Sunday, 21 June 2020

It Couldn't Happen Here

Happiness Is
A Warm Nun

It Couldn't Happen Here
UK 1987 Directed by Jack Bond
BFI LTD Edition Book Version 
Dual Blu Ray Zone B/DVD Region 2

Earlier this week the British Film Institute released this limited edition of the Pet Shop Boys’ feature film, It Couldn't Happen Here... and I bet they wish they’d manufactured more because the thing sold out in less than a week, by the looks of it. I’m glad I pre-ordered mine though and if you want to see the film but were too slow to hit the order button, they have announced they will be releasing a standard edition later in the year. I grabbed this one because I remember I really liked it at the time and it stirs up a few memories.

I was into the music of the Pet Shop Boys back then and, in particular, their second album Actually, which was released in 1987 (the same year that this film previewed at the London Film Festival). A lot of the songs in this movie come from that album and I was interested in seeing just how you put visuals to these works. My memory is a little hazy on these things (being as it was so long ago) but I think I first saw it at my local ABC/Canon/whatever cinema it was, just around the corner from me in Enfield, when it was released theatrically in 1988. I can’t remember if my best friend Kerry was with me at that screening or if I showed him the VHS tape a year or two later but, I remember he must have liked it a little because he kept reciting one of the lines used by Gareth Hunt in the movie to repeatedly irritate those around him... “Ha, ha, ha! Only a laugh, no harm done.” Kerry also used it like this and I enjoyed him slipping it into conversation with people who had no idea what he was quoting.

Anyway, the film was... and still is for that matter... at least in some ways, a typical ‘pop star movie’. Only a tenuous story at best (or not really at all in this case) as the stars are put in situations where they get caught up in little episodes with people and get to sing their songs. You know the score... films like A Hard Day’s Night (The Beatles), Head (The Monkees) and Spice World (the Spice Girls)... all of which I admire for different reasons but, yeah, you can certainly tell a pop promo style musical.

Here we also have the usual load of star actors supporting our heroes... Tennant and Lowe... as they wander aimlessly through a series of pop video styled visuals and keep us, hopefully, entertained for the length of the feature. In this one we have people like the aforementioned Gareth Hunt (who was famous in the UK for playing Gambit in The New Avengers), Neil Dickson (playing a World War I fighter pilot, similar to his turn a few years earlier in Biggles), Joss Ackland (well he gets in everything) and the one and only Barbara Windsor. What a Carry On.

There’s also a big side helping of quite deliberate surrealism underlying the film, in a way which only Head (out of those examples above) shares with it in intent. It’s distinctly British and it belongs to what I would call a certain kind of ‘almost golden’ era of British cinema which I sometimes refer to as... the Palace Pictures era. If anything, the film kind of has the atmosphere and visual density in some parts, of the kind of films directed by Peter Greenaway around the same time. In fact, if somebody asked Greenaway to make a movie to a bunch of pop songs, I can’t help thinking that he might have come up with something similar to this - the two zebra men leading the zebra around, the free moving ventriloquist’s dummy waxing lyrical about the nature of time and the not entirely inevitable creation of tea cups, the nuns with their suspenders and garters who strip off and do a lovely dance to the hit song It’s A Sin (one of a few in the film choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing star and Hot Gossip choreographer Arlene Philips), a man going about his day but on fire and, of course, Joss Ackland as a blind priest/serial killer getting away with, as only he could by this point, telling the old nymphomaniac who only gets turned on by Jewish cowboys joke.

And it’s of its time. There’s lots to look at if you don’t mind the sometimes pretentious use of Tennant’s lyrics recited by him straight on the voice over narrative but delivering it in his distinctive style. For instance, in the performance of the hit song by the Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield, What Have I Done To Deserve This?, we have Neil Tennant on the phone with Barbara Windsor miming to Dusty’s singing and, at one point, she’s spinning around in front of the camera on a swivel chair. This is cross cut with the telephone box that Neil Tennant is making the call from also spinning around in front of the camera and it’s the kind of shot where you might not at first click what’s going on until you realise it’s not the camera moving... it’s the people and their props. Effective and interesting stuff like this certainly helps you forget the lack of substance to the content of the film and both the Pet Shop Boys hold up pretty well in this movie... especially when you consider the wealth of acting talent they’ve surrounded themselves with in this film. It’s also very colourful and I can’t help think but the film must have played really well when it was screened at the old Scala Cinema at Kings Cross at the time. I think Tennant, at least, was a semi-regular attendee at some of those outrageously off kilter Scala double bills (which I talk about a little in my review of Jane Giles book on the Scala here) and one wonders if some of that atmosphere and sensibility was injected both into his music and, certainly, into this movie.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say about this one except the limited edition packaging of the film by the BFI is pretty nicely done, with both the Blu Ray and DVD discs housed in a hardback book which comes out from the bounding slipcase and which features a fair amount of essays on the film and the people behind it. There’s also a round of extras (as yet unwatched by me) which include the pop video, partially culled from this movie, for the hit Pet Shop Boys song cover version of Always On My Mind and an interview with dance choreographer Arlene Phillips. My one regret is that there’s no extra feature on the music of Ennio Morricone, who collaborated with Tennant and Lowe on the song which gives this movie it’s title. Nobody ever seems to mention this and I remember accidentally discovering his name included in very small print on the Actually CD when it came out but... with absolutely no fanfare. Strange that. Anyhow, It Couldn’t Happen Here maybe looks a little dated in places but it’s a great film for capturing a certain time and feel of British cinema. If you’re old enough to remember that time... or if you’re a Pet Shop Boys fan obviously... then you should have a good time with this movie, actually.

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