Monday, November 9, 2009

Starstruck (Gillian Armstrong, 1982)

A shimmering glob of unperturbed incandescence just waiting to be devoured by a well-balanced person with discerning taste, Starstruck is an empty-headed excursion that unabashedly celebrates the music and culture of the early 1980s. After recovering from the cinematic contact high it so generously provided, and after I finished kicking myself for taking so long in getting around to viewing it, the amount of adoration I began to feel towards this monumental work of new wave capriciousness as the credits rolled was astronomical. Shot though the inherently kooky prism that is the nation of Australia, the film, directed by Gillian Armstrong (Little Women) and written by Stephen MacLean, is one of the most exuberant musicals I have ever seen. A playful tribute to those who dream big, and the underage cousins who assist them along the way, the carefree, conflict-light (the future of a popular pub is put in mild jeopardy), colourful musical has all the ingredients one could possibly need to make a genuine cult classic. Energetically choreographed musical numbers, lavish costumes (this mostly applies to the film's main character), animals used as props, a simplistic storyline that requires hardly any mental exertion to follow, and a men's synchronized swimming routine that involves plenty of inflatable sharks.

The well-worn story revolves around an ambitious singer/barmaid named Jackie Mullins (Jo Kennedy) and her shrewd fourteen year-old cousin/manager Angus (Ross O'Donovan) trying to advance in the fickle world of popular music. And like in the similarly plotted Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, the headstrong Jackie finds herself on the cusp of stardom thanks to an immensely dangerous publicity stunt orchestrated by the crafty Angus.

This high-wire act attracts the attention of Terry (John O'May), a well-liked television personality, and is integral to her being invited to sing on his music-based program.

Of course, this sudden burst of fame leads her to compromise her artistic integrity and turn on her band-mates (who didn't even know she was in the band). After her disastrous television appearance, a shot at redemption arises when she and her band (they eventually patch things up) hatch a scheme to crash a music contest being held at the prestigious Sydney Opera House. The fact that the pub owned by Jackie's mum is in financial trouble, and that the contest has a rather healthy cash reward, adds an extra hint of dramatic tension to her performance.

Audaciously new wave in every way possible, Starstruck is gleefully unashamed of its overtly '80s approach to music and fashion. (Jackie and Angus spend just as much time developing her "look" than they do her "sound.") Everything from the neon splendour of Jo Kennedy's "Temper Temper" (I loved the bar slide and the red kangaroo suit) to Jo's counter top dancing during "Body and Soul" (an intoxicating blend of purple hosiery and bouncy exuberance) induced much spiritual joy to pore freely from the gaping hole that is my cheerful epicentre.

The homoerotic beefiness of the aquatic "Tough" had its moments as well. This number in particular did a terrific job of showcasing the film's uniquely Aussie point-of-view. I mean, I can't see any other kind of people being so comfortably gay while immersed in water. And the extreme quirkiness of Jackie's family was another prominently displayed staple of Aussie cinema.

A mind-blowing combination of Cyndi Lauper, Anne Carlisle from Liquid Sky, and Nancy Nova, Jo Kennedy saturates the screen with enough uncut moxie to fill a regular-sized bathtub that's been sanitized with Nina Hagen's tears. Teamed with the impish Ross O'Donovan (his unflinching loyalty to her was adorable), Jo's Jackie is an inspiration to all those who to aspire to be famous in a short period of time.

Now, part of her appeal was the sheer bizarreness of some of her outfits (the body socking complete with ample breasts immediately springs to mind). But I thought, along with doing all of her own singing, that Miss Kennedy brought a breezy, devil-may-care attitude to the proceedings that supplied the film with a nonthreatening brand of amusement. Blessed with an expressive face and a pair of legs that seemed to go on forever, Jo's profound gorgeousness also helped steer her character through the dark corridors of the soul-sucking hell that is the music industry.

Oh, and I want to make sure I give a shout out to Kaarin Fairfax as the warm usherette in pink who locks eyes with Angus near the end of the movie. Credited as "Ice Cream Girl," I was quite impressed with the overall composition of her character. In other words, Kaarin looked like the fantasy girl of every new wave guy and gal on the planet.

video uploaded by ywngr


  1. That looks ultra cool. It definitely looks like a flick I would enjoy. Great review. I'll have to try to catch this one. Cheers!

  2. "Body and Soul" was written by Tim Finn. I think I had only heard of this movie through some Finn-related reading.

    Yeah, I saw AOS and MK rip me off. :D Actually, there are quite a few of those "best of the aughts" lists that have started to appear.

    I finally heard Teenage Head, one of those Canadian bands I had always read about. And I "discovered" Hugh Dillon's old band, The Headstones. I keep playing that Cemetery song.

  3. Keith: That's because it is ultra cool. ;)

    Kamir: Damn, I should have mentioned Tim Finn's involvement in the penning of "Body and Soul."

    Speaking of Tim's you like, I saw Tim Daly on TMZ yesterday; he's one handsome motherf...

    Is it weird that when I first "AOS" I immediately thought of A Flock of Seagulls? I think it's weird. Anyway, I like the way they're slowly unveiling their 00 lists, as it gives me something to look forward to while they review stuff like Twilight 2 and Boondock Saints 2.

    Teenage Head were in the 80s flick Class of 1984 and the fave band of an older dude (I bet he was only 17 or 18) who lived on a nearby street when I was a kid.

    Hugh Dillion's probably got a bank robber in his crosshairs as I'm typing this. :D

  4. Thank you for reviewing this film.

    I saw it in the cinema when it was released (I was 12) and I loved it. My sister had the soundtrack on a tape and we played it continuously.

    I loved this film - and I think it influenced my idea of what Sydney was like (I lived in Melbourne at the time).

    This is a great film. Fun with great music and full of wonderful characters.

    I still sing "I want to live in a house, with my own letterbox" to myself from time to time.

    Thank you again.

  5. Good Christ I love this movie. For the love of all that is Yahoo Serious, WHERE IS THE FUCKING SOUNDTRACK?!? Seriously?!?

    I just figured out that his name is a joke. It's SARCASTIC. He's not serious at all, HE'S A GOOFBALL! He he he.

    P.S. my belly rumbles softly when I laugh at a hearty pitch.