“Video killed the radio star”, and if YouTube’s status as the world’s most popular music player is anything to go by, The Buggles’ 1979 hit song was more prophetic than they could have imagined. At the same time, as punk was becoming the more sophisticated and melodic new wave, an indie film about the music industry was taking shape under producer Dodi Fayed (yes, that one), and featuring upcoming musical star Hazel O’Connor in the lead role.
The story is really your basic A Star is Born/The Rose rise and fall musical, but with a new wave London setting. Kate (O’Connor) is a talented and ambitious singer/songwriter who can’t catch a break. She meets equally ambitious promoter Danny (Phil Daniels fresh from making Quadrophenia), he pulls together a band for her (which includes Jonathan Pryce on sax) and takes them on the road and into the recording studio, as they try to maintain their punk ethic. When they meet svengali producer Woods (Jon Finch), the pressure to succeed makes everything fall apart.
The film is very much of its time. With all the songs written and performed by O’Connor, it has an authenticity often missing from films of this type. It also doesn’t sugarcoat how manipulative the industry was back then. At one point the record company offers Kate a deal that involves her signing over all her publishing rights, which is the most lucrative and where musicians make their money, and not from record sales. This was, and still is to a certain extent, common practice. Thankfully, musicians are a lot more savvy these days, although they are still many that are easily enticed by big-figure contracts without knowing exactly what they are signing up for. Basically, most big record companies are no better than loan sharks but with higher interest rates and less customer care.
Like the films of mavericks such as Roger Corman and Lloyd Kaufman, this film features people that have gone on to become major players in the industry. Fayed went on to produce Chariots of Fire (and date a certain well-known princess). Daniels and Pryce are both highly respected actors, but hidden away in the cast playing bit parts are actors of the calibre of Richard Griffiths, Jim Broadbent, Michael Kitchen, writer/director Jonathan Lynn, and extras that included Jonathan Ross and Boy George.
It may not stand up as one of the classics of British cinema, but it certainly does deserve cult status and serves as a fairly accurate cinematic record of a vital time in British musical history.
The DVD package comes with postcards of international posters for the film, a booklet of production notes and a 28-page booklet about the film, filled with photos. The DVD also features a recent interview with Hazel O’Connor, recalling the making of the film and how much it paralleled her own career.
Breaking Glass is out now from Strike Force Entertainment.