Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)

Sting’s solo debut, Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985) is an 80’s album, but is what I call alternative pop music, rather than bubble gum pop. The artist, Sting, had been doing The Police for several years then released his first solo record. Opens with the infectious (less so today) If You Love Somebody Set Them Free, which has Sting singing about something thoughtful in an accessible package for mainstream listeners. Love is the Seventh Wave follows, a spirited reggae-styled political song. Russians is the highlight of the first half of the album, with its clear, distinctive voice on prejudice and Cold War paranoia, that’s musically compelling, followed by Children’s Crusade and a steady list of quietly assured tracks, while inserting the idiosyncratic title track, ending with the powerful Fortress Around Your Heart. Unremarkable stuff, but quietly assured, with a few highlights.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Elephant Man (1980)

The severity of John Merrick’s disfigurement is confrontational to our worst sense and the cold street life of poverty in Victorian England, where the film is set, distancing and aloof from his plight.

One feels quite separated from the film, much like the distance one may feel from Merrick, but that the better response is not repulsion, but compassion, so one can be inside the story of “The Elephant Man”.

The Elephant Man (1980) is about dignity. Dignity for those who are, through no fault of their own, impaired, but get ridiculed and oppressed.

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Top Hat (1935)

After seeing Top Hat again, I’ve concluded that there’s been a tendency in Hollywood romantic films to make the fiancé, who’s usually a good bloke, look silly or inadequate. The “new flame”, though, is a dashing handsome rival who’s got more than the goods on the lady’s pathetically portrayed fiancé. In the Astaire-Rogers musical Top Hat (1935), Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) slowly dances his way into the heart of Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers)—which may be innocent enough, if it weren’t for the presence of the fiancé. Unfortunately, it’s all another Hollywood glossed,

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The Band Wagon (1953)

An ode to show business about a washed-up movie actor and dancer (played by Fred Astaire) who is seeking a comeback in a new show about Faust. The kind of show is against his instincts, but he is persuaded to star in. However, it is a musical which doesn’t have much popular appeal, so the producers decide to make the show more appealing with several upbeat routines. The Band Wagon is not so much a strong narrative as showmanship. It fails to impress when it relegates Faust—portrayed in this as a story about temptation and damnation—to the too hard basket, instead favouring the comforts found in escapism. Although this is about the merits of entertainment, it is not so much of an exciting musical, but about a minute of “Girl Hunt”—by far the best segment—stands out.

2 stars out of 5 stars

E.T. (1982)

This neat fantasy, set in an American town, is a famous film directed by Steven Spielberg, that ended his golden period, that started with Jaws in 1975, and in 1984 was followed by Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which didn’t quite live up to expectations. The film E.T. is on one level quite ordinary, an accurate observation of childhood down to the minute details. Children of a separated mother get on with life as best they can, when something extraordinary happens to change their lives, the appearance of an extra-terrestrial life form on their “doorstep”,

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Dinner at Eight (1933)

A witty comedy about posh New York society where a string of ambitious individuals are invited to attend a dinner at the home of a wealthy businessman who’s dying, as the guests have their eye on moving on up, and making the right impression, yet the tone is quite ironic, and the emptiness of their lives is hinted at. Yet the characters are not at all dislikeable. Perhaps this one echoes the gospel maxim that life does not consist of one’s possessions, and aiming to get wealthy is a pitfall, although I am not quite sure if that was the intention. Despite one pre-Hays Code concern, Dinner at Eight has a cast of brilliant performances throughout, the dialogue and scenes are more than well handled and for a very stage-liked production it’s not all noticeable, superbly directed. A sheer delight.

5 out of 5 stars

A Night at the Opera (1935)

It’s a comedy farce that makes a sly comment about the lacks in capitalism at a philosophical and practical level, through situational comedy and wisecracks. It’s also got interludes of entertaining music and singing. I found it barely amusing, mostly unfunny, and uneven in its distribution of amusements, although the Marx Brothers are likeable enough but don’t quite make up for it.

2 stars out of 5 stars

Old time cinema goes down memory lane

Time Cinema: this cinema, or theater for showing films, was unique among theaters in the vicinity because it catered to a certain clientele, that of the needs of some people who described themselves as conservative Christians, as well as interesting groups intrigued by nostalgic films or films from the vault. John and Margaret Bell founded the popular film house but have since retired and sold the cinema to someone who is keeping old films playing in their original setting. Here’s my 2004 article about Time Cinema, written for Challenge Weekly, a Christian newspaper, where I interview John Bell, the founder of Time Cinema, who told me about their slice from the past.

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Breakfast in America (1979)

Supertramp’s album Breakfast in America (1979) seemed to be about the need to feed the spiritual appetite when there is a decline of spiritual values. Perhaps the album hit a nerve during a darker period of cinema; Breakfast in America was the progressive rock/pop band’s most popular album (selling 20 million copies). It is the one album that stands out for me in the band’s repertoire.

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