Saturday, June 1, 2013

Review: 'The British Pop Music Film: The Beatles and Beyond'

In his introduction to The British Pop Music Film: The Beatles and Beyond, author Stephen Glynn describes his study as a two-faced, Janus-like creature hoping to both impart the cultural, social, and political implications of the movies he discusses and convey the “foot-tapping fun” that really is the pop film’s reason for being. In between his overly academic introduction and conclusion, Glynn does a bang-up job of fulfilling his wish. The British Pop Film may make you see new subtextual layers in old favorites such as A Hard Day’s Night and Yellow Submarine, which he subjects to a fascinating multi-faceted reading (Disney parody; jeering reaction to the wackos who burned Beatles records after Lennon’s insightful “more popular than Jesus” statement; etc.) appropriate to the film’s kitchen-sink aesthetic. It may put the implications of Performance, an atypical pop film he views as a surprising summation of many of the pop-film tropes that preceded it, and the ultimately self-defeating Pink Floyd: The Wall into clearer focus. It may also light a fire under you to see such relatively obscure films as the precociously satirical Expresso Bongo and Privilege, the first wholly “serious” pop film.

These kinds of studies of pop culture forms primarily created to turn a quid rather than make a profound socio-political statement (Privilege and Performance notwithstanding) sometimes say more about the analyst than the works being analyzed, but Glynn makes strongly convincing arguments. His organizational structure, which tucks each film into a timeline progressing through the “primitive” (the Cliff Richard and Adam Faith films), “mature” (the early Beatles films), “decadent” (druggy Yellow Submarine, Privilege, and the Rolling Stones films), and “historical” (That’ll be the Day/Stardust and the Who films), is a particularly neat way to show how these films built on and deconstructed each other.  Glynn also balances his analyses with well-researched historical backgrounds for each film, so the highly readable British Pop Film will be of interest to more than the semiotics crowd. I definitely dug it.

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