Archive for October, 2000

Thursday, October 19th, 2000

Roxy Music

Roxy Music’s recent decision to hitch a ride on the revival bandwagon and get back together inevitably triggered a warm wave of nostalgic appreciation. Roxy Music, it’s understood, are one of Britain’s national treasures, a musical equivalent to the sort of stately home in which Bryan Ferry currently resides, a repository for style and class. Anyone in British pop who has ever aspired to a certain suavity, be it Japan or ABC, or later in their own way Pulp or Blur, is said to owe a debt of thanks to Roxy Music.

Scrape beyond their gloss-deep exterior, however, listen harder to them and stare a little longer at their photo and album cover archive and you realise that Roxy Music are a mere appendix in the British body pop. If they hadn’t existed, it would not have been necessary to invent them. Far from standing out in brilliant contrast to their times, Roxy Music were creatures of them. Even by the all-time-low sartorial standards of the Seventies, Roxy Music looked as mouldy as last year’s cheese, a clumsy riot of half-mast flares, space-aged winged collars and garish rhinestone. They look like what they were – a bunch of muso heteros got up in the garb of the day ‘cos that’s what the birds seem to go for, like.

Had Ferry and co really possessed a unique sense of style, they might have dressed more like Kraftwerk – in elegant, provocatively conservative tones, or recreated themselves as singular superfreaks a la Bowie. Instead, they look too much like a Spiders For Mars tribute band for comfort. Musically, too, they were informed and infected by then typical, now obsolete traits. The coarse blasts of Andy “the mullet” Mackay on sax and oboe could easily have sat on a Wizzard, Mott The Hoople or later a Boomtown Rats record. Phil Manzanera, meanwhile, conformed to the standard fretboard virtuoso conventions of the day, without even the idiosyncratic methodology of contemporaries like Robert Fripp. Brian Eno, for whom being in Roxy Music was the least interesting thing he ever did and the most interesting thing about Roxy Music, realised early on that his own strain of sonic experimentalism would have no place in the band and quit.

Which leaves Bryan Ferry, the arse and soul of Roxy and the most ridiculous pop character ever undeservedly to be dubbed a knight of Cool. An ageing Lothario before he even formed Roxy Music, he taught pottery at a girl’s school (“with my reputation?”), his most hideous and inexplicably widely imitated bequest to pop is that strangulatedly bombastic vocal style of his, which, depending on whether you’re listening to “Street Life” or “2HB” sounds like the Indian geezer singing “Land Of Hope And Glory” at the end of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum or Bernard Bresslaw badly impersonating Sir Alec Guinness respectively.

With his insinuating sneer and sweeping mane, Ferry’s aristocratic pretensions were an ineffectual distraction from what he truly was, what his bog-plebby name told you he was – an unreconstructed Geordie lad on the make. His lyrics are full of the most banal hankerings, vacillating between fantasies of the metropolis or of rural idylls culled from dentist waiting room copies of Country Life (cf “Mother Of Pearl”).

When not palely apeing Warhol in his trite ruminations on Hollywood iconography (“2HB”, “Virginia Plain”), his body of text is one long, unrequited hard-on, expressed in hackneyed terms of infatuation as on “Beauty Queen” (“Maybe some day (you’ll) be a star/ A fast mover like you/ And your dreams will come true”) or on “Ladytron” (“Lady if you want to find a lover/Then you need look no further”).

Most pathetic of all were the Roxy album sleeves, generally featuring Ferry’sgirlfriend du jour, pouting and bursting out of her lingerie or clutching her tits. Beyond tacky, beyond offensive, beyond laughable it is only extraordinary that in their day these sleeves enhanced Roxy’s reputation for “sophistication”. Sid The Sexist more like.

In the early Eighties, Roxy Music’s career revived somewhat with hits like “Dance Away”, “Jealous Guy” and “Angel Eyes”. Ferry still played the melancholy old roue and albums like Flesh + Blood were staple fare in Yorkshire wine bars and in only half-decent record collections but by now Ferry in particular, with his Falcon Hairspray ad looks and penchant for red trousers was becoming a byword for naff. Which is what Roxy should have been recognised as from the start. What were people thinking in the Seventies?

