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Pismotality (London, England)

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What A Crazy World [DVD]
What A Crazy World [DVD]
Dvd ~ Joe Brown
Price: 7.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Great restoration, great film, great cast, great songs, 8 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: What A Crazy World [DVD] (DVD)
The stage version of What a Crazy World came about in 1962 when Gerry Raffles heard Joe Brown sing Alan Klein's song of that name on TV and commissioned him to write a musical for Theatre Workshop. Klein had tired of singing exclusively American songs during a stint at Butlins and wrote a song in the style of George Formby which didn't try to emulate the subject matter of American songs.

The resulting musical was a popular success despite some adverse critical reaction. Robert Stigwood offered to put it on in the West End with Mike Sarne in the lead but Klein opted for Michael Carreras' offer to make a film of it because "a film's gonna be there forever." And thank goodness he did, because now, more than fifty years on, we can still enjoy it on this Network DVD.

Existing fans of the film can be reassured that the restoration is fine. It's a joy to see such sharpness and clarity compared to the ropey off-air copy I have had to make do with until now. True, when the film begins, and at a few other points like a conversation between Joe Brown and Harry H Corbett, you hear a little faint scratchiness, but that's far preferable to overprocessing of sound. So to anyone who has been hesitating, worry no more - it's worth getting. And the film deserves a whole new generation of fans.

A Hard Day's Night has also recently been issued in a newly restored version. It was the film whose release suddenly made the film of What a Crazy World look like a period piece, according to Klein, but now both films can be seen and appreciated without any need for comparison.

Alan Klein says of What a Crazy World, "It was a document of its time ... All I was doing was saying what people felt." It's a world of disaffected youth, unemployment and the temptations of petty crime, and a yawning, seemingly unbridgeable gulf between parents and children. The title song mocks the parents for their negligence ("No one seems to notice me") and their preferring bingo and betting to quality family time, but there's a counterbalancing song shared by the mother and father, surrounded by their mates at the bingo hall and dog track, in which they protest that their supposed entertainments are not about having a good time but trying to win a bit of money to buy their kids the possessions and gadgets they were never able to afford in their own youth which their materialistic children demand as a right. As with Steptoe and Son, both sides of the generation divide are given a say.

What is very clear throughout the film, however, is that young and old haven't found a way of communicating with each other, and that isn't resolved by the end. Alf (Joe Brown) plays his family the record he has just made. This might have made for a triumphal ending in another sort of film but there is an almighty barney and the record is forgotten. So all that has happened by the climax is that grievances have been loudly aired, and the finale has everyone singing part of the title song, so that it no longer seems to belong to the Joe Brown character, the young complaining about the old, but allows everyone to have a go.

But if that makes the film sound like a gloomy prospect, it's anything but. And what makes the film special from a musical point of view is its successful marriage of rock'n'roll with music hall: throughout, there is a warmth and a verve that you can't resist. It may be a crazy world, but it's one you will want to embrace. The cast, including many Theatre Workshop regulars, are superb. Harry H Corbett is the father and Avis Bunnage the mother. Alan Klein himself is one of the layabouts who cluster around Herbie Shadbolt, played by Marty Wilde. Really the only slightly weak link is Susan Maughan, not really suited to the part of Alf's girlfriend. Wilde himself is very good, as is Joe Brown. The device of Michael Ripper as a kind of common man is also very effective.

I could say a lot more if time permitted, but all that needs to be said is that this is a long, long way away from your Cliff Richard musicals or other pop exploitation films. It has a foot in reality, even though it's carnivalesque at times, as in the scene in the labour exchange. Someone compared it to Quadrophenia, but it takes itself far less seriously. I urge you to take a chance on this modestly priced DVD for a film which is gritty, witty and, above all, teeming with life.

Soldier Boy the Scepter Records Story
Soldier Boy the Scepter Records Story
Price: 4.08

3.0 out of 5 stars Cheap, but Ace it ain't, 19 May 2014
If you only know the Scepter label through its biggest names like the Shirelles, then this is an inexpensive introduction to the rest of its earlier (public domain restrictions) output. The sides are varied and interesting, although there aren't many I'd put in the category of forgotten gems. Novelty and pop mostly, less sophisticated than the better-known artist. It's also worth saying, for those who have been spoilt by the production values of the likes of Ace Records and Bear Family, that sound quality is no more than just-about-adequate for some tracks, so if you're expecting to luxuriate in the arrangements, anaylsing them piece by piece, think again, Buster. But there's a limit to how much you can complain at this price - even cheaper at a certain record shop at the time of writing. I was glad to hear it but I don't think I'll be returning to it very often.

