O'Connor, Phil Daniels, Jonathan Pryce
Back in the day between real punk rock and the fluffy 80s sound
of the New Romantics, there was new wave--punk socio-political
anthems set to actual music played by real musicians. Breaking
Glass is a British cult film made right at the best time for
examining this kind of music. Set
in London at the end of the bleak '70s, this film is about a
young singer/songwriter just getting by in the underground music
scene, who gets discovered by a manager wannabe and is turned
into a star.
Hazel O'Connor plays Kate, the leader of a new wave band called
Breaking Glass (the name is taken from the David Bowie song).
Kate has strong socialist ideals and she vents them with her
energetic songs about racism in the UK and fears of an impending
nuclear holocaust. She meets Danny, a streetwise kid who's
trying to get into the music business by being a "chart
fixer," that is he buys a large number of singles from
certain record shops to make sure that certain crappy songs get
into the Top 40, and thus, get more airplay and promotion. This
explains the Spice Girls and Brittany Spears!
Danny discovers Kate playing with a horrible back-up band in
nasty North London pubs, to violent audiences of neo-Nazis
looking for a punch-up. He decides she's great enough to become
a star, but Kate wants nothing to do with becoming "part of
the machinery" of the record business. The problem is she
needs a better band, better instruments, and better gigs so she
can keep doing what she loves best, and Danny gets her all these
things. Before she realises it, she is a huge star and her worst
fears come true. She gets caught in a struggle with the
"powers that be" in the music business for artistic
recognition, and through a tireless performance schedule and a
traumatic event her talent and sanity become jeopardized.
I saw this movie the first time years ago, when I was about 15.
They used to play it all the time on the late night TV music
show "NightFlight" on the USA network back in the
early '80s. It's subtlety
was lost on me back then, but I loved it for the entertainment
it was. I managed to find it on video recently and watched it
again for the first time in years. It's a great film with a
fantastic soundtrack, which I bought on vinyl way back then.
It's a good look into how England was in its post-punk era, when
new wave was becoming socially acceptable and the political
message was getting lost in light of radio airplay and record
sales. A heartbreaking moment in the film is when Kate changes a
lyric for the radio version of a song about the government
controlling our lives ("Big Brother"), and she doesn't
even realise what she did wrong.
Today, Hazel O'Connor still has a huge fan base just because of
this one film and soundtrack. You can find several websites
devoted to her (www.hazeloconnor.com),
she's made several more albums and recently she released an
album reworking some of the old Breaking Glass
songs with a celtic twist. You can even hear a recent interview
where she tells you how the British ending of the movie differs
greatly from the US edit. She's lived an amazing life and for
anyone who has an interest in England or music that actually
means something, you should check it out.
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