Monday, 16 February 2015


A recently broadcast documentary about the Dave Clark Five - it's currently available on BBC iplayer here, if you are resident in the UK - makes me think some readers might be interested in my review of the group's film Catch Us If You Can.
Two Films in Conflict

Though he wasn't much of a musician (someone in Melody Maker once opined a list of the shortest books in the world would include Lessons in Drumming Technique by Dave Clark) Clark had aspirations to be an actor and this film (scripted by Peter Nichols, better known for his stage work, and the directing debut of John Boormanm) is a sort of road movie-cum-anti-advertising satire bolstered by a cast of interesting character actors. It's got great period charm and, as other reviewers have said, it stands up very well - it's certainly streets ahead of many other low budget pop movies.

That said, you can see that there are two films in conflict with each other here: a wacky one with the group zooming around in a fun jeep (the film was called Wild Weekend in the US) following Clark and his girlfriend, versus a more reflective account of the emptiness of various values - beatniks, aristos, the advertising world etc. The remaining four group members are pretty redundant here except when the hero, seeing the model for what she is, is once more united with them at the end. So there aren't really personae fashioned for the group, as Owen famously did with the Beatles in Hard Day's Night: for better or worse, this is definitely a starring vehicle for one Dave Clark.

On the subject of Clark's acting I'm undecided: whether he is playing "saturnine" as the more complimentary reviews have it or whether (as Alun Owen was supposed to have done for the Beatles) Peter Nichols fashioned his script around the perceived limitations of the performer, I don't know.

And as I know nothing about the acting talents of the others maybe their lack of involvement is just as well, but one real deficiency of the screenplay, rather than the acting, is that some parts are slightly underwritten: the Clark character's disillusionment with his old teacher is achieved in doublequick time, for example. But finally it's good to have a film which is trying to say something about the times rather than simply cashing in on a pop group or settling for a sub-Cliff Richard type movie with its roots in a Hollywood of decades before.

Incidentally, for those of a sociological/Media Studies bent this is Media Studies maven Andy Medhurst's take on the film from from the bfi publication The Celluloid Jukebox, an examination of the development of the pop movie:

"The fact that the Dave Clark Five were less well known and individuated than the Beatles curiously enhances the film's impact; they're more malleable, more usable as iconographic shorthand for the liberating jolt of now-ness that permeates the film. The stock narratives and Rooney-Garland conventions that dogged the likes of (a film such as) Be My Guest are thrown away, the sociology of What a Crazy World vanishes in favour of pure semiotics. Even A Hard Day's Night had half a foot in kitchen-sink naturalism, but Catch Us If You Can, especially in its first startling 30 minutes, goes all out for the shiny plastic immediacy of the moment. It is, in short, where the pop film becomes the Pop film."
I don't propose to add a detailed review of the documentary although I did have a few thoughts as I watched. Despite all the praise heaped on them by some big name celebs, the documentary, controlled by Clark's company, came over, to this (UK) viewer at least, as a remarkable piece of marketing more than anything else. There were, occasionally coy, references to the Beatles but the spectre of that group's Anthology documentary series loomed large over proceedings - at least for me. Quite a number of the DC5's American hits seemed to be covers, however well done, and there wasn't the sense of development and evolution which characterised the Beatles' output. I noticed that a particularly silly record, The Red Balloon, which I remember as being a sizeable hit in the UK, was omitted from consideration entirely. So let's have it here:

It was also notable that it took some time before Mike Smith was eventually given his due in the film, and you couldn't but be aware that just about every scrap of film, no matter how fleeting, had to ensure that Clark's beaming presence was in the shot. Then each recording from his Dominion Theatre musical Time bore Clark's production credit.

Then again, at a time when ripoffs were rife, Clark's story was and remains a triumphant one, a success story in business terms. He leased his masters to record companies and has not had to suffer the court battles of so many. He has known how to market and manage himself and his group. And the interest in acting led to his studying at London's Central School, though I'm not sure how much acting he did afterwards.

But when certain individuals were praising his achievement in producing the musical Time, originally starring Cliff Richard and a "hologram" (actually a projection, I believe, as there used to be of a fortune teller in the penny arcade at Brighton) you got the sense that the tactful emphasis was on the fact of its being staged, and what an achievement that represented in itself. It certainly had a mixed critical reception. And Tom Hanks' speech inducting the (then) three surviving members of the group was fed to us in segments throughout the programme, possibly because no one else had gone into such raptures before or since.

Put it this way: if I were a member of a sixties pop group I'd be delighted if Clark made a film about me. I'd know that I was being given the best possible shot, portrayed in the best possible light. But as a viewer with a keen interest in sixties pop who wasn't a particular fan of the Dave Clark Five I couldn't help thinking that two hours was a bit too long to sit through a litany of praises for Mr Clark. And much as I like Catch Us If You Can, as detailed above, the documentary gave me the same feeling as the feature film: a lot of the music seemed nondescript.

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