The Crazy Gang: A Personal Reminiscence
The Crazy Gang: A Personal Reminiscence
by Maureen Owen
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Personal memoir which brings variety days alive, 17 May 2014
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I don't know how it was received at the time of publication but this memoir about The Crazy Gang deserves to be far better known these days. It is, as the cover proclaims, 'personal' as the author was the niece of Clarice Mayne, married to Teddy Knox of Nervo and Knox, one of the duos who made up the Gang, There is a detailed account of the author's childhood in Angmering, a kind of showbiz haven of the day, and the idiosyncracies of the multifaceted "Auntie", who emerges as a kind of loveable monster, if that isn't overstating the case.

Yet although the book really seems to capture the atmosphere of a specific time and locale it also feels sparely written - in a good way - which presumably reflects Ms Owen's journalistic background. It's a rare behind the scenes look which isn't sensational and doesn't hide behind wall-to-wall hilarious anecdotes and it can be highly recommended to all lovers of books about variety.

Time Was: The Sessions 1957-1962
Time Was: The Sessions 1957-1962
Price: 12.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First chance to hear Flamingos' Decca sides on CD, 16 Mar 2014
If you are new to the Flamingos and in the market for a cheapo one-stop-shop compilation you would be better off starting with Jasmine's earlier Dream of a Lifetime set, which gathers together all their Chance, Parrot and Checker (Chess) recordings plus a selection from End. For established fans, however, this new CD set is notable for including the group's 1957-1958 sides for Decca - the first time, as far as I am aware, that they have been issued on CD, with the sole exception of Ladder of Love.

On that basis alone this new collection really is something to celebrate, even though the bulk of the collection is made up of tracks on End (their next label) which haven't exactly been rare on CD in recent years. It's certainly convenient to have them together so cheaply, but it's only worth discussing the Decca material in detail.

The mystery is why the Decca sides haven't been issued on CD before in the UK. They've been in the public domain for several years now, so (assuming they had been able to source them earlier) Jasmine could have included them in their Dream of a Lifetime compilation.

It's an omission which may, I suspect, have been a canny marketing decision: opting to end the previous collection with a selection of End recordings meant that Jasmine were able to include I Only Have Eyes For You as the final track, perhaps to ensure the collection had the widest possible general appeal. But whatever the reason, this new 2CD set rectifies matters and provides the missing End sides so it's the perfect complement.

The Decca recordings - tracks 1-9 on CD One (Ladder of Love was on the earlier set) - are fascinating to listen to and have considerable charm if you already know and love the group. It has to be said, however, that they aren't exactly neglected masterpieces - at least, not as recorded. Some sides are heavily marred by overproduction. Helpless has the group's sound sweetened by what sounds like a white female chorus and a ludicrously OTT climax, as though the group are being squeezed into being a more commercial proposition. Maybe it's to do with the fact that Decca were a big company, not a small indie, so there may have been greater outside control. And songs like the Rock and Roll March just sound dreadfully square - now and, I suspect, then.

The best of the bunch, balladwise, is Kiss-A-Me, where Nate Nelson's voice transcends the female backing, but it's still frustrating to think of what might have been had it been recorded during their Chess period with a sparer, more sensitive arrangement. (As some readers may know, Chess/Checker put out the demo version of I'll Be Home, recorded in an office, because the studio version sounded "plastic.")

Jerri-Lee is pleasant, however, and Where Mary Go (originally recorded by Canadian group the Diamonds then covered by the Flamingos, which is a bit of a turnaround) is okay in a Harry Belafonte vein. Hey Now! is the only track which gives a flavour of their frenzy on Chance Records in the old days, though the band don't sound quite as flexible as the Chance musos.

Track 10 is the old chestnut Music Maestro Please and it's obvious we have now moved into the End era: it's a different, more spacious sound, familiar to those who have heard I Only Have Eyes For You. As I said in my review of the earlier Jasmine set I prefer the earlier R&B sides, but I can certainly appreciate that this new phase of the Flamingos' career feels like a natural development of aspects of their style rather than something imposed from outside on their sound. Certainly, Terry Johnson was happy to go along with label boss George Goldner's wish for them to do standards with a twist: "I was open to the idea, because I wasn't raised on R&B; my parents listened to Patti Page, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots and Bing Crosby. When George said he wanted me to change the structure of the songs and give them a nice flavor, I was excited because it was such a good challenge for me." (You can read more on Marv Goldberg's highly recommended R&B Notebooks site, which also explains why the Decca sides are so little known.)

The End sides will never be as exciting for me as their earlier output, but there is no denying their appeal as late night listening. Couple that with the chance to hear those less than perfect - but wholly fascinating - recordings on Decca I will give this four stars, but really fans and collectors will want this whatever. Considerations about sound quality seem of less import in the current case given the rarity of the first nine tracks. You won't currently find 'em anywhere else.

