Friday, August 2, 2013

Never Too Young to Rock (England, 1976)

Never Too Young to Rock begins in a dystopian present: England in the mid 1970s, when the powers that be are conspiring to ban rock n’ roll music from television. As an opening title card tells us, a young man named Hero (Peter Denyer) has endeavored to stage a gala TV concert in defiance of this ban, despite opposition from the “enemies of rock n’ roll”. This immediately gets me excited, because I love movies in which rock music is portrayed as being under attack by graying suits who fear its subversive power, ignoring the very many graying suits for whom rock was a pocket lining cash cow.

Anyway, because there are no telephones in this world, Hero must take to the road in order to find the specific bands he needs for the concert. Fortunately he is not unaided in this task, as he has at his service the Group Detector Van, a sophisticated piece of mobile equipment that can hone in on the unique sonic signature of any designated pop group. Which is a great idea, as long as those groups are playing at all times. Happily, the million selling group Mud (Mud) have nothing better to do than run through their chart topping hits at a small roadside café. Meanwhile, a food fight breaks out among the patrons and we are introduced to one of Never Too Young to Rock’s primary flaws: its tendency to interrupt its musical numbers with dialogue scenes, by which songs are reduced to intermittent blaring snippets bisected by patches of people mumbling disconsolately at one another.

Now, in case you don’t know who Mud is -- because you probably don’t -- a primer: Along with The Sweet and Suzi Quatro, Mud was part of the stable of bands for which songwriters Michael Chapman and Nicky Chin wrote hit after hit during the glam era. That duo, known professionally as Chinnichap, had a gift for nonsensical but naggingly catchy tunes (The Sweet’s “Little Willy”, for instance, and, later, Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey”) that went straight for the pocket books of British teeny boppers of the time. Unlike Sweet – and, to a lesser extent, Suzi Quatro -- the band never made so much as a dent in the U.S. charts, which may be due to their odd combination of bubble gummy, 50s influenced tunes with a roaring, wall of guitar sound. For Americans, probably the most noteworthy thing about the band is that guitarist Rob Gray later wrote “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” for Kylie Minogue.

But one band does not a gala concert make, and so we are next introduced to The Glitter Band (The Glitter Band), who doubled as the backing band for now noted kiddie fiddler Gary Glitter. And then it’s on to the Rubettes, a group with a distinctly nostalgic 1950s vibe who somehow got co-opted into the glitter scene by dint of sheer proximity. Other acts on tap include the beardy Whoopee Band and Slick, featuring a pre-Ultravox Midge Ure looking like a teenage stoner. Throughout this musical cavalcade, a variety of wan attempts on the part of the “enemies of rock n’ roll” are made to derail the Group Detector Van’s mission, leading to a pokey fan boat chase with helicopters buzzing overhead, an attempted bombing, and a bit where the van is vaguely pursued by a bunch of black clad cyclists. Meanwhile, Mud act as the van’s defenders by firing toy dart guns at everyone.

If there’s any reason to love Never Too Young to Rock, it’s because, goddamn it, someone has to, and clearly no one involved in making it did. The film came early in the career of director Dennis Abey, who later worked almost exclusively in British television. In keeping with that, Abey’s vision for the picture seems resolutely small scale, with a penchant for low angle shots that give us a toddler’s eye view of the action, as well as a lot of pore exploring close-ups of the actors where none seem warranted. To be fair, though, Abey was obviously saddled with a tight schedule and a very low budget; flubbed lines are given a pass, edits are sloppy, and poor sound recording renders some of the dialog incomprehensible. Abey makes some half hearted stabs at druggy surrealism, but these mainly seem like a sweding of Magical Mystery Tour. A chase through a military training ground reminds us that someone still thought the sight of anyone in uniform in a British countercultural comedy was innately hilarious. And then for some reason there are robed Klansmen running around, and then there aren’t.

At a seemingly random point in Never Too Young to Rock, Hero suddenly turns to his curmudgeonly driver Mr. Rockbottom (Freddie Jones – and, yes, it’s that kind of movie) and shouts “We did it!” As mysterious as this proclamation may be, there’s no point in pondering it, as now comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the Big Concert. With prerecorded adolescent screaming filling in for an unseen audience, The Glitter Band and The Rubettes each run through a couple of their hits, and then it’s time for Mud. This was probably the high point of the movie for me, because, even though lip synched, Mud’s “Dynamite” is a pretty rocking song.

The concert seems to be a rousing success, but whether it succeeded in staving off the ban is never addressed. For, as soon as it ends, the credits roll… and it’s time for some more graying suits to collect their take.

No comments: