Drugs & Rock & Roll
While Ian Dury most certainly lived a fascinating, tragic life, I’m not sure
that he is probably ranked high on the list of musicians who are worthy of a
fact, unless you are British and of a certain age or a music geek like me,
chances are you have barely heard of Dury, if you have at all.
was a long time gigging singer who was crippled due to a childhood bout with
polio and became popular in his native country in the late 70s. Dury was an
intriguing mix of punk rock, new wave, ska and old time vaudeville theatrics
who caught the wave as part of the hip, edgy Stiff Records label in the late
1970s – one of a stable of stars that included Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe,
Restless Eric, Tracey Ullman and Kirsty MacColl.
right off the bat, Dury would not be the most obvious movie choice even on
his own label. Costello’s music and career was certainly more influential.
Lowe shared the storyline of long years scuffling in bar bands before
finally breaking through in a short-lived (and more prominent) singles
stardom. And though Dury did die way too young, MacColl’s young death was
certainly more dramatically tragic. In fact, though the film does
acknowledge Dury’s death in the final shot dedication “Ian Dury 1942-2000”
they never even touch on the cause, which was a long bout
with liver cancer.
frankly, all of those singers wrote music which was more accessible to
modern ears than Dury’s.
course, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll seems much more interested in
Dury’s life than his musical career, which is really pretty much glossed
over. His signing with legendary pop/punk label Stiff is not dramatized,
it’s just mentioned in passing in a conversation that he is having with his
son – and it is not even the main point of the statement. In fact, Stiff’s
cultural importance and other artists are all pretty much ignored here.
Dury’s short-lived burst of semi-stardom with his band Ian Dury and the
Blockheads – in which his debut album New Boots and Panties!! spawned
the hits “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” and the song which became
this film’s title track – is pretty much covered
in a short musical montage where he suddenly goes from unemployed gigging
singer to television and concert sensation. One moment we didn’t even know
he had a new band; next he was a major pop star. His quick and precipitous
tumble back off the pop charts is also pretty much covered in a line of
dialogue – suddenly the backlash has set in and we never see why or how.
that is how the music biz goes sometimes, but you would expect a film about
someone who experienced this would look at what happened and how it changed
the hero of the story.
said, Dury was an interesting, very prickly personality and his very odd
existence is brought to life here in a wonderful performance by British
character actor Andy Serkis – who was previously best known for lending his
voice and visage to the CGI-created character of Gollum in the Lord of
the Rings trilogy. Serkis captures this
odd contradiction of a man – angry, selfish, mean, oddly charming and
wonderfully British. Serkis also does a very impressive job of recording
Dury’s music with the original Blockheads.
said before, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is mostly interested in Dury’s
personal life – mostly his childhood and relationships with his estranged
wife (Olivia Williams), his adoring but troubled son (Bill Milner) and his
long-suffering girlfriend (Naomie Harris). The childhood flashbacks mostly
are Dury trying to deal with his handicap, his abandonment by his father
(Ray Winstone) and a mean orderly (Toby Jones) at the hospital Dury was
fact, one of the best scenes in the film has Dury returning to the hospital
as a successful grown man and talking with young handicapped children who
now see him as a role model.
is a rare moment of selflessness for Dury, who apparently was kind of a
wanker, though he was just as hard on himself as he was on those around
him. All three of the vices in the title are on ample display here as Dury
seemed to like to numb himself in any way possible.
Unexpectedly, though, for such an oddball character, Dury’s biopic touches
on surprisingly many of the rock & roll biopic touchstones – substance
abuse, selfishness, buying into his own press, mistreating of the women in
his life and the eventual crash and burn.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
tells a somewhat familiar
story – but like its main character, it tells it in an eccentric and
inimitably charming way.
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: May 30, 2010.