Melody (1971) | This enchanting tale of first love and youthful rebellion is no longer a forgotten gem
‘A forgotten, inspiring gem’ Wes Anderson
Set against the backdrop of a 1970s south London comprehensive school, Melody was director Alan Parker’s debut screenplay and his first film collaboration with producer David Puttnam, and it reunited Mark Lester and Jack Wild, who starred in the 1968 musical film adaptation of Oliver!, alongside 11-year-old Tracy Hyde making her acting debut.
Quiet, well-behaved Daniel (Lester) and cheeky troublemaker Ornshaw (Wild) could not be more different but they become the best of friends. That is, until Daniel spots Melody (Tracy Hyde) at the school disco.
The boys’ friendship becomes jeopardised, as Ornshaw grows jealous when his Daniel seems more interested in a hanging out with a girl. Initially embarrassed by the attention, Melody comes to return Daniel’s feelings, and the couple announce to their parents, teachers and friends that they want to get married and now.
The adults attempt to dissuade them, but Daniel and Melody’s determination leads Ornshaw to have a change of heart. He and their classmates gather together at one of the children’s hideouts to ‘marry’ the couple, with their discovery leading to a final riotous, no-holds-barred showdown where the children stick it to the grown-ups…
The film was the brainchild of Puttnam, who had secured the rights to five Bee Gees songs and wanted to craft a movie around it. Drawing on the lyrics of those songs, as well as the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young hit ‘Teach Your Children’, Parker’s script captured what it was like to be a kid on the brink of adolescence in 1970s Britain, drawing inspiration from his and Puttnam’s own school experiences, and these are brought to vivid life by Warris Hussein (Doctor Who) and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (A History of Violence), who make excellent use of the Lambeth and Soho locations.
While it scored huge success in Japan and South America when it was released in 1971, Melody – which would not have been made if not for some unlikely support in the guise of Joan Collins – got a lukewarm reception both at home and in the US (mostly on account of its poor promotion and being given the awkward title of S.W.A.L.K. (aka Sealed With A Loving Kiss).
But it has since grown into something of a cult, with director Wes Anderson using it as the inspiration for his film, Moonrise Kingdom, while Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron cites the film as the inspiration for him going into film-making.
Having finally watched in myself, I can guarantee that your heart will swell and you’ll have tears in your eyes as you see the world again through the eyes of these youngsters. It might paint a rosy view of inner city London life in the 1970s, but it will nevertheless bring much joy and contemplation about a much more innocent time. And the songs are so catchy, I went out and hunted down the original soundtrack.
Melody is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and EST as part of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics Collection, and includes as special features, interviews with Lord David Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Waris Hussein and Mark Lester; plus a stills gallery.
Based on a true story, this obscure independent 1973 feature from actor/director David Hemmings is a revelation and is now available in a brand-new transfer from Network Distributing‘s The British Film collection.
Set against the backdrop of a rundown terraced street in London’s East End that’s been earmarked for redevelopment, Hemmings’ gritty urban drama follows 17-year-old Reg (Jack Wild), the eldest of 14 children, as he struggles to keep his family together following the sudden death of their mother (June Brown).
When a team social workers take the youngest children into custody, Reg and his siblings go on the run, with one of their lot taking the family’s story to the newspapers. After a stint at a Catholic reform school, Reg reunites with his girlfriend, single mother Reena (Cheryl Hall), before rounding up the children at returning to their mother’s boarded up home to spend what could be their last Christmas together as a family…
The late Jack Wild is best known for playing the Artful Dodger in Olivier! and having adventures with TV’s HR Pufnstuf in the late-1960s, but in Hemmings’ second film as director he shows what an accomplished and serious actor he could be. It’s such a shame that Wild was plagued by addiction throughout his life (he was smoking and drinking from the age of 12 and died of oral cancer in 2006), and watching him puffing away with a cigarette in each hand while downing bottles of beer on screen here only makes his tragic real-life story all the more sadder.
Apart from Wild, most of the performers playing his young siblings were non-actors, and this only adds to the film’s docu-drama feel. There’s also a very early turn from Alun Armstrong, who plays June Brown’s layabout boyfriend, who abandons her children after her funeral. And speaking of Brown (better known as EastEnders’ Dot Cotton), she may not have much screen time, but when she’s on, you can’t help but watch her every nuanced move.
Hemmings film, which was based on actual events involving a group of Birmingham orphans who were eventually relocated as a family to a farm in Cornwall, won the Silver Bear at the 23rd Berlin International Film Festival, and though it depicts a family on the very edge of society, living in poor, squalid conditions with no future ahead of them except reform school and foster homes, the film’s central theme of ‘keeping the family together’, is superbly handled, avoids melodrama at all costs, and surprisingly ends on an upbeat note.
There’s also an anarchic sensibility running through the film as the youngsters stick two fingers at authority at every turn. And this is best expressed in the quite hilarious scenes in which the children see off a horrible woman hired to take care of them, reduce an inexperienced nun to tears and expertly give the police and social services the runaround. In this respect, Hemmings seems to have created a film with a true punk spirit, but with a neo-realist bent. This is gripping cinema with real soul. Do check it out…
THE DVD RELEASE
The 2013 Network Distributing DVD release features a new transfer from the original film elements, plus the full frame as-filmed version of main feature, original theatrical trailer, image gallery and promotional material PDF.
The 14 also screens on Talking Pictures TV (Sky 343, Freeview 81, YouView 81, Freesat 306) on Monday 16 January 2017 at 8pm, and Friday 20 January at 8pm.