Gilbey on Film: rock on

Follwing the release of rock parody "Get Him to the Greek", here's the Top 10 songs in the Fictional

Get Him to the Greek is a hit-and-miss affair. Jonah Hill is Aaron Green, a timid record company stooge; and Russell Brand reprises the role of Aldous Snow, the extravagant and ridiculous English rock god and lead singer of Infant Sorrow, who falls spectacularly off the wagon shortly before a high-profile comeback gig in Los Angeles. (Brand previously played Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, in which Hill was a different character -- a starstruck and possibly lovestruck waiter.) It is Aaron's job is to do whatever it takes to get Aldous from London to LA in 72 hours, although I couldn't fathom why there were only three days between the tickets going on sale and the gig itself. Oh well... It's essentially a debauched spin on My Favourite Year, with Brand in the Peter O'Toole role, and apart from the Hill/Brand rapport (they have the unforced tomfoolery of siblings) its choicest moments come in the digs at rock-star pomposity, which are no less hilarious for being so easy-peasy.

A running joke revolves around Aldous's atrocious single "African Child", with its accompanying video featuring the singer as a "white African space-Christ" and giving birth to an African baby. Those images may be freakishly funny, but the lyrics are no worse than anything in "Russians" by Sting, "Zombie" by the Cranberries or Culture Club's "The War Song" ("War, war is stupid/ And people are stupid").

There's a ripe tradition of fictional musicians conjured up within the alternative universe of cinema. If they're vivid enough, they achieve a life beyond the movie that spawned them -- think The Rutles or Spinal Tap, both of whom produced such lovingly crafted pastiches of their respective targets that the music itself acquired an autonomous worth. With his forthcoming Scott Pilgrim vs the World, released in August, Edgar Wright has taken the unusual step of assigning a different band or musician to write the music for each of the film's various fictional band; Beck, who has already scored one behind-the-scenes triumph this year by writing and producing Charlotte Gainsbourg's album IRM, has been given responsibility for the hero's band, Sex Bob-omb, so it'll be interesting to see, or rather hear, how he bends his talent to suit a group which, in the original graphic novel at least, are hopelessly undistinguished.

For now, here is my Top 10 from the Fictional Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame:

1.The Juicy Fruits: "Goodbye Eddie Goodbye" from Phantom of the Paradise (1974).
Written by the great Paul Williams (best known, cinematically speaking, for his Bugsy Malone soundtrack). Williams also appeared in Phantom..., Brian De Palma's wacko rock spin on The Phantom of the Opera, as the toxic producer Swan, the very essence of slimeball.

2. Ellen Aim (Diane Lane): "Nowhere Fast" from Streets of Fire (1984)
A big hot chunk of operatic jukebox rock by regular Meat Loaf collaborator Jim Steinman. All that's missing is a title with parentheses.

3.Steve Shorter (Paul Jones) in Privilege (1967)
The rock star as crypto-fascist instrument of the State. It's a long way from "Do-Wah-Diddy" for Manfred Mann's Paul Jones.

4. Randy Watson (Eddie Murphy) and Sexual Chocolate in Coming to America (1987).
"You can't take away my dignity..."

5.The Hong Kong Cavaliers in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Meet Buckaroo (Peter Weller): speed racer, physicist, brain surgeon, leader of his own band of adventurers, Team Banzai... and, of course, jazz-funk maestro.

6.Turner (Mick Jagger): "Memo from Turner" in Performance (1970)
"I like that. Turn it up." Performance was much sampled on Big Audio Dynamite's "E=MC2", the band's tribute to one of the film's directors, Nicolas Roeg. (That film also lent Happy Mondays two song titles -- "Mad Cyril" and "Performance" -- on their Bummed album.)

7. Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor): "TV Eye" in Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Curt Wild was raised by wolves, subjected to ECT, but still remained able to knock out a damn good Iggy Pop impression. See also the perfect "Ballad of Maxwell Demon", by Bowie surrogate Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).

8. The Carrie Nations (nee the Kelly Affair): "Sweet Talking Candyman" from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970).
"I'd like to strap you on sometime..."

9 The Ice Plant: "Come Pet the P.U.S.S.Y" from Fear of Black Hat (1994)
Almost-forgotten hip-hop parody. The title is an "analagram" (sic) for Political Unrest Stablises Society -- Yeah!

10. The Rutles: "Goose-Step Mama" from The Rutles All You Need is Cash (1978)
Obviously.

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Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Inside Syria's unending siege, civilians, not soldiers, are the victims

In Aleppo, civilian strife is just another tool of war.

Maria is a young mother who lives in Aleppo. She missed her opportunity to flee when the Syrian-Turkish border was closed to all but the seriously injured in early 2015. With her two children – Fadi, aged five, and Sama, aged nine – she stayed in the city.

