Monday, 1 October 2012

No, HE is Klang ... and he's mad as hell

I mentioned the film Sven Klang's Combo some time earlier, in a post about doo wop biopics. Three scenes have recently surfaced on a youtube clip, including the key moment when the group's new saxophonist plays a Charlie Parker-type solo during a torpid dancehall gig and finds that, instead of setting the woods on fire, it's politely tolerated by a puzzled audience, no more than that.

Unfortunately there are no subtitles for the clip but what I remember about seeing the film is that there was a lot of screen time devoted to the process of making music. This was not one of those films where music is really a backdrop: we see actually see them working things out. Benny Green, the broadcaster, jazz writer and a saxophonist himself, praised it in the highest possible terms in Punch.

I don't really want to read any synopses of the film because I hope there will be a DVD with English subtitles one day. Trouble is, I can't remember the film in detail, only fragments, like the remark which stings some group members, "Danes only play Dixie." What is the result of the new saxophonist? Is the group transformed? Or does he blow through town then leave?

There are three separate scenes in the clip. The first appears to be when the newcomer is either auditioning or getting down to business for the first time, and it's obvious the band can't believe their luck with this new blood. The second occurs during the gig, at the end of a moribund version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, when you can see that the saxophonist's impromptu solo (which, now I watch it again, seems less a calculated act of rebellion than a desperate clutching at life) is poorly received by the leader, who then tears him off a strip in private. The third scene suggests either that the drummer and the pianist have formed a new group with the saxophonist and booted out the leader or they are rehearsing new ideas on the quiet. Either way, at the end the leader appears, mockingly singing Jailhouse Rock as an indication of the musical depravity the band have sunk to. Which doesn't say much for his awareness of the nuances of different genres.

Only part of the story, then, but I suspect all three are key scenes. The film was shot in black and white and as seems to be borne out by the clip, it wasn't very showy - ie no startling camera angles or special effects. But what you did get, at least watching it on the big screen, was a real sense of watching a band rehearse, and you are given the time to do so. Wonder if the actors were also musicians or vice versa? Certainly difficult to imagine them miming because you're so up close all the time.

I do wonder about the story - and bear in mind it's thirty five years since I saw it. Are the other band members sealed once more in the mausoleum of convention by the end? But don't tell me. I want to enjoy the film once more if it is ever released on DVD in the UK.