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.

Photo: Hunter Skipworth / Moment
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Cones and cocaine: the ice cream van's links with organised crime

A cold war is brewing to the tinkling of "Greensleeves".

Anyone who has spent a summer in this country will be familiar with the Pavlovian thrill the first tinny notes of “Greensleeves” stir within the stolid British breast.

The arrival of the ice cream van – usually at least two decades older than any other vehicle on the road, often painted with crude approximations of long-forgotten cartoon characters and always, without fail, exhorting fellow motorists to “Mind that child!” – still feels like a simple pleasure of the most innocent kind.

The mobile ice cream trade, though, has historical links with organised crime.

Not only have the best routes been the subject of many, often violent turf wars, but more than once lollies have served as cover for goods of a more illicit nature, most notoriously during the Glasgow “Ice Cream Wars” of the early 1980s, in which vans were used as a front for fencing stolen goods and dealing drugs, culminating in an arson attack that left six people dead.

Although the task force set up to tackle the problem was jokingly nicknamed the “Serious Chimes Squad” by the press, the reality was somewhat less amusing. According to Thomas “T C” Campbell, who served almost 20 years for the 1984 murders before having his conviction overturned in 2004, “A lot of my friends were killed . . . I’ve been caught with axes, I’ve been caught with swords, open razors, every conceivable weapon . . . meat cleavers . . . and it was all for nothing, no gain, nothing to it, just absolute madness.”

Tales of vans being robbed at gunpoint and smashed up with rocks abounded in the local media of the time and continue to pop up – a search for “ice cream van” on Google News throws up the story of a Limerick man convicted last month of supplying “wholesale quantities” of cocaine along with ice cream. There are also reports of the Mob shifting more than 40,000 oxycodone pills through a Lickety Split ice cream van on Staten Island between 2009 and 2010.

Even for those pushing nothing more sinister than a Strawberry Split, the ice cream business isn’t always light-hearted. BBC Radio 4 devoted an entire programme last year to the battle for supremacy between a local man who had been selling ice creams in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea since 1969 and an immigrant couple – variously described in the tabloids as Polish and Iraqi but who turned out to be Greek – who outbid him when the council put the contract out to tender. The word “outsiders” cropped up more than once.

This being Britain, the hostilities in Northumberland centred around some rather passive-aggressive parking – unlike in Salem, Oregon, where the rivalry from 2009 between an established local business and a new arrival from Mexico ended in a highish-speed chase (for an ice cream van) and a showdown in a car park next to a children’s playground. (“There’s no room for hate in ice cream,” one of the protagonists claimed after the event.) A Hollywood production company has since picked up the rights to the story – which, aptly, will be co-produced by the man behind American Sniper.

Thanks to competition from supermarkets (which effortlessly undercut Mister Softee and friends), stricter emission laws in big cities that have hit the UK’s ageing fleet particularly hard, and tighter regulations aimed at combating childhood obesity, the trade isn’t what it used to be. With margins under pressure and a customer base in decline, could this summer mark the start of a new cold war?

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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