topper then says “Well obviously we weren’t used to not headlining, but it wasn’t all about us so we took it on the chin”).

The other band were Sham 69. Again, I think of them as another second or third division punk band, the kind of act who came into being because the first thing they heard was the Sex Pistols and not all the people who had influenced them. Some of the RAR people talked about how Sham 69 had acquired a bit of a yobbo following, some of whom were a bit far right adjacent. Some of the RAR people were saying that Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 was wary of directly denouncing the far right, as people had been doing too much lecturing of the kind of the people who made up the band’s yobbo following, though part of the film’s story is him deciding to play the big RAR gig and nail his colours to the mast. I am reminded here a bit of how back in the day Madness had a bit of a far right skinhead following, reputedly because i) skinheads loved Two Tone music and ii) Madness were the one big all-white Two Tone band; Madness wanted to bring their bad followers along to the light rather than lose them by preaching at them, though I suppose not wanting to alienate the people buying your records must also play a part here.

Anyway, the film has a happy ending — the efforts of Rock Against Racism successfully unite the kids against the National Front, whose legitimacy fades to the extent that the NF fails to make an electoral breakthrough in the 1979 election before fading away as a political force, the end. Post 1979 events are largely not covered.
And finally we have Bill and Ted Face The Music, a sequel to their excellent adventure and bogus journey. In this one Bill & Ted are older but a bit washed up, having failed to actually unite the world with a cover version of a KISS song at the end of their bogus journey. Then it turns out that not merely the world but the entirety of the universe, past present and future, is about to end unless they finally come up with a song that will unite humanity. So they travel forward in time to meet their future selves in the hope that they will tell them how the song goes, but this means they meet increasingly strange alternate Bills and Teds. Meanwhile their daughters (yes, they have daughters) are travelling backwards in time to recruit the greatest musicians of human history (including Har Mar Superstar, obv) to be Bill & Ted’s backing band.

It’s a lot of fun and just the kind of thing to see before they close the cinemas again and the world goes to hell in a hand basket again. The stuff about older Bill & Ted (and all the even older Bills & Teds) is entertaining and at times touching, while the daughters (Billie & Thea, played by Brigette Lundy-Paine & Samara Weaving) are both totally awesome female analogues of Bill & Ted, but kind of more together than their Dads but not in a way that plays to stereotypes of paternal incompetence. I hear there is talk of some kind of Billie & Thea spin off series and that would be astounding. There’s lot of funny stuff in it too, like the killer robot or the woman from Flight of the Conchords (her name is Kristen Schaal), and Dave Grohl.
One of the things that is really appealing about the Bill & Ted films is that they are both very likeable. They are two blokes but they never feel blokey. The characters are older and craggier but they’re still keeping on. I must admit though, I am still somewhat unclear as to which one is Bill and which one is Ted.

I must admit that I enjoyed my cinematic marathon, with the three films being sufficiently different from each other to make me feel like I was experiencing many different aspects of what films have to offer. Hopefully the memory will keep me through the dark times in which the cinemas remain closed.

images:

Nocturnal (Scannain: “Wildcard to release Nathalie Biancheri’s Nocturnal in Ireland and UK from September 18th”)

Paul Simonon of the Clash at Victoria Park (Observer: “White Riot review – whistle-stop tour of a 70s London uprising”)

Dude! (entertainment.ie: “The first reviews for ‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’ are in”)

Billie & Thea (Slashfilm: “Bill and Ted Face the Music Shifts Back to August 28 as a New Featurette Shines a Light on Bill & Ted’s Daughters”)

“Bohemian Rhapsody” – Slight Return

I have previously mentioned going to see the brilliant film Bohemian Rhapsody. At some point afterwards my beloved reminded of an episode in the Queen story that somehow failed to make its its way into the film: their concerts in Sun City. For the benefit of younger readers, Sun City is a South African holiday resort, which in the apartheid era was located in what was then the faux independent “homeland” of Bophuthatswana. Queen were one of many international acts to be lured to Sun City or South Africa by apartheid money (others include Tina Turner, Status Quo, Black Sabbath, Joe Dolan, and Phil Coulter) but Queen played there in 1984, when no one could really say there were ignorant of the evils of apartheid South Africa. At the time Queen were also one of the biggest bands in the world and could hardly claim to have needed the money. Their attempted justifications at the time were weak (bullshit about not being political and being happy to play to anyone who wanted to see them). In a feat of complete political tone-deafness they even played ‘I Want To Break Free’ to their audience of white South Africans.

Queen also licensed ‘We Will Rock You’ for a Sun City advertisement. It’s something else.

Queen’s appearance in Sun City was I think important in galvanising artistic opposition to apartheid and led to the Artists Against Apartheid record. Playing in South Africa became increasingly problematic for artists, a situation that continued until apartheid’s fall.

image source:

Queen arriving in South Africa (retroculturati: Queen’s Sun City Sin)