This 2008 DVD is a TV-style talking head documentary that mainly covers the early years of stadium rock band Pink Floyd, and inadvertently reveals how they used the British counterculture to hitch a ride to success. The Floyd themselves come across like a bunch of talentless drama students in the pathetic promo films that are cut into the main feature. Sound wise they vary from seeming like a pleasant if not entirely convincing imitation of The Who (“Arnold Lane”), all the way down to prefiguring a lot of really bad indie bands (“Scarecrow”). There is also some far more interesting archive material on here, but most of it is rather too familiar. There is the famous footage of Beatle John Lennon walking into the “14 Hour Technicolor Dream” at Alexandra Palace (29 April 1967), which anyone actually interested in this sort of thing will have seen dozens of times.
Likewise, did we really need quite so much recycled footage from “Wholly Communion” directed by Peter Whitehead, when the BFI reissued that on DVD in 2007, and anyone who hasn’t seen it clearly isn’t interested in the British counterculture anyway. There is a very brief piece of footage of The Flies playing at Alexandra Palace, but while the BBC “Man Alive” documentary made at the time showed them throwing flour at the audience and allowed you to hear them rockin’ out, pretty much all you get here is a shot of their drum kit with something else dubbed over the top. This is a shame because The Flies were the business, and self-evidently a lot better than Pink Floyd live; presumably this is why the director Stephen Gammond cut their sound from the audio track, he clearly wants to big up original Floyd frontman Syd Barrett and takes many historical liberties to achieve this. There is some footage of The Pretty Things doing “LSD” here too, but this is cut around talking head shots, so you can’t enjoy the music in all it’s glory. Worse yet, while three really tedious Floyd promo shorts are included in their entirety as bonus features, live footage of The Pretty Things and The Flies isn’t accorded the same treatment.
Among the historical turns, we get far too much of Suzy Creamcheese, less than nothing is all I want of this twerp. Like so much else here that doesn’t come from “Wholly Communion”, the Creamcheese footage is culled from the earlier “Man Alive” documentary, and it is even more irritating on a tenth or eleventh viewing than on the first or second! That said, there is some nice pushin’ and shovin’ with the filth going down in the recycled shots of early sixties CND demos. However, the real highlight begins on the last fraction of a second of this movie’s sixty-second minute. Gammond has included 1.04 seconds of archive footage featuring my mother – Julia Callan-Thompson – blowing bubbles. While there is equally brief footage of her at the UK’s premier hippie happening in the “Man Alive” documentary, it is a different shot to the one used here. My mother, at 23 years of age, is clearly the hottest babe in the place! While this film would be much better if Gammond had devoted more time to footage of my mother, the little you get makes the disk worth buying. You can see a bit more of her in the audience at the Alex Trocchi/William Burroughs 1969 ‘State of Revolt’ Arts Lab event covered in Jamie Wadhawan’s “Cain’s Film” – and, of course, as an extra in various British and Bollywood movies of the sixties.
With the odd exception, the talking heads on Gammond’s documentary are a real snore fest. Tired old stories I’ve heard trotted out dozens of times are aired yet again. This film was obviously made on a shoe-string, there isn’t nearly enough archival footage to break up the tedium of the talking heads, and sometimes in a desperate bid to move things along the director simply cuts to recent footage he’s shot in Portobello Road and Camden. The focus on Pink Floyd and John “Hoppy” Hopkins as central to the counterculture is reductive, and also very boring. If Gammond had instead adopted a scatter-shot approach to the underground, one that pulled in a varied cast of characters, his film would have been both more enjoyable and closer to the psychedelic experience. Regardless, and as I’ve already said, it is still worth seeing just for that 1.04 seconds of my mother blowing bubbles at the “14 Hour Technicolor Dream”.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – http://www.stewarthomesociety.org/ – you know it makes (no) sense!
And some more specific links:
The ‘real’ psychedelic scene:
Wholly Communion etc. review:
Trocchi/Burroughs State of Revolt: