Monday, August 22, 2011

26 Films: Still Crazy

     Sad but true, for every successful band soldiering on years later there is a history of groups that had their moment and then faded away. The early 70s hard rock outfits were especially hard hit as they often didn’t have the kind of sales to keep money in the bank and to keep a large group of stalwart fans coming out to the shows. Still Crazy follows the story of one such forgotten group, Strange Fruit, as they get the band back together and try for a do over for their last gig at a rock festival 20 years past.

     Plot wise this is getting to be well tread material as we enter the era of the Grunge revival, where we are starting to see the bands of the 90s reform and take to the road to play mainly their old material.  Still Crazy succeeds as a film in the way that it handles this material. While it is about the band, the film wisely focuses on the failed relationships that caused the break up… mostly focusing on the tensions between the bassist Les (Jimmy Nail) who has never forgiven their singer, Ray (Bill Nighy) for taking over when original front man Keith died of an OD. For his part Ray has been battling his own demons and his place in the band.  Add to this mix Keyboardist, Tony Costello (Stephen Rea), MIA guitarist Brian (Bruce Robinson), Keith’s brother and the band’s support crew, Roadie Hughie (Billy Connolly), along with Karen (Juliet Aubrey) who was once their laundry girl and now is their road manager and our cast is set…. Except for the need for a new guitarist. The band quickly recruits Luke Shand (Hans Matheson) to fill in for the missing Brian, before hitting the road for a round of live gigs in Europe.

     You can mostly guess where things go from there, it’s not Spinal Tap, but it’s maybe one of the more realistic depictions of a band on the road. What carries it in addition to a first rate soundtrack (which I will be reviewing this Thursday) are the performances. Mostly notably Bill Nighy, as the vulnerable Ray, who has one of those lives where he might seem assured and in command while on stage, but out in the world isn’t as comfortable as one would expect the frontman of a rock band to be.

     Tony and Karan have a nice relationship, played perfectly without a lot of shouting and drama and misunderstandings. I really liked their chemistry and am left wondering what happened to Juliet Aubrey, as I don’t think I have seen her in anything recently.. I’ll have to look her up.

    Re-watching the film I was stuck by how much I still enjoyed it and that the film still get’s me at the end. As you might expect many things are set right, but I dig the fact that it’s really the music on stage that causes old wounds to be healed and old tensions to be released. The film is on DVD (and it is available from Netflix), but is badly in need of re-mastering for sound and for picture, and a few extras would be nice as well. I don’t know that it’s a Criterion level film, but if someone would do that kind of restoration to it I would be more than happy to pick up a new copy.

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