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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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit