Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Confessions of a Pop Performer (1975)

Directed by Norman Cohen
Starring Robin Askwith, Antony Booth, Kipper
Rated R
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"Have you seen my Fanny?"
"I've seen Curse of Frankenstein, and I think that's bloody well enough."

Tim Lea is an accident-prone stooge who looks like Brian Jones, sounds like Dudley Moore, and somehow blunders his way into bed with a seemingly endless stream of horny/lonely/married women. A window washer by trade, he rarely gets any actual work done, since he's always getting suckered into some crazy scheme by his brother in law Sid or being stripped naked and mounted by a randy housewife. If this sounds at all familiar, it's because the Confessions of series played relentlessly on late night cable in the 1980's. Dated even then, these curious time-wasters were hugely popular in the UK, but were almost universally despised in the states. I have never heard anyone discuss these films fondly, despite the fact that any teenage American skin-seeker with a premium cable plan in the '80's has seen every one of these films, and can quote groan-worthy Tim Lea dialogue verbatim. In fact, the Confessions series may be where most Americans learned how to do a British accent, because Robin Askwith's Tim sounds exactly like a yank goofing his way through a cockney bit: "Oh, 'ello guvnor!"

So yeah, we endured 'em. After all, on many long and lonely nights in 1985, it was either this or an even dumber Shannon Tweed movie. Confessions' reign on the 3AM timeslot ended two decades ago, and now they mostly sit quietly on dusty UK DVD racks, waiting for some sort of Askwith revival to be rediscovered as long-lost cult comedy classics. And while they do have their charms, my guess is, they'll be waiting a while longer.

Confessions of a Pop Performer was the second film in the Confessions series, rushed out a year after the smashing success of Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974), the (ahem) towering comic monolith that started it all. Pop Performer starts exactly where the last one ended, with Tim banging away on some meaty-hipped cheating wife while a rather awesome theme song, a gooey Britop confection called Confessions of Timmy Lea by Dominic Bugatti, plays over the credits. Not surprisingly, the old bird's husband walks in on them. They speed the film up, Benny Hill style, as he gets chased around the room. Timmy makes his escape through the window. That scene was essentially the entire plot of the first movie, so they at least got it over with quickly this time and actually threw a little storyline into the mix.

After a hard day of fucking other men's women and not washing any windows, Tim and his brother-in-law Sid (Antony Booth, who would later become Tony Blair's father-in-law) head down to the pub for a pint. They hear a catchy pop band playing upstairs, but are too lazy to actually go up there and watch them. Still, Sid decides on the spot that he wants to manage them and take them to the top, so when the goofy looking band trundles downstairs sometime later, Sid writes up a contract and signs them, right then and there. Later on at home, Sid and Tim go about the difficult task of naming the new pop sensations. Apparently they hadn't gotten around to choosing a moniker yet. Tim wants to go with "Bloater", which does sound pretty awesome, but Sid doesn't think it's modern enough, and decides on "Kipper".
"Well, the name smells of success," notes Timmy.
"I bet they play sole music," quips Tim's mum.
And then Tim's dad comes home from work dressed in a gorilla suit.

Sid sets up a showcase gig for the band at a local club, but there's a slight problem. Turns out that Kipper weren't actually playing their instruments at the pub, they were just lip-synching to records, so there's a good chance they can't actually play anything. Then again, maybe they can, so Sid and Tim forge ahead regardless, running around London hyping the gig. Tim meets a pretty young reporter named Jill (Carol Hawkings) who wants to do a story on a modern pop group. She brings him up to her office and he proceeds to accidentally start a fire. Panicking, he grabs a fire extinguisher and sprays it wildly, covering the room in foam but somehow managing to miss the actual fire. Then he stumbles backwards and knocks down an entire wall. Her dad (Robert Downing, RIP) runs in to see what all the commotion is, and of course he gets sprayed in the face and falls on his ass. Eventually, the entire room gets swallowed up by foam. It's the sort of comedic overkill Brit humor is known for, but it's more puzzling than funny.

Tim's mom tells Sid she can get a mob of girls together to chase Kipper when they arrive at the club that afternoon. Always looking for cheap publicity, Sid agrees to the plan.
At the appointed time, the mob shows up. Imagine that, they're all old women. One of the biddies somehow jams her hearing-horn (or whatever you call them; granny had one on the Tweety Bird cartoons as well) onto the drummer's hand, so Tim is forced to drum for Kipper, despite the fact that he does not play the drums. But since there's a good chance that none of them can play instruments, how bad can it be?

Surprisingly, the show starts out well. The band launch into a pretty great Gary Glitter-esque glam-stomper called "The Clapper". The old ladies go nuts. The record label dude, Mr. Barnwell (Benny Hill alumni Bob Todd, RIP) is pleased. Sid's already counting his dough. And then, quite suddenly, it all goes to hell. Tim rips off his shirt and goes on an Iggy Pop style vandalism spree, trashing his drums and knocking over the rest of the band. For some reason, the piano blows up. The song devolves into destructive noise. A bunch of people all start running around screaming and smashing into each other. And then a groupie thinks Tim is Mick Jagger, so she drags him into a prop room and fucks him. And then Tim escapes by dressing up like a horse.
So, overall, good gig.

Next morning, at the breakfast table, Tim's dad says, "What I don't understand is why Black Beauty here came home last night dressed as a horse."
"Well, if you can come home dressed like a gorilla," Tim replies, "Than I can come home dressed like a horse."

So a bunch of dumb stuff happens, mostly involving Tim and his penis. He has sex with a record store clerk in a pile of 7" singles and later on hits a guy in the face with a banana cream pie. Etc. It all climaxes with Kipper floundering their way into playing a black-tie charity gig at a large London venue. Tim almost misses the gig, of course, because he was busy fucking a melon-chested contortionist (you really do just wanna castrate this kid after awhile). In a scene reminiscent of Spinal Tap, Tim attempts to find his way backstage, and ends up poking through a hole onstage while the Climax Sisters perform a nutty Shangri-Las-esque song that goes, in part, "I'll never forget the day you drove off in a rage because you thought I loved Bill/You were on a motorcycle, I wish you'd been killed".

Does it all work out? Yes but no but yes. The usual, really.

In Summation: There's a good chance that Confessions of a Pop Performer would be impossible to sit through were it not for the fantastic music. Askwith's aw-shucks mugging really starts to grate like nails-on-chalkboard after awhile. But since its got a fistful of vintage glam, bubblegum, and girl group numbers, ga-roovy fashions, and half a dozen full-frontal scenes, I am quite willing to recommend it for gooey retro kicks. I will probably feel much differently by the time I finish this series - I mean, people hate 'em for a reason - but the bubblegum put me in a charitable mood. The old pop narcotic trick.

Availability: The Confessions series is available in a Region 2 Pal DVD. Also, and perhaps more importantly, a soundtrack LP was released. I've never seen it, but can only assume it's incredible.

Clip: Theme song!

-Ken McIntyre

1 comment:

  1. Kipper's songs should have been legitimate hits in their own right. Peter Cleall, Kipper's lead singer, is now a theatrical agent here in England, and Carol Hawkins is a sports therapist.


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