Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rude Boy

The life of a roadie is a lot of heart (and back) break. To be close to those blokes you idolize, you'll endure the weight of miles of cables and stacks of amps, smell the puke, clean it up, sleep in angles the body was never meant to in noxious tour busses, all that sorta naff. You could say it is far from romantic, but it couldn't be any other way. For a star crossed youth with no direction, it may as well be, in his eyes, the arrival point so many us trudge in vain to reach.

The 1980 film RUDE BOY (named originally for rebellious expatriate Jamaicans who invaded England with ska culture in the late 1970s), amidst the chaos, smoke, and noise, makes a quiet point about finding one's way. I am not certain if that was the intention of directors Jack Hazan and David Mingay, but a scene late in the film really cuts to the bone. By then we have followed disenchanted youth Ray Gange (playing himself, a real-life rude boy)as he has suffered the roadie life working for The Clash as they tear through late 70s U.K. But this suffering provides an electricity and meaning not found in David's previous gig, in a dingy sex shop. The drama of such a life is constant, its worth measured by whether the 20 shitty, humiliating things that happen are justified by those few good things. Ray pushes forward.

This scene I speak of has Clash lead guitarist Mick Jones taking Ray aside and simply asking him what he plans to do with his life. While Ray's face may not betray the usual blankness, this inquiry stops the lad in his tracks. Whaddaya mean what am I gonna do with my life? Isn't this all there is? That's what I think he was thinking. We've seen this moment in many other films, some of which I've reviewed in this very blog. When a scene like this works, it stays with you. It worked for me.

Aside from the music, not much else in RUDE BOY did. It's one of those part-documentary, part-fictional hodge-podges that were somewhat common "back in the day." The directors followed the band around, capturing some choice performances during the early tours and at a festival or two. Fact and fiction blur at every strum; was that middle finger, the one directed at the cameramen, genuine? When Jones screams at the crew for getting too close, we wonder if that was staged as well. One never knows what is engineered and what is spontaneous, but the music is so good it hardly matters.

The music is indeed what matters here. The attempts to shoehorn a plot are mostly awkward, though the atmosphere of varying locations (including Soho) keeps us interested. Actors are placed to interact with Ray and the band, but their dialogue is mostly stilted. After awhile you just wish they'd just skip the scripted rubbish and just rock out. The Clash, upon seeing the final film, felt much the same way. For the DVD, there is an option to "Just Play the Songs", to hit the chapters free of dialogue. It's a wise choice. And again, this is another rock movie worthy of hammered eardrums. The blistering of "White Riot", "I Fought the Law" and many others is what really distinguishes RUDE BOY. Watch this along with THE UNHEARD MUSIC and THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT and you've got yourself a nice, nasty little festival of your own.

But I go back to that moment, the one where Ray is confronted. It's unexpected, but says a few things about the elder statesmen rockers and their persepctives; they're in the muck, making records and touring, but (at least Jones) they have some weary persepctive intact. Jones sees Ray as raw potential, bound for perhaps more than just pushing back groupies and winding microphone cords. Maybe Ray should've listened to The Clash's songs a bit more closely.....
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