A.J. Wentworth BA - The Complete Series [DVD]
A.J. Wentworth BA - The Complete Series [DVD]
Dvd ~ Arthur Lowe
Price: 5.75

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good adaptation but search out the book, 3 Mar 2013
This DVD has attracted polarised reviews; I think I understand why. Fans of other Arthur Lowe sitcoms may have been disappointed to find that this is something altogether gentler which would have been ruined by an audience: it's not about belly laughs but wry chuckles. Accept that, and the fact it dates from the time when sitcoms were shot on video, and there's quite a lot to savour.

That said, I do think some of the slapstick moments are a little bit clumsily handled: books obviously dropped rather than knocked out of Arthur Lowe's hand, for example.

And fans of H.F. Ellis already primed to expect something in a lower key than other Arthur Lowe vehicles may have their own reservations for different reasons. I remember watching and quite enjoying this when it came out in the mid eighties, but feeling that it didn't quite live up to HF Ellis's original pieces, which can be found in several collections (Faber have recently reissued The Papers of A. J. Wentworth, B.A.).

The trouble is that in print Wentworth is the narrator: we see things from his point of view and have the fun of imagining how others react to him. As with Diary of a Nobody, an adaptation can't quite supply the same thing: we've got the people in front of us and our hero is suddenly a little more buffoonish.

Nevertheless, this is probably as well realised as it could be - and certainly Harry Andrews as the Squid (the headmaster of Burgrove) well deserves his status as co-star, hinting at suppressed giggles each time A.J. tries to explain his latest mishap. The actor playing Gilbert isn't given that much to do but you do buy his affection for A.J. The schoolboy actors are okay, not great. It passes the time most agreeably, and it doesn't deserve the opprobrium heaped on it by some reviewers, but essentially it's an homage to the original pieces, not a replacement for them.

Violent Playground (Digitally Remastered) [DVD]
Violent Playground (Digitally Remastered) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter Cushing
Price: 6.75

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Snapshot of contemporary fears about fifties youth, 7 Mar 2012
Shot on location in Liverpool by Ealing Films veteran Basil Dearden, and centering around a broken home, this 1958 Rank film offers a snapshot of contemporary British fears about directionless rock'n'roll-crazed youths. It could be considered a companion piece to director Basil Dearden's earlier The Blue Lamp (1950), although in the case of Violent Playground the out-of-control boy at its centre could, the film suggests, have been redeemed at a certain moment.

Stanley Baker is the detective reluctantly transferred to Juvenile Liaison who gets to know prospective hoodlum Johnny (an early role for David McCallum) when his young brother and sister are caught scamming a shopkeeper. As with Dearden's other films (including Victim, a look at homosexuality in the early sixties) a strong social sense makes this more than a thriller or a teen exploitation pic. There are even echoes, in the local priest's attempts at intervention and McCallum's inner torment, to say nothing of his appearance, of a lither (or even Liver-) Brando, in On the Waterfront. And like Brando, McCallum's appearance could suggest devil or angel.

The corny pseudo rock'n'roll (composed by Paddy Roberts) over the titles apart, the one scene which makes use of music as other than background is disturbing: when the boys in McCallum's gang dance together (no girls), as though hypnotised, it is a means of both mocking and threatening the staid Baker.

There, in a single scene, you have rock'n'roll from a terrified adult perspective: the boys do nothing, beyond swaying a little; maybe they're even so stoned (metaphorically speaking) by the music that they're incapable of violence, but that makes it more disturbing, somehow. Throughout that scene they are, to Baker's Juvenile Liaison Officer, an alien tribe, wholly unknowable, not the kind of loveable artful dodgers you can at least get some kind of a handle on. No cuff on the ear will team these demons in waiting.

A critic of the time complained that in attributing juvenile deliquency to rock'n'roll "a fine film has in this scene taken a swipe at the easiest target"; that may be so, but it's the highlight of the film nevertheless. Although Paddy Roberts also wrote songs for the pop market he is perhaps best known these days for his comic songs such as The Ballad of Bethnal Green, which regards teenagers with humorous contempt.

The screenplay, inspired by an actual experiment in Liverpool, is by James Kennaway who later wrote Tunes of Glory, based on his own novel about a Scottish regiment, which produced of Alec Guiness's finest performances. For another look at British attitudes to unruly teenagers see the 1960 film Never Let Go, featuring Adam Faith, although he is only a minor character.

