Breaking Glass (Blu-ray Review)15 Aug, 2011 By: Mike Clark
$24.95 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray
Stars Phil Daniels, Hazel O’Connor, Jon Finch, Jonathan Pryce.
As with other movies that now come off as artifacts of an age, the late writer-director Brian Gibson’s musical punk saga is possibly an object of nostalgia these days — though then, as now, its demographic is on the rarefied side. One wonders if any affection Glass engenders will ever be on the cuddly side — the type exuded by all the friendly gray-hairs who, say, always lobbied me to show more vintage Jeanette MacDonald back when I was programming the AFI Theater during the 1970s and ‘80s.
Matter of fact, I did, especially from her Paramount early “negligee period” But I’m pretty certain I also ended up giving Glass (from that very same studio) its belated Washington, D.C. premiere — which gives some indication of the degree to which Paramount buried the picture in terms of first-run engagements, at least in the United States. The movie had its initial U.S. play dates the same month Ordinary People opened in New York City, so where do you think the company’s advertising dollars were going to go?
It would be convenient to characterize Glass as another of the screen’s many anti-Thatcher screeds, though one has to assume the picture was at least well into pre-production and possibly even shooting before the prime minister that Meryl Streep is about to play at year’s end in The Iron Lady reached office (though not by much). As portrayed here — particularly in a scene where the police invade a flat to bust the plot-central band without much right or provocation — this government looks like a pretty good one to rebel against even if Labor was running the show (not that Scotland Yard has had a particularly good go of it even in the past month). And to this end, punk-ishly aspiring lead singer Kate (Hazel O’Connor, often killing the pancake makeup budget) is to the manner born when it comes to ranting and railing on stage. But will she keep her integrity and not sell out to industry promoters? This is the crux of a story that’s more interesting around the edges than down the middle.
The movie pretty well belongs to O’Connor, though Phil Daniels gets top billing as her eventually disillusioned manager — a bow at the time, no doubt, to the actor’s lead in the movie of The Who’s Quadrophenia, which had turned out to be better than was probably expected during its release just a year earlier. Before he starts trying to run the group, Daniels’ “Danny” character has an amusing (though likely not to him) lackey job: going to selected record stores and buying copies of designated LPs to facilitate their climb up the pop charts. The current beneficiary of this is a particularly insipid singer we hear but never see, who may have be modeled (I’m not sure) on Olivia Newton-John. This is the kind of watering-down that Kate & Co. are adamant about avoiding, but there are always hovering industry smoothies to corrupt artists, aren’t there?
The one here (Danny’s nemesis) played by Jon Finch — who was now back to supporting parts after a brief tenure in the early ‘70s big time with leads in Hitchcock’s best late-period movie (Frenzy) and in the Roman Polanski Macbeth that Hugh Hefner executive-produced. There are also a couple chance casting strokes can’t help but garner Glass a little more attention now than then. Jonathan Pryce plays the band’s sax player — about five years before his breakthrough in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. And when the group jams onto a train travelling to an engagement (a fancy word for some of their venues), there’s good old Jim Broadbent, roundabouts 30, as one of the ticket takers.
Gibson developed some finesse with harried-performer sagas, going on to direct HBO’s multiple Emmy winner The Josephine Baker Story and the Tina Turner biopic (What’s Love Got to Do with It) that got Angela Bassett an Oscar nomination. By the time of his last movie (2008’s Still Crazy), he had come full circle — leading Stephen Rea, Billy Connolly, Bill Nighy, Timothy Spall and, yes, Phil Daniels, in a comedy about going-fogey rock has-beens whose group reunites. In each of these subsequent films, Gibson was working with a less homogenized storyline and certainly musical material than had in Glass — though there’s something to be said for the sense of immediacy that springs from a movie that’s actually set in the era (an explosive era is all the better) you’re portraying. To this end, there’s an office scene in Glass where a wall poster advertises what appears to be a joint concert featuring the Buzzcocks and The Slits. Gazing at this, it is fairly easy to know where you are in time.