January 21, 2014

Sunshine on Leith (and 5 of the most unusual musical films)
by James
James

by James Forryan

hmv London; 21/01/2014

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"Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

Sunshine on Leith (and 5 of the most unusual musical films)

Next week will see the UK DVD release of one of the more unlikely musicals in recent memory. On the face of it, a West End or Broadway show based around the musical lexicon of a particular artist or band may not seem that unusual - there have after all been some recent success stories such as Mama Mia! and We Will Rock You, inspired by the songs of Abba and Queen respectively. In both of these cases though, we’re talking about well established acts who have already enjoyed a considerable amount of international success and boast large and dedicated fan bases, not to mention the kind of extensive back catalogues that have produced multiple greatest hits albums, giving anyone attempting a stage adaptation a fairly huge range of songs to choose from. Even then, you could argue that the story lines woven together from the lyrics of these songs are, at times, a little tenuous.

If that sounds harsh it’s probably because, if you think about it, even given a back catalogue spanning several decades, weaving together a coherent narrative from a collection of inherently disparate song lyrics is quite a challenge. So imagine trying to do the same with just a handful of records by one far lesser known band. Then imagine that band is The Proclaimers.

Directed by Dexter Fletcher, Sunshine on Leith is based on the stage show of the same name, which in turn is named after the second album by the Scottish duo, and it sets out to do just that. So, does it work?

Set in the historic city of Edinburgh, Fletcher’s adaptation stars George MacKay and Kevin Guthrie as Davy and Ally, following their struggle to readjust to life back in their home town after serving in the military campaign in Afghanistan. The duo are confronted with a number of issues such as finding work as civilians and dealing with revelations and family secrets, not to mention survivor guilt.

It’s not the most in-depth tackling of the issues facing soldiers returning to life on civvy street but, happily, the story actually hangs together pretty well - no mean feat given the restrictive nature of basing a narrative around the lyrics of an obscure Scottish folk duo. Fletcher and writer Stephen Greenhorn show considerable skill in executing a successful transition from stage to screen, something even We Will Rock You has yet to achieve. Most of all though, this a fantastic feel-good flick and the inevitable comparisons to Mama Mia! are justified in this sense. You don’t have to be a fan of The Proclaimers to enjoy the film, but if you are you’ll enjoy it even more.

So is this the oddest musical concept to make it to the silver screen? Surprisingly, the answer is probably not. Here’s five more that leave even this film’s concept totally out-weirded.

Jerry Springer: The Opera

Jerry Springer: The Opera

2005

Based on the infamous U.S. daytime show that became more watchable for the fights than anything else, this adaptation by Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas spawned a TV movie as controversial as it is bizarre. The host and former Chicago mayor tries to resolve the problems of men in nappies and men with transsexual lovers before getting a visit from Satan. Just a regular working day for Jerry…

Phantom of the Paradise

Phantom of the Paradise

1974

Brian de Palma’s 1974 film is very loosely based on Phantom of the Opera, and stars Rainbow Connection songwriter and Daft Punk collaborator Paul Williams as Swan, a musical impresario who makes a pact with the devil and steals the music of a man called Winslow Leach for the opening of his new theatre venue, The Paradise. Leach is disfigured in an accident trying to exact his revenge, Swan traps him in a recording studio, steals his girlfriend and more of his music before Leach escapes and ‘haunts’ the venue. Referencing everything from Psycho to The Picture of Dorian Gray, this might be de Palma’s weirdest movie ever.

Tommy

Tommy

1975

Billed as the first ever ‘rock opera’, Pete Townshend’s story about a deaf, dumb and blind kid called Tommy stars Elton John as the central character who, despite his sensory disabilities, happens to be a pinball genius. As if that concept wasn’t odd enough, Ken Russell’s direction turns an already weird idea into a two-hour acid trip of a movie that features a scene with baked beans flooding out of a television set. It’s completely insane, but the soundtrack is fantastic.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig and The Angry Inch

2001

Where do we start with this one? Written, directed by and starring John Cameron Mitchell, this movie tells the story of Hedwig, a transsexual punk rock singer from East Berlin whose gender reassignment goes awry, leaving the singer with an unusual bodily feature that inspires the band’s name. Hedwig tours the U.S. with a series of gigs at, for some reason, seafood restaurants, and tries to track down the ex-lover that stole the band’s music. Well, why not?

Repo! The Genetic Opera

Repo! The Genetic Opera

2008

Set in a bizarre dystopian future where a malicious organisation named GenoCo sells internal organs to people following a global epidemic or organ failure. The organs are expensive, so GeneCo offers would be buyers a mortgage of sorts on their shiny new pairs of kidneys. But whatever you do, don’t miss a payment…