Monday, March 7, 2011

Breaking Glass (Brian Gibson, 1980)

Judging by the way its depicted in nearly every movie I've seen made about the subject, you'd think the music industry was the most soul-destroying life form on earth. Sucking up raw talent like an empty-bellied sponge, only to squeeze it out onto the cold, concrete floor when an artist's music no longer scratches them where they itch, the music biz is notorious for its fickleness. Whether this reputation is justified or not is debatable. Not that anyone cares, but I happen to think the door-to-door dildo racket is much worse when it comes to random cruelty. I mean, have you tried to sell a vein-covered piece of phallic-shaped plastic to some puritan puke in an ill-fitting pantsuit? It's damn near impossible. Nevertheless, the cliché that the music industry is a pitiless hellhole holds firm in Breaking Glass, your classic rise and fall rock 'n' roll fable about a pair of dreamers who find the trappings of Money; Success; Fame; Glamour to be a tad overwhelming. Written and directed by Brian Gibson (What's Love Got to Do with It), and, get this, produced by Dodi Fayed, the film manages to capture the surge of creativity that was sweeping the U.K. after the unofficial demise of punk in the late 1970s.

Speaking of things that are "a tad," I was always a tad jealous of the mods I knew during a brief, yet developmentally important chunk of my teenage years. You see, they had a film, Quadrophenia, which captured the spirit of their idiosyncratic subculture, and I didn't. Sure, I was able to extract a smallish amount of solace from the fact their movement was outmoded (the sixties are over, man) and terribly unappealing from an aesthetic point-of-view, but they had an actual movie to call their own.

Don't feel too sorry for me; after all, I did have Repo Man to keep me warm–you know, during that long, youthful stretch of time before films like, Liquid Sky, Dr. Caligari and the Forbidden Zone came along to paint a much more precise portrait of what the inside my head looks like on a day-to-day basis. Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking: "Isn't Repo Man more of a punk movie?" Maybe. But I've always felt that its power as a righteous piece of filmed entertainment enabled it to cross over that non-existent barrier that keeps us unnecessarily separated from one another.

Anyway, back to the movie at hand. While it's true, I found the film's subtle jabs at the garish radiance that is disco to be rather troubling (the record charts are manipulated in order to keep an innocuous disco jam at the #1 spot), and it seemed to be missing scenes that featured impish cultural icons cavorting about in pointy boots affixed with shiny buckles (Who's That Girl), it does, however, boast headstrong women in blue lipstick, an impromptu race riot, radioactive clothing, globs of totally awesome new wave music by the fabulous Hazel O'Connor and producer Tony Visconti (Les Rita Mitsouko and Sparks), and, last but not least, robot dancing. In other words, I think Breaking Glass would have been a solid candidate to counter the dreaded mod movie.

Taking place in Great Britain during the so-called "The Winter of Discontent," a bleak period in the island nation's history rife with labour disputes, civil unrest and inclement weather, a wannabe record industry insider named Danny (Phil "Parklife" Daniels) and Kate (Hazel O'Connor), a struggling musician/petrol station attendant with a do it yourself approach to self-promotion, form a tentative alliance with one another in a London alleyway circa 1979-80. After auditioning band members, some talented, others just plain loony (if you ever wanted to see Jonathan Pryce wail competently on a saxophone in front of a B-52's poster, this is your movie), Danny lands Kate and the boys a gig at a dingy pub (one crawling with pool-playing skinheads). It's a rough start, but things gradually get better for the band, or do they?

Since the film follows their meteoric rise, that means we are privy to the more negative aspects of instant stardom. The journey just to get their music heard is a treacherous one, as apathetic audiences, jaded record label execs, and the constant fear of police harassment manage to impede their progress. As you would expect, once the band reach their desired destination, they're plagued by drugs, in-fighting, jealously, exhaustion, and artistic differences. Actually, the whole situation between Kate, Danny and the members of Breaking Glass reminded me of Berlin, the L.A.-based outfit that went from being this edgy new wave band to a group that sang mushy, asphyxiation-promoting love songs.

Well, the exact same thing happens to Breaking Glass, which, in case I haven't mentioned it yet, is the name of the band we follow in the movie. Convinced by duplicitous music executives to procure the help of a pompous producer, they compose a ballad called "Will You." Which, in turn, nets the band its first hit record, one that comes with a stylish music video ("I want a forest of neon tubes," demands the producer). This, of course, causes some of their old fans to question Kate's integrity, drives a wedge between Kate and Danny, proceeds to make their saxophone player feel unwanted, and leads to the bands overall downfall.

While I appreciated its realistic depiction of the music industry, there's a part of me that wished the film had included more surreal moments like the one that takes place on the subway. And, no, I don't mean the opening scene where we see Kate covering the inside of a train car with promotional stickers while singing the terrific "Writing on the Wall," nor do I mean the one where Kate and Danny snuggle aboard a train on Christmas Day (keep an eye out for Jim Broadbent as the porter). I'm talking about that eerie moment when she comes face-to-face with a bunch of Kate clones. After performing the song "Eighth Day" at a concert, a real show-stopper that comes complete with iridescent costumes and robotic gesticulations, Kate stumbles aboard a subway car only to be confronted by a group of cataleptic lookalikes. At any rate, it features the kind of dreamlike weirdness I live for.

Channeling the rage of Diane Lane from Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Strains and the sheer enthusiasm of Jo Kennedy from Starstruck–despite the fact that Breaking Glass was made before both of these films–Hazel O'Connor imbues Kate with a feisty brand of uncut exuberance. (She's the gal who can turn the world on with her sneer.) This spunk is probably best observed in an early scene when Hazel slaps this colossal wanker wearing a Specials t-shirt in the face after one of her gigs. It was right then and there that Hazel signified to the audience that she was not someone to be messed with in any way, shape, or form.

