Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Breaking Glass (1980)

They don't make 'em like this any more.

No seriously they don't. Whatever happened to the band film? The semi autobiographical movie of a pop/rock star roughly playing themselves? They just don't get made now.

Breaking Glass is the 1980 film that looks at the post punk/new wave scene in London at the time. Real life new wave artiste Hazel O'Connor (using her own hits as the soundtrack of the film) plays Kate, an aspiring young singer looking for a band, management and a record deal. She gets a band including a young Jonathan Pryce as an inoffensive, sensitive heard of hearing heroin using sax player, and The Bill's Mark Wingett on bass, a manager in the shape of small time hustler with big dreams, Phil Daniels (reuniting with fellow Quadrophenia star Wingett) and during the course of the film, she gets a record deal...but the highs are soon overtaken by the lows in a film that is essentially a post punk A Star Is Born

There's nothing new here, it takes a standard rags to riches to rags story and adds a different flavour reflecting the music taste of the time. Indeed where the film is truly interesting is in depicting that time; It's the winter of discontent, tired Callaghan's last gasp and the horror of Maggie's breaking dawn. The film takes great pains at pointing out just what a mess we were in, referencing short supplies and industrial action. Indeed, the whole country, virtually every industry seems to be/is shown as being on strike and we're shown that petrol is low (O'Connor's Kate is working at a station in one of the early scenes that is only serving regular customers because of the short supply) It's also a deeply racist period, with the rise of youth fascism on the fringes of the punk scene. This is conveyed (occasionally a little too earnestly it must be said, though it's a hard heart who holds that against the film) with scenes of pogoing seig heiling skinheads at the band's early pub gigs and later, when they play on the back of a truck at a Rock Against Racism type event which is swiftly overcome by the NF. It's here that she witnesses the stabbing (Altamount style) of a young skinhead played by Only Fools and Horses own Mickey Pearce, an event which sets her on course for a nervous breakdown and the dissolution of the band.

It's the film's attempts at highlighting the bleak times, with the use of real inner city urban locations and the nature of the racist element to the music scene and the industrial actions that puts me in mind of the later 24 Hour Party People's scenes which focused on Joy Division.

I last saw this film about 10 years ago (just a couple of years after seeing Hazel live on the Beyond Breaking Glass tour) and on this rewatch it's still an enjoyable experience. Perhaps because I saw it long after its release, there's an extra enjoyment in spotting familiar faces who went on to bigger things; as well as those already mentioned here you'll also see Peter Hugo Daly as the band's drummer, Janine Duvitski working alongside O'Connor at the petrol station, Richard Griffiths as a sound engineer, Mark Wing Davey as a DJ, Jim Broadbent as a striking railywayman, Derek Thompson (Casualty's Charlie) as an A+R man and the legendary Ken Campbell as a pub landlord. There's even a young Jonathan Ross in the crowd scenes at the anti racism concert!

As the film is a music piece, Hazel O'Connor is planted slap bang in the middle of it and it is her acting and her music that is essentially expected to carry it. It is of course the music aspect where she utterly shines, coming into her own with the straight singing performances, both in the more low key situations and also when the band hit it big (with one massive gig where she seems to be wearing what looks like a prototype Tron outfit!) The music, all O'Connor's work, is also rather good - though it's admittedly to my taste, and certainly was so ten years back when I first saw it - and produced by the legend that is Tony Visconti. But whilst it's fair to say that O'Connor was never going to win Oscars she is by no means a poor actor;  She has great chemistry with Phil Daniels as her manager and on/off boyfriend and later with suave Jon Finch who attempts to muscle in on Daniels interests in the band, and her character is convincing and likeable which is no surprise as she's essentially playing a version of herself.


  1. I saw this movie when it came out and I loved it. I have the soundtrack on my ipod and will occasionally play "Give Me an Inch" and "big Brother" in my dance classes. All my British clients freak out that I even know who Hazel O'Connor is.

  2. It just proves what I've long since suspected of you Ken, that you're a man of impeccable taste :)

  3. I've only ever seen this once - On TV, sometime around New Year 86 or 87 when me and my mate Woolley landed on a friends doorstep late in the evening looking for more drink. :)

    Maybe its because I was only 18 at the time (and a little worse for Southern Comfort), but its a film that really made its mark. Even now, hearing 'Will You?' can, for just a second, take me back 25 years.

    I never want to see the film again. In much the same way that The Sex Pistols - 'Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle" had such a huge impact on me at the time (with that one I wore out the vhs tape), the way they've both grown in my head over the years, and the memories they've garnered together would be destroyed by a rational viewing now :)

    This site is a little gem - I only stumbled here following a link for the sexiest women of 80's pop (Also worth a mention - Susanna Hoffs, Olivia Newton John, Joan Jett, Belinda Carlisle, Madonna and Blondie), after watching Father Ted tonight and seeing Claire Grogan brought on a pang of nostalgia.

    1. Hi Steve thanks for stopping by, sharing such a great story and complimenting the site :D

      I totally know what you mean about having films that you don't want to revisit in case it destroys the impression you've created in your memory over the years. I was quite tentative returning to this one earlier in the year myself.

      Did I not put Debbie Harry in the 80s list? Hmm, maybe I was being too strict and classing her as a breakthrough act of the 70s? Agreed though, hotter than the sun. And I've always had a thing for Belinda Carlisle.

      Thanks again, hope to see you around here - always welcome new readers.