Telstar Review: Brit-Plop?
Music and film. Both have the ability to captivate millions and provoke critics and imitators in equal numbers but do they really make good bedfellows?
Over the years we have seen various attempts to try and capture the glamour and intrigue that surrounds the British music scene. Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine was a look back at the glam rock scene of the 1970’s whilst Michael Winterbottom brought us the Manchester scene of the eighties with 24 Hour Party People. In his directorial debut Lock, Stock… star Nick Moran offers up Telstar, a film about the rock’n’roll world of pre-Beatles Britain.
The thing all these films have in common is they use the story of one man to introduce the music scene that then forms the backdrop to the film. In this case it is the story of Joe Meek, a maverick record producer whose innovative methods managed to earn him the first US number 1 by a British artist as well as an Ivor Novello award, both for the hit Telstar from which the film takes its name. Bear in mind that all of this was achieved without being able to play a single note and that two members of the house band went on to form Deep Purple and Chas N Dave, and I guess it’s fair to say you have created a pretty unique environment.
But if there is one thing we can learn from the recent Phil Spector case it’s that some successes come at a price and Joe Meek paid a high one for his. Living on a daily diet of coffee, pills and paranoia Con O’Neill, reprising the role he played in the West End play, deftly portrays Joe’s downward spiral into scandal (his arrest for importuning), the occult (he believed Buddy Holly could talk to him from beyond the grave) and bankruptcy. One by one he succeeds in alienating all those around him with his increasingly crazed antics before the film and his life is brought to its grisly conclusion.
O’Neill is very much the star turn but Moran deserves credit for peppering his script with a humour which manages to lift this film above the mundane. Kevin Spacey keeps up usual standards but unfortunately so do James Corden and Ralf Little who are equally unlikeable on the big screen as they are on TV.
Did Moran succeed in playing cupid between music and film where so many have failed? Not really.
It is an impressive debut effort and the real life story of Joe Meek is certainly an interesting one but the film just misses the mark. Too much is made of Meek’s love affair with star singer Heinz, which at times makes him come across petty and jealous instead of ‘tortured genius’ and some of the effects – the fade outs of people and the slow motion shots of Joe – detract from a narrative intimacy which should really have been its strength.