Monday, October 2nd, 2000

Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman? Geezer. Grew up in Sarf London but went on to show those RADA stage school mincing boys what it was abaht. Spanked that blond geezer in The Firm. Er – nobbed Alfred Molina in Prick Up Your Ears. But then went to Hollywood and nobbed some actual birds, including Uma Thurman and Isabella Rossellini. Then made Nil By Maaaahth with top geezer Ray Winstone. Then, er, went back to Hollywood and starred in Lost In Space as evil Dr Zachary Smith. Still. Geezer, eh?

The resistible rise of Gary Oldman has to be one of the most outrageous wide boy strokes ever pulled on Hollywood. Still more outrageous is that he has somehow managed to blag a reputation as a prestige character actor, based on little more than a line in unlikely foreign accents and the odd psychotic twitch. That, plus a shameless, whoreish eagerness to do absolutely anything offered to him, however hackishly preposterous. How grateful Quentin Tarantino must have been that there was an even bigger twat than him prepared to play out his scripted fantasy of a white rasta patois-spouting pimp in True Romance; (“Guys, we need someone or I’ll have to wear the damn fake dreadlocks myself and – oh, Oldman says he’ll do it? Great!”)

As a child, doubtless to escape the harrowing realities of his upbringing, Oldman developed a penchant for fancy dressing. This desire to retreat from his (non) self into the extravagant, otherness of acting has never left him, not even after he quit a lifelong escapism into booze. In 1995, he went to to Ritz dressed as a female, deceiving the waiters as he quietly took his tea. Even when Oldman hit paydirt playing Sid Vicious, it was fancy dress. He was most thrilled at getting Vicious’s mother’s permission to wear his studded leather bracelet and padlock and chain necklace during filming. He startled critics with his brio and aggro but face it, Vicious was a far less complex character than he is romantically imagined – a pathetic junkie halfwit. Oldman hardly needed to draw on his reserves of reflectiveness and humanity to portray him, which was just as well.

In further roles, Oldman brought a distracting penchant for aggressive campness to bear. Odd, how interchangeable are his depictions of Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears (“Nice arse!”) and the gang leader in The Firm (“Do you want your spanking now?”). Both roles are smothered in “ooh, get her!” -type cracks and lashings of pouting, both of which have the effect of hampering any real glimpse into the true hearts of the characters. In The Firm, Oldman even opts, inexplicably, to sport a David Seaman-type moustache – something else to hide behind.

It’s no surprise that rather than delve the sort of social Brit realism in which he was mistakenly considered a master, Oldman took flight for a career camping it large in Hollywood, where they love a good fruity Brit. He would lose himself further in every role, overpraised at every turn – as a chillingly inaccurate Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK, for instance. However, his worst was yet to come. First, in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), a triumph/disaster of make-up, in which he comes across first as a cross between Granny Clampett and one of those anus-headed aliens in early Star Trek, then in Victorian garb looking like Andrew Eldritch reluctantly donning grey top hat and tails to act as usher at his brother’s wedding. His breathy histrionics; “(It’s no laughing mattaaaghh!!)” made the average WWF wrestler seem suavely understated by comparison. It was a “laughing mattaaghhh”, however. Critics panned Dracula as a Gothic pile of bilge.

Since then, he’s deteriorated further. His corrupt DEA enforcer Stansfield in Luc Bresson’s Leon, all absurd, queenly posturing, silly suit and ostentatious drug addiction, ranks among the most ridiculously ineffectual screen villains ever. He seems to think he’s an arch-villain in a Batman movie, as opposed to a tense, low-key Euro-thriller.

Further opportunities for crass cartoonism occurred in Air Force One in which he plays a Russian villain called Ivan with an accent borrowed from an old Two Ronnies sketch. His playing of the emaciated victim/foe in Hannibal saw him disappear entirely behind make-up but his attempts to chill merely came across as a risible reminder of The Simpsons’ Mr Burns. Pure affectation and crude disguise – without them, Oldman is nothing. Granted, he directed Nil By Mouth but with that overrated, inconsequential, claustrophobic slice of autobiography, he’s shot his single grey bolt of authenticity. He was soon back doing a voiceover for Warner Brothers’ animated The Quest For Camelot. Oldman – you are a tart. Shut it.