Little Ern: The authorised biography of Ernie Wise
Little Ern: The authorised biography of Ernie Wise
by Robert Sellers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.99

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Importance of Ernie, 9 Oct 2011
The public may be more aware of Eric Morecambe's showier role, but Ernie Wise was one half of Britain's most successful double act, contributing as much to the pair's success as his partner. His importance has been downplayed in recent years - indeed, there are times you could be forgiven for thinking that Morecambe must have been a solo act - so it's good news that a biography devoted to Ernie has just been published.

My recommendation, however, at least for fellow devotees, has to be a qualified one. This is because while the book certainly offers a fuller picture of Ernie's life post-Eric than I have read elsewhere, drawing on interviews with his widow Doreen, there's no getting away from the fact that much of the main part of the book, namely the pair's rise to fame, will already be familiar, thanks to the proliferation of books about the pair. Additional details and observations newly supplied by Doreen and other interviewees do illuminate certain aspects of an oft-told tale, but we're not exactly talking blinding revelations on every page.

Inevitably, then, it's the bookends - earliest days and declining years -which will be of most interest to diehard fans. Those early days have been covered in the past, but I don't think I've read elsewhere of Ernie's family's attitude to his cash-making potential: Doreen, uniquely placed to judge, sees Ernie's early years as a kind of slavery, that his childhood was stolen from him, explaining his later enjoyment in the "toys" which his success bought him.

The account of the later years serves to redress the balance of a mean-spirited documentary about Ernie, although it doesn't shy away from sadder moments: a member of the Edwin Drood cast talks of Ernie retreating to his dressing room when it becomes clear the show is going to fail, although the finger of blame is also pointed at the American production team who apparently decamped en masse immediately after the reviews instead of staying around to fix things.

This book does give you a clearer sense of Ernie than in other books to date: his relationship with his father and the forces in his early life which shaped him; the central importance of his marriage; his unselfishness as a feed; his unflappability as a negotiator on behalf of Eric and himself. To reclaim a phrase from that notorious documentary, let's hope that this book serves to remind readers of the importance of being Ernie. But there's no doubt you'll enjoy it as a whole a great deal more if you haven't already read one of the many joint biographies out there.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 16, 2012 12:12 PM BST

20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection [Us Import]
20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection [Us Import]
Price: 13.37

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short but label-spanning overview, 2 Jun 2011
No, this may not be the most comprehensive collection of Chuck Jackson's Scepter / Wand releases ever. But, though short, in the manner of all the Millenium Collection CDs (hence the docking of one star), it's the only compilation I know of which covers all his major labels, from 1961 to 1980, so as an inexpensive overview, a sampler of the great man's work, it has a great deal to recommend it.

It has nine Scepter / Wand tracks, one Motown (Are You Lonely For Me Baby), one All Platinum (I'm Needing You, Wanting You) and one EMI America (I Wanna Give You Some Love). The last was written by Bob Marley and recorded in his Jamaica studio with Scepter / Wand's Luther Dixon producing, bringing the compilation full circle.

If you are already familiar with Jackson's work then this is probably not for you: fuller collections of Scepter / Wand and Motown sides are available. But if you want to hear what the fuss is about, and if this CD is reasonably priced, then try this: it is, as sleevenote writer David Nathan says, "a tantalising musical snapshot of a true soul survivor."

It's also worth saying that sound quality is excellent throughout.

Successful Sitcom Writing
Successful Sitcom Writing
by Jurgen Wolff
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, practical guide, 1 Jun 2011
This clear, practical guide is thoroughly recommended. The main difference between the two editions is that the sitcoms cited as examples have been updated, so there is no compelling reason to buy the more expensive versions. Very useful for generating ideas and there is a short but invaluable chapter on shaping sitcom characters. Aimed at the American market but there's a great deal about the basics of writing which is equally applicable to British writers.

Primo Time
Primo Time
by Anthony Sher
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling account of actor's process, 6 May 2011
This review is from: Primo Time (Paperback)
This is a compelling account by Antony Sher of the preparation and rehearsals for Primo, his one man play adapted from Primo Levi's holocaust memoir If This Is a Man and directed by Richard Wilson.

A hard taskmaster and a longtime friend, Wilson figures prominently - and despite working with him before, Sher sees a different side of him during the process, which involves work with other actors and humiliation exercises, not to mention the attendant difficulties of securing the rights from the Levi family and attempts at immersion in the world of the play: visiting Auschwitz and hearing survivors come to tell their stories.

Also part of the mix is what Sher calls The Fear (stage fright) and the example of Ian Holm. It's perhaps the thirty years' friendship with Wilson which enables Sher to be so frank about the moments of doubt, particularly Wilson's iron certainty that displays of emotion need to be suppressed throughout.

But finally Primo Time is about Sher's journey towards an understanding of Primo Levi himself and the nature of his death. Highly recommended.

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