Saturday, March 29, 2014

’50s London, and Americans’ images of Britain

A new favorite, from about 30 years ago, a stylized musical about ’50s London:

Much like another favorite made around the same time and set roughly in the same era but in an imaginary version of America, more surreal with many deliberate anachronisms (the ’80s as I would have liked them to be; all that and Diane Lane at 18):

Anyway, Absolute Beginners has its seeming time-travelers too (Patsy Kensit’s character) but seems to get the music mostly right. It was slightly more conservative than in the States, with more remaining from the ’40s, with cool jazz too. Trad jazz was a thing then there. Some copies of early rock from the States too. You had “It’s Trad, Dad,” the cool jazz at the coffee bars, Teddy Boys, the Cunard Yanks bringing over records of early rock, and some would-be American greasers, the rockers, but they weren’t around yet in this. Mods were a few years later, completely creatures of the mid-century so their devotion to modernity was self-limiting/self-destructive.

Of course it’s pepped up and stylized because it’s a musical (the ballet moves are like West Side Story), but London then was a happening place. I understand the provinces were another story. Not to rub it in but after the war the country was poor.

Piccadilly Circus in ’49 looked like 10 or 20 years earlier.

Anyway, it reminds me. Like the lag you see here, not necessarily bad, just different, in some ways life there used to be a step back. 25 years ago you had only about four TV channels and about four or five radio stations, mostly controlled by the government. Chances were there was no shower, just a tub. I imagine the Internet has changed the media part; can’t have a BBC monopoly now, and I don’t think Britain is Red China in that respect.

But Britain of course isn’t as quaint as Americans who’ve never been there think. Most of our mental pictures of the country come from TV and movies, often period dramas such as “Downton Abbey,” which has passed me by. From “Harry Potter” (’50s muggles and magical medieval school, I guess - never read or saw it; I went to school in England and none of that happened) to those PBS costumers, Dickens, the Beatles, “Monty Python,” and punk, I think the American image of Britain is typically at least 30 years out of date!

One thing about being Catholic in England a quarter century ago: in London and Oxford you could find high-church if you were looking for it, seemingly more easily than in the States. “Reform of the reform” before that was a thing. My parish does what the Brompton Oratory did then, only with more now that the traditional Mass is more easily available.

I love the swing era, the transitional early ’50s vocal pop segue-ing from boogie-woogie to early rock (my sweet spot and where ’58 London in Absolute Beginners was), and early rock, like Pat Buchanan does, who grew up then. I like the catchy light pop from around ’60 too, not what music critics like. The Beatles are puzzling: very good at what they did, and their early music is a well-done example of the continuation of the ’50s, so why were they a powerful instrument of evil? Some metal is good: with its bombast the snobs hate, it’s music for the masses in a good sense, truly of the people (fey hippie folk-pop never was - by the way I also like the Kingston Trio and the Serendipity Singers, for example; the beautiful sound of the good ’60s, not the Sixties). And don’t forget cool jazz including bossa nova: Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, and Stan Getz, for example. The ’50s included the Fifties (things like the Fonz) but were so much more.

1 comment:

  1. My mother had a .45 of Telstar. It still may in her house somewhere. It's probably got that little yellow snap-in thingie still in it.


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