This is the second biopic I’ve seen in the last year. Not usually my thing, I’m not a huge fan of sitting still for a couple of hours, but I make the effort sometimes. The first one I went to see was Control – Ian Curtis of Joy Division. That was an essay in quiet, crushing hopelessness, shot in black and white, funny and grim in equal parts, like the decade it covers.
Telstar, though, is in glorious colour. It reflects its times perfectly – full of life, new things, discoveries and experimentation. Joe Meek, pioneer producer, is right at the heart of the early 60’s new mania for pop music – something to DO for the ‘young’, now that they had money in their pockets and time to do things in. Post war austerity seemingly at an end, excesses of every kind kicked in. My impressions, then:
Joe Meek’s excesses were myriad. Work consumed his life, and he consumed the lives of others in his quest for hits, for perfection, for the ideal. He had a ‘family’ around him who could see his genius and worked for it, because they believed in him. He had talent and dedication. What he also had was a sizeable drug habit, in the days when pills were taken like sweets. He already had the arrogance of talent, the conviction that he was always right, and a healthy dose of latent paranoia. Not surprising, given that being homosexual was a dangerous thing to be, back then. We forget. It didn’t make him careful though, because he was arrested in an entrapment that surely never would have stood up in court these days.
That, in the film, seems to have been a turning point, though things had been going wrong already. Meek was a disaster of a businessman. He could not or would not see his own failings, preferring to blame others. His descent into mania was triggered by so many things – drugs, lack of success, huge money problems, what he saw as desertion by those he trusted and loved. His drive for perfection cost him a good deal of sanity, as well as friends. Manipulative, high handed, cruel and given to taking advantage, goodwill ran out for even the most patient. There’s no sycophantic heroworship going on, on screen. That’s in the story.
And the bitter irony – he destroyed those who stood by him to the end. His landlady whom he murdered, and his lover Patrick, who was arrested for that and Meek’s own suicide. Three more weeks… three more weeks and his life would have been so different. Royalties paid, he could have gone on. If he’d gone to work at Apple – who knows what he could have achieved there.
This film is far darker than Control, in my view. The calmness of depression is replaced by the constant action of mania. The effects of pressure are more easily seen, as the instant reactions are on the surface of the man. The film’s jumping about from flashback to reality to future (or even sideways) heightens that impression. The closed, shuttered, claustrophobic studio, seems to me to be a metaphor for Meek’s mind – look how he reacts when the sun is let in. The cast played a blinder. They all gave everything in their performances, utterly believable. It’s the situations they were in that weren’t, but it all happened.
Just because I am who I am, I can’t write this without mentioning Mr Hawkins’ screen debut. Only on the screen for a short time, he made the most of it. He certainly has a presence – well done, Justin. In fact (which is not related to the fact that Justin is in them) the scenes he is in are the only ones that jarred within the film. They in themselves are fine, but I didn’t think they were very well integrated with the rest. The introductions of Billy Fury, Gene Vincent etc were much smoother.
Go and see it if you can. Joe Meek gave British music a legacy that cannot be ignored.