For those who don't know David Churchill, he has an extraordinary gift for finding rare and sometimes valued items (and usually for a better than average price). In the process, we often get the benefit of his archaeological quests in Critics at Large. One such treasure is his appraisal of a rare, unseen film about the life of rocker Ian Dury.
Blue Gene baby
Skinny white sailor, the chances were slender
The beauties were brief
Shall I mourn your decline with some thunderbird wine
and a black handkerchief?
I miss your sad Virginia whisper
I miss the voice that called my heart
I always loved Dury's gravelly, Cockney voice. It always put you directly inside the world he was singing about. But in terms of age, he was ten to twelve years older than most of the artists we identify with New Wave. And yet, nobody seemed to notice or care because there was no question he lived the life. Unfortunately, his influence was generally short-lived. In fact, his reputation is based around the first two albums, New Boots and Panties!! and Do It Yourself, plus a handful of singles, such as “Spasticus (Autisticus),” which was his 1981 attack on anybody who 'felt sorry' for anybody with an affliction such as his. Off and on, he continued to record albums alone and with his band until shortly before his death from cancer in 2000. Trying to sum up his life in a film would be difficult, so it is not altogether surprising that it took until 2010 before someone finally managed to do it.
They also shoot linking bits, often to a Dury or some other New Wave song, in a manner similar to some of the New Wave videos of the time. This is all fine and playful, but it really doesn't work. Whitecross says in a very short extra on the DVD that he wanted to make it this way in order to not have it be like a conventional biopic, but this has backfired. I completely agree that a conventional bio would have been the wrong approach, but by choosing to do it with so much attention-grabbing film-making technique achieves only one thing: it pushes you out of the film again and again.
Some tastes of Dury can be found below:
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (from 1977)
Sweet Gene Vincent (from 1980)
Spasticus (Autisticus) (from 1981)
- originally published on April 29, 2011 in Critics at Large.