Friday, January 22, 2010

The Boat That Rocked

When I drive around Britain on my visits these years, I enjoy hitting the seek button and finding the great variety available on the car radio.  I lived in England in the late '70s and the selection even then was pretty minimal.  I could barely imagine how awful it must have been in the more paternalistic radio broadcasting environment of the '60s.
I recently stumbled across the movie 'The Boat that Rocked', which is a cartoon (not animated, but written large) version of how pirate broadcasting (setting up ships outside of the UK's legal jurisdiction to broadcast actually popular music in to the UK's territory - the US name of the movie appears to be 'Pirate Radio').  It also cartoonishly portrays many other aspects of the '60s.  And make no mistake - I do not regard 'cartoonish' as pejorative.
It allows the movie to highlight some of the contrasts and debates in an exaggerated way that in fact makes it more realistic given how exaggerated those times were!  If anything the '60s were cartoonish. The
rebellious were that rebellious and full of contempt, and the authorities were that authoritarian and uncomprehending.  Looking back I do not always take the sides I might once have then but in the case of this film I think they pick the right side.  The UK broadcasting rules were absurd.  (Mind you, when I went to Austria in the early '90s I was even more astonished at both TV and radio there, even more paternalistic.)
The soundtrack is delightful especially for an oldie like me, and some of the performances are just great.  Bill Nighy s a ddelight as the entrepreneur who flouts the rules and finds the way to make music defying the UK restrictions.   I quite enjoyed Jack Davenport (my favorite character in 'Coupling' - well, maybe actually Susan) as the functionary devising means of foiling the pirate radio incursion.  Philip Seymour Hoffman lives in his character as he always so excellently does.
I cannot recall such exuberance in a movie in a while.   The wedding sequence in the middle had me laughing with tears, from the approach of the bride's boat, it so captured what was the creative irreverce of the time.  And it seemed clear where things were going, capturing the realities in a cartoonsh, but trrue, way of those times.  There was also a delight in seeing that January Jones need not simply be Betty Draper through her whole career.  There is mischief in the soundtrack too - the intrusion of Elgar is cute in a scene that needs that ironic intrusion to keep us from taking it too seriously - goota mintaiin the cartoon.
My major doubt as I watched was that the cartoonih nature sseemed to suggest that the cultural battle, presented in political terms (was that really Branagh?, was aactually political.  It was not - the problem was a minor one, the rificulos control over the UK's airavess.  It required this sort of rebellion to break the hold, but it also required, not shown in the film, what must have been some true political spadework.  For the distinctton I suggest The Rebel Sell.
And the ending is sad - the early exuberance turns into a trashy sentimental ending.  But it's a movie.  And especially a Richard Curtis movie.
Thanks to all of you who made my day richer with this.


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