Monday, November 21, 2016

'Sing Street' and the Evolution of '80s Pop Iconography

Sing Street
Netflix streaming link
IMDB link
Spotify soundtrack link

My favorite movie of 2016--though not necessarily the one I would dub "the best"--has clearly been Sing Street.

I instantly loved the small Irish film during its well-reviewed but brief stateside theatrical run in April, bought the Blu-ray upon its release in July and have watched it multiple times.

Sing Street is now streaming on Netflix and as--if nothing else--it makes for an enjoyable, warm, leisurely and for many around my age, nostalgic, watch, I would recommend it to almost anybody.

Directed by John Carney--whose Once I really liked, but not as much his follow-up, Begin Again--Sing Street centers around a Dublin teen named Conor sometime in the early-to-mid 1980s

Amid the splintering of his parents' marriage, Connor is enrolled in a new school--called Synge Street--where he encounters bullies in both the schoolyard and Headmaster's Office.

And to impress a pretty girl he instantly forms a rock band.

Though an endearing coming-of-age story, teen romance, depiction of family and fictionalization of the rock band formation & evolution process circa the early MTV years, Sing Street could certainly be called more glossy than gritty.

Those insisting on ultra-realism may have a hard time accepting how quickly and easily almost everything unfolds for Conor--finding bandmates, writing quality songs, shooting videos, trying out various fashion guises, etc., all happen with incredulous rapidity seemingly over just a few days, weeks and months.

Carney, an Irish musician who also penned the screenplay, noticeably plays fast and loose in terms of historical and chronological accuracy regarding certain bands, albums and songs.

For instance, in the film Duran Duran's video for "Rio"--a big hit in the UK by the end of 1982--is shown as highly influential at roughly the same time as The Cure's The Head on the Door album, which wasn't released until August 1985.

Hall & Oates' "Maneater" (from late 1982), Spandau Ballet's "Gold" (late 1983) and Back to the Future (summer 1985) are all touchstones referenced without time frame exactitude.

But although I had a problem in finding Begin Again unconvincingly facile, even as a work of cinematic fiction, the abundant charms of Sing Street supersede any qualms about suspending my disbelief...and appreciating the picture it paints.

Though far from matching my own reality, I really like the way Conor's (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) self-confidence carries him through a variety of challenges without the emotional turbulence becoming a major focus of the film.

And while there are nice nuances to Conor's love interest (Lucy Boynton), primary songwriting partner (Mark McKenna), older brother (Jack Reynor), parents (Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy) and others, Carney never lets the pathos become cumbersome.

In doing so, he keeps the film--though far more substantive than most Hollywood teen comedies--lighthearted enough for me to primarily embrace it as an imagining of how nascent MTV-era bands developed their sound and look.

Iconic music videos forever seared the music, images and often flamboyant fashions of bands like Duran Duran, the Cure, Depeche Mode, U2--notably absent from Sing Street given where and when the movie takes place--and myriad others into public consciousness, and this film makes it fun to think about, "How did they get there?"

I can't help but mentally connect Sing Street with having come across, just this year, early Cure videos, from before their lead singer Robert Smith donned the "goth" makeup and frizzed hair that came to define him and his band.

Seeing Smith as a clean-cut, slightly artsy college-aged kid--with his now trademarked voice already well-defined--made me think about how he, as with Conor in Sing Street, probably tried out various audiovisual personas before settling on one that made him iconic.

So after watching Sing Street yet again the other night, and telling a few more friends about it, I enjoyed surveying videos of famed rock acts--mostly from the UK and arising in the '80s, but not all--in what might be considered gestational periods, before coming to look as they did in posters adorning millions of bedroom walls.

A few more such videos are below; taking note might make watching Sing Street even more fun. For as much as anything else the movie smartly touches on--love, friendship, music, fashion, brothers--it's ultimately about exploration, and taking chances without worrying about what might happen.

Early Gary Numan:

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