The Thatcher Crisis Years

1980s politics blog from TV historian Tony McMahon

The first pop movie I ever saw was Slade in Flame in 1975 where the glam rock band Slade played a fictional struggling combo called Flame. A captivating but grim watch that summed up the tougher side of the 1970s. Didn’t make me want to rush back and watch another pop movie but then along came the 1980s. And at the turn of the decade we got some compelling punk and ska films to go and see at the cinema. So – here’s a small selection…

Breaking Glass – The 1980s kicked off with this movie about a struggling female punk singer who makes it big but then goes bonkers. The songs were surprisingly memorable and Hazel O’Connor was made for the lead role. Clad in an alien costume with robot-like gestures, it borrowed heavily from David Bowie’s idea of the other-worldly pop star. The movie referenced the skinhead led neo-Nazism that was rampant at the end of the 1970s and apparently used real-life skins who obligingly gave multiple Sieg Heil salutes. The executive producer of the film was a certain Dodi Fayed who, 17 years later, would sadly die alongside Diana, Princess of Wales in the infamous Paris car crash.

Dance Craze – This was more a documentary than a movie directed by Joe Massot – whose previous credits included the Led Zeppelin gig movie, The Song Remains the Same. Intended to originally be a biopic of Madness – Massot then widened the scope to include the entire 2Tone family taking in The Specials, The Beat and The Selecter. The movie was released in 1981 just as 2Tone reached its height before a precipitous crash. Interestingly, a later re-edit of the movie saw Madness removed and the Special AKA inserted – Jerry Dammers’ next iteration of The Specials. The Bodysnatchers and Bad Manners also had starring roles in Dance Craze.

Rude Boy – Released in 1980, this movie was a snapshot of England in the late 1970s. It centres on the life story of a fictional roadie for punk band, The Clash. But in reality it’s a vehicle for The Clash and the gigs it played under the Rock Against Racism and Anti-Nazi League banners. I was at Victoria Park aged 14 when the Clash played at the Anti-Nazi League carnival against fascist groups like the National Front – and that amazing concert is featured in Rude Boy. However, reports suggest that the Clash lead singer Joe Strummer was not enamoured by the final result when it hit cinema screens. So much so that badges appeared with the slogan “I don’t want Rude Boy Clash film” – but then I’ve also found “I do want Rude Boy Clash film”. So which was it – did The Clash like or hate the movie? Tell me if you know!

DISCOVER: Neville Staple – the Original Rude Boy

Times Square – I bought the album of this movie when I was 17 and it introduced me to the incredible sound of Patti Smith. The American godmother of punk. As for the movie itself – it’s eminently missable. But also ridiculously camp. Two girls escape from a psychiatric hospital and escape to New York. One is a tomboy and the other not. They form a punk band and are on the verge of success until the evil authorities begin to close in on them. Robert Stigwood was the brains behind it, having produced Saturday Night Fever which might explain the rather incongruous presence of a Bee Gees track in what’s otherwise a punk/new wave soundtrack for the movie.

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