I'm sure there's gonna be a smattering of people out there who'll be shocked, or, in some rare cases, flabbergasted, by the lack of colour used in the costumes seen throughout Breaking Glass, I thought Hazel O'Connor's wardrobe perfectly reflected the desolation of the era. Designed by Lorna Hillyard and Monica Howe, Hazel's outfits feature mostly black and white prints (with a strong hint of silver in places) that looked at ease amongst the decay and desperation of James Callahan's England. You've got to remember that the lively pinks and the calming blues usually associated with the 1980s were still light years away.

Even though my cinematic wheelhouse seems to be getting smaller with each passing year, there will always be room for demented English women who wear excessive amounts of makeup, sport whitish blonde hair, and scream angrily in a rock concert setting. Working in perfect harmony with one another, makeup artist Pat Hay and hair stylist Sarah Monzani have created one of the most iconic looks in new wave history.

Okay, sure, it's not quite up there with Siouxsie Sioux, or even Lene Lovich, in terms of pizazz, but if the sight of an animated Hazel O'Connor hurling obscenities at a charging throng of unruly skinheads, her frazzled platinum bob hairstyle shimmering in chic defiance of their follicle reductionism, fails to get your juices flowing, then you my friend are not alive.

video uploaded by phoben


  1. I'm curious, which cut of the movie did you see? You have widescreen images implying you saw the UK cut which ends with Hazel in the asylum. In the U.S., Paramount chopped off the final moments of Hazel going off the deep end for good and ended the movie just as she finishes singing "On the Third Day" in concert. Which is itself kind of a cool ending, i.e. in her robot costume fully absorbed into the machine. This is the version, with felonious pan-scanning, that Netflix is streaming right now.

    I've always found it ironic that two seminal girl punk movies - GLASS and STAINS - were both released here by Paramount and both had their endings fucked with.

  2. I didn't know there were two versions, but I guess I watched the one with the asylum ending.

    You mean to tell me they cut out the final bit on the train?!? That's a bloody outrage. Hazel going off the deep end was my favourite (non-music) scene in the movie.

  3. I have a few things to say about Breaking Glass:
    Mr. Heuck mentioned Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. Funny, I always lump Stains and Glass together because they were frequently shown on Night Flight.

    I had an early Jim Broadbent sighting when I watched this weird Alan Bates film called The Shout. And speaking of English actors I dig, thanks for the Jonathan Pryce screenshot.

    There's a great Peel Sessions compilation called Winters of Our Discontent.

    "Asphyxiation-promoting"? LOLOLOL

    I don't know if you are familiar with the Canadian band Alexisonfire, but they butchered one of my favorite Midnight Oil songs. Jeez, if dissent hates the original, I can't imagine his reaction to this version:

  4. Apparently, CITY TV used to show Breaking Glass in the early 80s as well.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains and Breaking Glass lump well together.

    I had a different screenshot in that spot for a while there, but decided to replace it when I realized that I hadn't posted one of Jonathan Pryce playing the sax.

    Oh, and even though the chances of him being actor you dig were pretty high (you know, with him being English and all), I had no idea he was an actor you dug. :)

    A friend of mine shoplifted a copy of the New Order Peel Sessions record, and gave it to me as a birthday present.

    "Take My Breath Away" promotes strangulation.

    I know who Alexisonfire are, but I have no idea what they sound like.

    Say hi to dissent for me.

  5. Jonathan Pryce earns points for his musical talents--and I wasn't referring to his saxophone-playing.

    New Order Peel Session: Wow, that's worse than regifting!

    dissent says "Hi!"

  6. Jonathan Pryce is Welsh, not English. Oops.

    I was highly suspicious of the New Order gift, as we were not the type to give one another gifts (greedy punks and freaks looking out for number one). Apparently they had stolen a bunch of records, and didn't quite care for the Peel Sessions record, so... they dumped it on me. Happy Birthday. :)

  7. I own the soundtrack LP but haven't seen the movie, but I see this fucker's on Netflix instant!! Radness. As you were alluding to, it looks like Stains + Starstruck + Lene Lovich, and that is math that works for me.

  8. Owning soundtracks to movies you haven't seen?!? You go, girl! ;)

  9. Now that Olive Films has released BREAKING GLASS on DVD and Blu-Ray in the U.S., the saga has gotten a little stranger.

    The Olive DVD ostensibly still has the U.S. cut - the movie ends with the concert and goes to credits. However, instead of a reprise of "On the Third Day" as was originally heard over credits in Paramount's edit, we hear all of the audio from the UK ending! Nothing is shown, mind you, it's just the sound. This continues all the way to the end of the credits, the closing Paramount logo, and even the "PG" MPAA card, and then the sound cuts off, so you don't get to hear the final final song "If Only." So apparently, while they used image from Paramount's shorter cut, they married it to audio from the UK edition.

    I've brought this up at Home Theater Forum, Facebook, Twitter, and AVManiacs, but neither Olive nor Paramount will admit that they fouled up the audio. They probably weren't even aware that there was a difference between the two versions of the film. I doubt they will do any kind of fix or recall, sadly, due to the niche nature of the movie, but it would be nice to at least have someone own up to the mix-up.

  10. Hi there! I'd like to know the name of the film in the picture of "House-of-self-indulgence". No Sedmikrásky, the picture on the left, please. Thanks!! Really good job here :)

    1. Dr. Caligari (Stephen Sayadian, 1989)‎

  11. this movie looks like scary because of the make ups but i think it has a good story line, and something tells me that i should watch this movie. that why i am looking for this movie.