Slade in Flame
Brummie-cartoon-yob-glammers Slade outdid themselves in 1975 when playing fictional rock band ‘Flame’ in a film Mark Kermode calls ‘The Citizen Kane of Rock Musicals’.
Eschewing a caper-led narrative in keeping with their peppy-media image the story is one of a tight group of friends in two bands of varying ability who merge and are then catapulted to success as a result of talent and the malevolent tendencies of the ‘biz’; the vengeful and violent repercussions of a rejected manager and the Machiavellian designs of a careerist Tom Conti.
Derived from actual events experienced by both the band and their manager (former Animal) Chas Chandler, this all-too familiar tale is a stark reminder of the perils of success and how the pursuit of dreams can result in nightmares. Jaded and embittered by the experience the band go their separate ways emotionally crippled and creatively bankrupt. The film featured a strong soundtrack featuring one of Slade’s best known songs, ‘How does it feel?’
Peter Watkins (Punishment Park’ ‘The War Game’) directed this 1967 tale of a pop star who is nothing more than a puppet of the authorities (church and state) who have elevated him to messianic status, an adjunct of the system existing to manipulate and subdue impressionable young fans.
Inspired by the hysteria surrounding early 60s teen-idol Paul Anka it stars Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones as Stephen Shorter, the clean-cut, butter-wouldn’t melt turn riven with anxiety at his complicity in the seduction. The film’s prescience is evident in how rebellion and free-thought can be co-opted, neutered and refracted through media and ‘celebrity’ resulting in passivity. The film is a terrifying allegory for how the system diverts political challenge by young people. Set during the ‘swinging’ 60s its themes are depressingly even more relevant today, if not more so (control and illusion of autonomy via social media, technology).
This is a parable of codified and commodified rebellion employed to control perception and to endorse consumerism. This pioneering (thematically and cinematically) and misunderstood film was unsurprisingly derided by its targets at the time, obviously too close for comfort. It couldn’t happen … could it?