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Arts and Entertainment

Mods and Rockers Film Fest - Films of Steve Whitehead

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Last weekend LAists Elise and Bob attended the Mods and Rockers Film Festival at the Egyptian to see some of the early films of Steve Whitehead. We arrived in time to catch Spencer Davis perform his hits I'm a Man and Gimme Some Lovin during the free live concert in the courtyard. He was backed up by The Ravers, a band comprised of world-class session musicians, including illustrious bassist Phil Chen.

(Photos, film reviews and more clips after the jump!)


The beginning of Pop Music was kind of slow. There was a long promotional film for Immediate Records. Some of the videos were unintentionally hilarious. The music video (called a "promo") was a brand-new genre, and naturally there were going to be some clunky starts. The Beatle movie model was probably the only frame of reference available. So the early videos feature a lot of cheeky English lads frolicking charmingly around London a la Hard Day's Night. Although Whitehead does exhibit an early skill at interesting camera angles and witty visual humor.

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As the film progressed, Whitehead's style became cleaner and his vision more clear. Eric Burdon singing When I was Young edited together with WWII footage, including nazis, was too bizarre for words. Some of the Rolling Stones stage footage is hilarious as the guys are repeatedly tackled and the bouncers viciously hurl young girls offstage (It's all fun and games until somebody gets stabbed by a biker). The Nico promo, Hendrix performing Hey Joe, and early footage of ska pioneers Jimmy James and the Vagabonds (with Phil Chen) are simply priceless.

The Beach Boys Live In London is one of those rarities that makes these film festivals so valuable. Only the most avid tape-trading collectors have access to this film. It was released on DVD, but as a silent film with no sound whatsoever due to legal issues.

Marianne Faithful provides an overly relaxed "voice of radio BBC on quaaludes" narration. Everyone is shocked when she says, "Brian Wilson's replacement, Bruce Johnston, is on this tour. He is the genius that brought the Beach Boys to England". Bob was taken aback at anyone other than Brian being referred to as a genius. But I guess Johnston's genius lay in his willingness to board a plane to Europe as opposed to hiding under the covers. The Beach Boys message boards have come to the conclusion that Faithful was actually referring to Brian, but the syntax of the sentence doesn't seem to support that theory.

One big disappointment was that the live performance footage does not have any sound. Instead the footage was synched up to the Pet Sounds version of Sloop John B, and part of the single Good Vibrations, ironically, with Brian singing on both tracks. Bob was really hoping for at least a few live tracks from that period in a 30-minute film .

It was interesting to watch Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson clowning around in antique music and costume shops. They found an old fire helmet and said, "Brian would love this!" Beach Boys fans know that during the recording of Smile, Brian became convinced that his music was causing the rash of fires in his neighborhood. He famously asked the musicians to don fire helmets during the recording sessions. In a bit of self-effacing humor, the band still wears fire helmets whenever they play Mrs. O'Leary's Cow. The fans have also starting donning plastic fire helmets, making for a fun spectacle.

Whenever Mike Love appears onscreen during Live in London, the crowd audibly hisses. Love spends most of the film traipsing around smugly puffing on a big Swiss pipe and creepily starts stroking one of the model's hair while they are posing for a group photo shoot.

After Bob and I took a dinner break next-door at the Pig and Whistle, we returned to catch the second triple feature. We just caught the end of Dollybirds. It is a guilty pleasure, because the girls so earnestly try to express their philosophy of life while clearly wasted off their asses. If you love kitschy 60s fashion, you will love this film. It should be required viewing for all clothing designers.

The next film, Tonight Let's All Make Love in London turned out to be basically another clip show, with about half of it being the exact same footage we had just seen in Pop Music. One notable exception was Vanessa Redgrave giving an impassioned speech about Castro, and then asking the crowd to join her in singing Guantanamera. She sings with such unwavering passion, even though no one joins in to sing along. It is one of those moments where you have to turn to exchange glances with your friends because it is so unbelievable. It is truly surreal and worth the price of admission alone.

Another thing that was interesting about Tonight Let's All Make Love in London is what a prick Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham appears to be. After browbeating performer after performer, he waxes philosophical with the camera, "I'm not going to tell you what you should do with your money. For me, money gets me what I want. It gets me what I need. That's all money means to me." I whispered to Bob, "Isn't that what money means to everyone?" and Bob made an exaggerated coke-sniffing gesture before turning back to the screen.

Some of the clips in these films are rare and exceptional. We are very fortunate to have had the opportunity to see them. But some of them were somewhat tiresome to sit through quietly. If they release all of this Whitehead footage on DVD, it would be perfect for a big viewing party, especially if there were drugs involved. Group commentary and shameless fashion critique would make it so much more fun.

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Photos by Elise Thompson for LAist

Here is a little Nico for you by Pete Whitehead. The more cold and aloof she is, the more desirable she becomes. She knows she doesn't have to smile for you. It only makes you want her more.