Maria’s husband was killed by a barrel bomb that fell on their neighbourhood in 2014. After that, she took the children and moved in with her husband’s family. Her married brother-in-law asked her to be his second wife. She accepted the offer for the sake of security. This year he, too, was killed when a bomb fell on his shop.

Speaking to her on Skype, I referred to Aleppo as a city under siege and she quickly corrected me. “The city is not under siege,” she said. “We are human beings under siege.” Maria clearly felt offended by my words. She moved the conversation on to the images of a young Syrian boy, sitting in an ambulance, which have appeared on newspaper front pages around the world – a symbol of the human suffering in Aleppo. “What can I say? His silence and shock reflected all the pain of Syrians.”

Tearfully, she described her living conditions. “There are two widows, with three children, who live all together with our old mother-in-law. The good people around us try to give us food and clothing.”

She added: “Before, I used to cook a big meal for me and my family-in-law every day. My late husband was well off.” The children don’t go to school but they get some lessons at home – Maria used to work as an Arabic language teacher at a high school in the city.

The household’s other widow, Safaa, joined our conversation. “Since the first day of Eid ul-Fitr [the festival that marks the end of Ramadan, this year on 6 July], the siege began in Aleppo. There was no food or water. Children cried and could not sleep because of hunger.”

Safaa made food from pulses that she had managed to save, particularly lentils. As the area around the city is rich in olives and well known for producing za’atar herbs, the extended family depended on reserves of these for nutrition. “Al-za’atar al-akhdar [a dish of the herb, olive oil and a few other basic ingredients] has saved the reputation of Aleppo and its people,” Safaa joked, and both women laughed.

Then, suddenly, the Skype connection was lost and they both disappeared.

Another Aleppo native to whom I spoke, Ayham, described his desperation as he finished his engineering degree before fleeing Syria. “I am my mother’s only son, so I didn’t want to do military service, and I left, as I felt so insecure,” he told me. He had been living in Shahbaa, a neighbourhood controlled by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while completing one application after another to study abroad. Eventually he was successful and he has now made it to a university in Europe.

Ayham’s parents were pushing him to leave because they knew that he was part of an underground anti-Assad protest movement. “There are two Aleppos,” he explained. “One is free and the other is controlled by Assad’s regime. Both are very unsafe . . . Living hungry was easier than living under threat.”

There are roughly two million people in the city, most of them women and children. Since the second day of the siege, there have been no fruit or vegetables available and only a few bakeries are producing bread. Compounding the starvation, the bombing has been intense, hitting hospitals, ambulances, blood banks and the Syrian Civil Defence base. Assad’s regime is targeting vital resources for civilians.
Even after rebel forces, in co-operation with the Islamist faction Jaish al-Fateh, managed partly to break the siege and open a new road into the south of the city through the Ramoussa area, they could not bring in enough food. The little that made it inside immediately sent prices soaring. Civilians could not use this road to escape – jets were targeting the routes in and out.

The eastern areas of Aleppo, which are still under the opposition’s control, are also still without aid, because of how risky it is to get there. All the talk coming out of the city today is about decisive battles between Assad’s forces and the rebels in the southern quarters. Civilians put the recent air strikes down to these conflicts – it has long been believed that when the regime loses ground, it intensifies its bombing as revenge, and to send a message to those who continue to resist.

People in Aleppo and the north-eastern territories of Syria are suffering and dying. They have no other choice. It seems that both Isis and the Assad regime are trying as hard as they can to destroy Syrian civilians, whether through direct attacks or by gradual starvation.

There is little information available, as both sides attempt to prevent the media from documenting life under siege. Isis accuses journalists of being agents of Assad, while the regime portrays reporters as terrorists. Pro-Assad social media accounts have alleged that Mahmoud Raslan, who took the footage of the boy in the ambulance, has links with terrorism. The same channels have yet to say much about Raslan’s subject – Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old whom he showed, bloodied and stunned, after the boy was pulled from the rubble caused by multiple air strikes. Omran’s ten-year-old brother, Ali, has since died from injuries sustained in another attack.

After four hours, I heard back from Maria. She apologised for losing the connection and asked me not to worry about her. “All of us are fine. We did not die yet,” she said. Her daughter, Sama, has not been to school since last year, she told me, and now studies only Arabic poetry. They have no books, so she depends on the verses that Maria knows by heart. Sama misses her school and her friends, and though she remembers their faces she has forgotten their names.

Maria has made a doll for her out of scraps of fabric and they call it Salwa. Together, they sing Syrian folk songs for the doll, in particular one that goes: “Hey Salwa, why are you crying? I need a friend.” Maria is resigned. As she says, “We are back in the Stone Age.” 

K S is a Syrian journalist, based in Sweden since 2014

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser