Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Squeeze were nice boys who wrote intelligent lyrics and had Jools Holland on keyboards. Madness were in the same mould, closer to a music hall tradition. UB40 would have joined this elite crowd if they weren’t so reggae based. And then there was Ian Dury & The Blockheads, definitely eligible, but darkly different – smart writing, dangerous territory, more innuendoes than a Chuck Berry teen rocker.

Dury was an artist. He straddled two disciplines which gave him an edge amongst The Guardian-reading groove tubers. If the likes of Bob Dylan were on the same shelf as Walt Whitman, what about Dury? The South Bank Show, or Saturday Night At The London Palladium? His celebrated LP, New Boots And Panties, became an essential ingredient of student record collections, with Electric Ladyland and The White Album.

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After contracting polio as a boy, he was left with a twisted foot and withered arm, which he disguised cleverly on stage. His diminutive stature didn’t matter. Showbiz is renowned for its policy of shortism. Most striking, apart from a biting wit and gargoyle visage, was the anger. He had a reputation for treating girlfriends badly and there were rumours of worse, whatever they might imply. He didn’t do cosy. Rules and regulations were anathema to him, yet unlike John Lennon, or Robert Downey Jr during his off-the-wall period, you felt that he was capable of losing it completely.

By the time of his death from cancer at the age of 57 he had become an actor and a national treasure. His wild oats had been sown and reaped. What remained was perfectly acceptable on any red carpet. Mat Whitecross’s film stops short of idolatry and gentle goodbyes, concerned, as it is, with the whys and hows of Dury’s destructive nature. Using a flashback shuffle technique of biopicturesque confusion, popular amongst the younger generation of directors, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll suffers from too much juice to make a perfect smoothie.

Dury’s childhood is a gift for psychiatrists with its bullying, depravation and tough love. Under the circumstances, he might have been expected to crumble, or create havoc. He waited until the coast was clear before wreaking revenge upon his tormentors. Although obsessively heterosexual and a borderline junkie/alcoholic, he found emotional commitment too constrictive and demanding. As the film progresses through bouts of selfishness and success, you learn to dislike him more. And then there’s the music. Not enough of it. And then there’s the lifestyle. Too much.

What lifts the film higher than the sum of its parts is Andy Serkis’s performance. Not only does he physically resemble Dury, but has braved the pitted darkness of his personality with a fierce and furious energy. Actors do not always find what they are looking for, but here, in this twisted body, Serkis truly has.

Reviewed on: 20 Mar 2010
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The life and wild times of Ian Dury - pop singer, artist, hell raiser.
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Hannah Clark ****

Director: Mat Whitecross

Writer: Paul Viragh

Starring: Andy Serkis, Ray Winstone, Naomie Harris, Olivia Williams, Luke Evans, Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones, Wesley Nelson

Year: 2010

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Tribeca 2010

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