This week I've been sorting through all my junk. The plan is to go minimalist: everything unnecessary goes in the trash. I own a lot of unnecessary stuff, so this is proving a mammoth undertaking.
Embarrassingly, I've found a whole pile of inane scribblings – both schoolwork and personal creative writing – from my teenage years. The cheesy Tolkien rip-off that consumed my free time when I was 13... An awful, horrible letter I sent to the Guardian when I was 15... “Lines on the Resignation of David Blunkett (15/12/04)”... As I reread the forgotten writings, I can feel my extremities curling with humiliation like leaves of wilted lettuce.
I know that time travel will not be invented within my lifetime, because if it ever is the first thing I would do is travel back to 2004 and give my younger self a good hard slap to the face; and, sadly for my unbearably pretentious teenage self, this did not happen.
I'm afraid the most hideously embarrassing stuff went straight in the trash; but among the things I saved is the first full-length movie review I ever wrote. This was pre-blog and pre-Facebook, and thank you God I never had a Livejournal or anything like that, so I only have one, handwritten copy, which has never been seen by any eyes but mine. Because I am too
lazy busy to create all-new content right now, I thought you might like to see how my writing style has or hasn't changed over the past seven years.
From probably around 2004, this is my review of the 1975 movie Tommy – unedited, unexpurgated, and with minimal editorializing. I hope it amuses you as much as it embarrasses me.
* * *
You've heard the stories... now confront the truth.
Hey, you know how when you hear that something is really, really bad, you find yourself feeling mild curiosity tempered with disbelief – as in, how could something really actually be that terrible, and you just have to check it out? Well, don't bother. Seriously. Tommy is every bit as bad as legend would have it, perhaps even more so. It redefines the term “godawful”. If you look up “egregious” in the OED, this film will be there. Repugnant, hideous, traumatic, belief-defying, gruesome, seizure-inducing are a few of the other adjectives that spring to mind... pass me a thesaurus, somebody... But then of course the film of the rock opera was never going to be quite a pleasurable undertaking.
Okay, so we open with a shot of a guy standing before the setting sun; little war love story, tum-te-tum – nothing too offensive yet: incomprehensible, yes; ghastly, not yet. At least, until the singing starts. Remember the record? And remember how the music was, y'know, not very good, well, quite crap actually, but we suffered its existence because we knew it and were kind of fond of it in the way one grows fond of a genital wart*. Well, imagine that music, melodramatized in the extreme, mutilated to sound kitschy and “musical”, and then murdered by a bunch of severely annoying uber-celebs in dodgy costumes whose “acting” consists of impersonating a constipated beaver. Prety much the same can be said for the, and I use the word with caution, plot, which at best has more holes than a fishing net and at worst is total nonsense. I think – I think – they've tried to improve upon the original concept, by giving it an almost-structure, which goes something like this:
Kiddie Tommy is about five or six when his missing daddy turns up and is murdered by mummy and step-daddy. He witnesses the encounter and (on account of the persuasive powers of the two miscreants) is struck deaf, dumb, and blind. There follows a lot of dumb stuff, supposed I think to be insight into his mind, which would be kind of cool in a dumb sort of way if done with today's SFX, but, since it mainly involves moving bits of cardboard around in front of lightbulbs, just looks crap. Mummy takes him to a freaky healer dude, who fails to wreak miracles; step-daddy takes him to Tina Turner, who prances around like a demented drugged-up banshee (oh wait – she is one**), gives him acid, and sends him on a baaaaaad trip. This was the part at which I first completely lost the will to live, a feeling that was to recur regularly over the remaining 80 minutes (o gods!) – or rather to throb continuously throughout, like pus seeping from a gangrenous wound. Urrrrrrgh.
Neither faith nor drugs having accomplished anything, somebody seems to decide that a sever shock will do Tommy good. When Cousin Kevin pulverizes him, there is relief in the vicarious fulfilment of a fantasy that involves doing much the same to pretty much everyone involved in the making of this excrescence of a film. Parents do not learn from this episode the folly of leaving vulnerable Tommy with dodgy relatives and proceed to give kiddie-fiddler Uncle Ernie the go-ahead to do whatever he wants. Then somehow Tommy gets into a junkyard, only there are two Tommys, and he climbs a bunch of cars, and then one Tommy disappears, and then the cardboard and lightbulb from earlier reappear, and then he's standing on a car playing pinball, and oh don't do this to me my head hurts... And Elton John stumbles out of Santa's Grotto, picking up the old woman's shoes on the way to the film set, where he loses to Tommy at pinball. Someone might have told him he's meant to play pinball, not a piano. And then...
Oh god, I can't go on describing the events in detail, it's making me too bloody depressed. Suffice to say that most of the rest is just as scary, meaningless, and dreadful as what has gone before. This film is a grisly carbuncle, a putrid pustule, a fetid ulcer on the bottom of all mankind's most execrable experiments in cinema. I still can't believe I spent 110 minutes of my short lifespan – better spent watching paint dry – on this excruciating mess.
Or, as I've been trying to say all along: yes, it really is that bad.
*1999 me and 2011 me are united in contempt for 2004 me. Tommy the album is awesome. And, leaving aside the belabored nature of the simile (get used to that), what does me of any age know about genital warts??
**OUCH! What the fuck, 2004 me? What did Tina Turner ever do to you? Apart from be in a movie you hated?