Disclaimer: The views expressed on this page are my own (Kate Snowdon’s) and not those of the St Albans Film Festival as a whole.
The main film of the St Albans Film Festival this year was the pre-release screening of Vinyl. Vinyl was screened in The Maltings Arts Theatre on Friday 8th, ahead of its UK cinema release date.
As it was the first film screening of the first ever St Albans Film Festival there was a real buzz in the room as Festival Director Leoni Kibbey entered the room to introduce Vinyl, in place of director Sara Sugarman who sadly could not attend the event.
“Thanks to all who have come here… It’s much better than being at work on a Friday afternoon,” Leoni said.
Vinyl, which is set in Wales, stars Phil Daniels as a washed-up ageing punk singer and guitarist, Johnny Jones. The film opens with the former front man of ‘Weapons of Happiness’, Johnny, buying drugs from a child and walking across a farm to smoke a homemade bong with a granny, next to a cow (yes, you read that right). It’s not exactly the opening I imagined, but it set the comedic tone of the film well.
Sugarman manages to deliver a serious, reflective message throughout the film, based loosely on the real life events of Mike Peter’s rock and roll hoax of 2004; it undermines the attitudes and rationalisations of today’s music industry.
Johnny Jones reunites with his band accidentally after 20 years when they find themselves at a mutual friend’s funeral. The three other band mates; Minto, Griff and Robbie have all taken different, conventional paths in life – unlike Johnny, who has never really managed to let go of his punk rocker dream.
Sugarman has a brilliant way of making you want to laugh at (perhaps) inappropriate times.The first laugh out loud moment came from an ironic comment at said funeral, and this kind of dry, ironic humour is present throughout the film.
The story really gets going when the accidentally re-formed band drunkenly record a song, which turns out to be good enough quality to be released as a single. Johnny pushes to try and get the song recognised by record labels and music producers to little avail, and so the idea of employing a group of young, good looking, teenagers to mime the songs on stage is formed. The fact that the film is based on a true music hoax adds a lot more depth to the film.
I find Johnny’s character, with his mid-life crisis coats and plastic sunglasses, a brilliantly developed character with attentions to detail spot on (such as his constantly carrying around a plastic bag – to the point where he still has it in his hands when he’s fighting). I did, however, miss the developments of his relationship with his wife, Jules: the audience witness some of their problems and struggles but the resolutions feel a little rushed.
The most developed and touching relationship of the film is that between Johnny and his hoax band’s front man (and the only one who can actually sing), Joel ‘Drainpipe’ Richards (played by up and coming star Jamie Blackley). From the regular arguments and raking over the past that we see from the Weapons of Happiness (again, these particular relationships feel a little under-developed) we quickly learn that the reason for the band splitting 20 years ago were largely due to the fact that Johnny’s father died and he received little support from his band mates. This goes a long way in explaining the fatherly moments that ensue between Johnny and Drainpipe throughout the movie.
Essentially, however, this is not a Rom Com – it’s a music film. The plot is based around music, not relationships; A music genre; the way that record companies don’t want to sign anyone over the age of 30 (as it’s “like watching your parents having sex”); the way that a music career can affect relationships. Despite being so heavily about music, I was a little disappointed that the soundtrack consisted of, mostly, one song. By the end credits, I was absolutely sick of the words “Free Rock and Roll”.
Although it was a low budget film, it didn’t notice too much. It worked; it had a charm about it (although the hand-held camera made it a little difficult to watch at times) and despite having no attachment to a major studio, Sara Sugarman did the story justice.
Kate Rates: 3.5 ***’s