Ian Bonar, Kieran Bew, Lyndsey Marshal and Mathew Baynton strike the indie pose in 1234

1234

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

3 February

 

 

Buddy Holly dies, 1959

On this day in 1959, 22-year-old Buddy Holly died in a plane crash. He was in a plane because he had suddenly become insanely popular – his songs That’ll Be the Day, Not Fade Away and Oh Boy! had seen to that – and was hopping between gigs on the Winter Dance Party Tour played with a pick-up band posing as his regular band, The Crickets. With him in the plane were fellow musicians Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson aka The Big Bopper, plus the pilot, Roger Peterson. Peterson was not licensed to fly without good visibility (ie by instruments only) and it was snowing that night. The plane crashed about five miles out from Mason City, en route to Moorhead, Minnesota. Holly’s bass player, Waylon Jennings, had given up his seat on the plane to the Big Bopper, whose song Chantilly Lace had recently been a hit, and had joked with Holly that “I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” It became known as “the day the music died,” a descriptor picked up by Don McLean in his song American Pie. Holly was an early example of the new model of performer who wrote, performed and produced his own songs, and was influential on Bob Dylan and Keith Richards, both of whom saw him perform. His publishing rights are owned by Paul McCartney – the Beatles having been thus named at least partly in entomological homage to the Crickets.

 

 

 

1234 (2008, dir: Giles Borg)

There are plenty of films about bands trying to make a go of it, but Giles Borg’s feature debut gets a lot closer to that spirit of chaotic optimism, hopes being raised and dashed, than many. It is quite simply the story of a band, from first knockings to the inevitable “musical differences” fallout, with Borg capturing brilliantly and at furious speed the process – people meet, they realise they have things in common, they form a band, rehearse, they think they sound OK and so make a demo, they decide to make a proper go of it, even though ego compromises are being made by this point. The band, predictably, lie in that hipster territory that’s been mined by outfits like the Pixies ever since the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed strapped on a Gretsch, but it isn’t so in-your-face that you need shoegazer cred to go with the film’s unshowy mumblecore flow. Divided somewhat archly into tracks (Track Two: Anyone Can Play Guitar) it focuses largely on the whizz guitarist Billy (Kieran Bew) brought in to give the band a bit of poke, and the extent to which that puts original big noise Stevie (Ian Bonar) on the back foot, even though the Billy thing was Stevie’s idea. Meanwhile there’s Emily (Lyndsey Marshal), the bassist whose more conceptual art-school ideas are given short shrift by the rest of the band. Not forgetting the spacey drummer Neil (Matthew Baynton) who is the butt of the film’s drummer jokes. Let’s not overclaim for this film – it is small but it’s very nicely formed, with Borg giving us the atmosphere of late-night London (buses and tubes), half empty pubs, and using skills of compression learnt making commercials to tell in seconds what other directors spend 20 minutes shambling towards. And he gets a little love story in there too. Something for everybody? Not far off. And the film, like the careers of so many indie bands, is short.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A really good debut by a name to watch
  • Captures, almost better than any film, that “let’s start a band” feeling
  • Mike Eley’s evocative lensing of London in summer
  • Smiles of recognition if you’ve ever been in a band, known anyone in a band or even been to see a band

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

1234 – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “1234”

  1. There's a scene in this very episodic movie (divided into 'tracks') where the girl bass player is trying to show her art portfolio to a plainly uninterested man in a suit. I know how he feels.

    There's always room for another movie about urban rock'n'roll, and 1234 (also the name of the band) isn't a terrible addition to the genre, it's just that the characters are much too shallow. There's a complete presumption from the start that you will care about the band and the characters' lives, without question. The characters are no deeper than the nerdy one, the moody one, the arty girl and her immature boyfriend and the really thick one, who's the drummer. Things happen that anyone who's ever been in a band will recognise, but they happen in the way that things happen in a bad soap opera: because the script says so. For example, Stevie is walking down a street, and we're supposed to believe that it's a surprise that he comes across Emily; but look – there's Emily's house. There's no indication, and she doesn't question, whether Steve is stalking her or anything, which might have been interesting; it just happens because – that's what the script says happens.

    *HERE BE SPOILERS*

    Again, the ending leaves you guessing not only why Steve does what he does, but what might happen afterwards, which is a major copout. By this time in the movie you ought to be identifying with his decisions, not trying to second guess them. In a nutshell: Steve was in a band because he wanted a girlfriend. Otherwise, he would have bought a decent amplifier. It's a movie about somebody who's not very ambitious. Ho hum.

    The script fails to raise the stakes high enough, or draw the characters deep enough; they're just middle-class people struggling with boredom and there's zero development. It's not the fault of the actors, and the music is mercifully kept to a minimum, because that isn't going to win any Grammys either.

    Keep you expectations low if you rent this one.

  2. It's a comedy about 3 guys and a gal setting up their own rock group. Ed O'Brien of that happy group Radiohead has an executive producer's credit, so you would expect it to have some authenticity. Thing is though, the tried-and-tested recipe for this plot (They start off playing gigs in front of only a few people, rejected by every record label they send CDs to, tensions rise as to where to put the guitar solo in a song etc.) have already been done to death, and whatever input our good friend Ed might have had, he doesn't imbue it with the freshness you'd hope for.

    There are some funny lines, and a banging soundtrack to boot. A few of the jokes about obscure (to me at least) bands and their material might fly over your head, but that isn't the major problem here. No, my contention is with the 'bad boy' of the group… As played by Billy Nixon, he is a complete idiot who throws his weight about from the minute he joins. And yet, no-one confronts him about his disruptive behaviour… they just meekly give in to all of his stupid requests. When the otherwise solidly written characters do this, I felt like banging my head against the nearest table. Why don't they ever say no?! It's all very frustrating, and takes away some of the enjoyment when you hate one of the cast so much, and then the others for being so spineless.

    Oh, and what was that ending all about? Did the editor leave the footage on the floor of his local karzai? I've heard of abruptness, but this is ridiculous. And no, there is no extra bit after the credits… Believe me, I checked.

    NEARLY earns a passing grade, but with the above factors, I just can't give it. Never mind Ed, do keep trying. Remember, The Beatles were once rejected by Decca… 5/10

  3. this movie offers some deep beneath the surface views of just living.

    we have four characters that come together to create a rock band. it's sort of a half backed mutual idea in each one; and they find one another to pursue this 'idea'. it's not really a passion.

    stevie seems the most driven but i believe he represents those notions we get and start working on it – then loose interest because other internal needs distract us.

    emily is like stevie only she has her idea of her art and a not so interesting boy friend that leaves and makes her happy.

    billy will never amount to anything because he thinks he's got 'it' right before he starts and will be forever complaining when things don't go his way.

    neil is just along for the ride and will go-with-the-flow where ever he is or whatever he does.

    in each case their plans to live are redirected by life's other plan. stevie & emily will get together. billy will forever be more interested in his cigarette's. and neil will be 'ok' !!

    a delightful indie flick for those that enjoy budget movies.

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