film, not a book

Not a Book: The Sparks Brothers

Back with another documentary this week – this time a film about the band Sparks – namely brothers Ron and Russel Mael. If you’re not sure who they are, the song that you’re most likely to recognise is This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us:

The brothers first formed a band in the mid 1960s but broken through nearly a decade later in the mid 1970s and have been constantly producing music and evolving ever since, whether people have been watching or not – and some times people really haven’t been watching. But they have a lot of high profile fans. Don’t believe me? Watch the trailer:

Directed by Edgar Wright (yes him from Hot Fuzz) this is a two and a bit hour love letter to one of pop’s most enigmatic bands. Who are still enigmatic at the end of the film, but you’ve really enjoyed watching them go through their career and making music. The film is structured by working it’s way through the bands albums and what was going on in the band at the time. But only in the band. I still don’t know if the brothers have partners, or kids or anything. But I do know that Ron has a very cool and very retro car.

It’s also totally notable that although many other musicians have joined them in the band at various points only to be jettisoned as the brothers moved on, lots of them appear in the film and seem to be absolutely fine about it. In fact Ron and Russel are often described as gentlemen and a joy to work with. So not your normal music documentary on that front either.

Maybe it could have been shorter, but why wouldn’t you want to include puppets and incredibly literal props and visual gags. It’s just a lovely way to pass the time, and you’ll end up listening to a Sparks playlist afterwards. I’ve even included on for you so you don’t have to go looking for it. You’re welcome. The Sparks Brothers is on Netflix in the UK. Enjoy.

film, not a book

Not a Book: Judy Garland

Friday marked 100 years since the birth of Judy Garland, so I’m going all Hollywood again here today.. When we went to Wicked earlier in the year, I had a moment as it started where I wasn’t sure if our nieces had seen the Wizard of Oz – but when I checked at the internal they had, so I think it’s still impossible not to have seen a little of her work.

And although you might first encounter her as a child in The Wizard of Oz, if as you grow up you start wandering into Hollywood history (or maybe even if you don’t!) you soon discover the troubled life – the child star whose life was wrecked by her fame and career. She’s not the first troubled child star, but she’s the one who everyone remembers – the drugs she got hooked on after the studio gave them to her to keep her thin, give her energy to work or get her to sleep after work, the troubled personal life, the early death. It all over shadows the actual talent. I’ve put the Get Happy clip in here as well as the Wizard of Oz trailer because people forget that she did upbeat.

And of course there’s so much Garland-related media to consume. Rufus Wainwright is doing his Judy show again this week for the anniversary – I’m still hopeful that one day I will manage to see him do it live, but I’ve listened to the CD to death (yes, I’ve had it that long).

Then of course there’s the plays and movies. I still haven’t watched Renee Zelwegger in Judy, but I did see Tracie Bennett in End of the Rainbow when that was touring and it was really quite something. The clip from the Tony Awards really doesn’t do it justice at all.

And then I was in the Royal Albert Hall for the John Wilson Movie Musical Prom where Caroline O’Connor did this amazing version of The Man That Got Away.

I’ve only watched the 1954 Star is Born once – because as we all know I’m all about the upbeat, but Garland is amazing in it and I still don’t know how she didn’t win the Oscar – and the story about the cameras coming to her hospital room (she’d just given birth) to film her in case she won breaks my heart every time. And The Man That Got Away lost the best song prize too – to a song I’ve never heard off. What a swizz.

In terms of reading material – after all this is a book blog – I read Get Happy by Gerald Clarke more than a decade ago and it’s still considered to be the definitive one so that’s worth a look if you’re interested. But if you don’t want 500 whole pages, she’s Chapter 10 in Anne Helen Petersen’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood as part of the Broken by the System section. And she gets a few mentions (as an example) in Helen O’Hara’s Women vs Hollywood too if you want to read about the bigger picture of Hollywood being awful to women.

But let’s end on the woman herself performing and not on the sadness. I’ve picked the Trolley Song from Meet Me In St Louis, because it’s upbeat and because Judy said that this film, directed by Vincente Minnelli who she went on to marry, was the first time she had ever felt beautiful. Which is sad, but she does look amazing in this film and I’m glad she could see it.