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So, Ian Dury, to me the punk bloke who had a big hit with ‘Hit me with your rhythm stick’ and only famous because he had polio as a kid and so an attention grabbing and noticeable disability on stage, rescuing him from being just another one hit wonder. But clearly there was more to him than that and a significant disability activist simply by achieving that much. If he could get up there and do what he did and be such a powerful voice on disability rights then clearly a talented guy and so a story to tell on film. The other song of his I recall was ‘Spasticus Autisticus’, the one he penned for the United Nations to publicize the UN Year of the Disabled’, Dury making it as deliberately offensive and uncomfortable as possible for the suits to make his point that you can’t be tokenistic around things that effect peoples lives so strongly. As the UN had failed to veto at least ten wars when Dury was alive he could rightfully turn around and say they were sanctioning many of those disabilities through those wars. After watching this film I have a lot more respect for one of life’s rebels, and Andy Serkis for his brilliant lead performance.
We meet Dury all grown up in his mansion with 8 albums to his name and a beautiful wife (Olivia Williams) by the pool, son Baxter (Bill Milner from Son of Rambo) playing with his action toy and a mistress (Naomi Harris) at beck and call. Through non linear narrative we learn how a man who calls himself a cripple got to this seemingly privileged place.
First we explore his disability, polio contracted as a boy at Southend-on-Seas public swimming pool during the epidemic of 1949, and the terrible operations and procedures he had to go through as a child to stay alive thereafter. The extreme form of Polio paralyzes the body and you have to get the virus out of the nerve system quickly, polio one of the main reasons why public pools had chlorine in them. Father Bill (Ray Winstone), a chauffeur, loves his boy but puts him in a boarding hospital for the disabled because he is widowed, a grim place, Ian regularly bullied, especially by the seedy Mr Hargreaves (Toby Jones).
Flashing forward we meet Ian’s first band, ‘Kilburn and the High Road’, quickly getting into a scrap in a rough East End bikers pub, Dury’s signature boisterous and antagonistic antics starting the fight. But it would split the band up and they would reform as the Blockheads, young guitarist Chaz Jankel (Tom Hughes) coming in to help with the song writing, meeting his sexy girlfriend Denise (Naomi Harris) at the first gig but still married to Betty(Olivia Williams).
But it’s the tempestuous relationship with Denise and that marital tryst that drives the film, both women in love with the talent as they are the man and his charisma, more entertainer than musician, surrounded by followers. Trying to cure their mans emotional turmoil is their impossible quest as he battles to deal with the past, and not let little Baxter suffer the way he did as a kid, always trying to be as strong as his father Bill but not being as hard, tough love indeed. Throw in the sex & drugs and rock and roll and its no surprise the kid wants to be like his father.
I was not sure about his one when it first came out and waited it for it to come on TV. I’m not a huge fan of fictional music biopic (the bass solo of film) and so reticent. I’m not exactly as fan of punk rock either. But Andy ‘Gollam’ Sirkis decided to venture away from the blue screen and latex to show his acting chops and what an effort it was, an amazing performance by the unheralded British actor. And by no means the only performance here, packed full of British talent. Clearly Dury and his music had an effect on the familiar cast as they grew up and they are here to pay tribute, the film only ever going to be about Serkis, if he pulls it off., which he spectacularly did, capturing Durys unhinged personality and physical deformity.
It’s a very visual and arty movie, expressing Durys style of showmanship on stage and his colorful life off it, and trippy too with that non linear narrative, hinting at mental illness. It’s just a brilliant performance by Serkis and the only reason you get to the end of what is a lightly filled movie. Not a lot happens as far as the story goes as we fail to explore his life outside of the band and the two women. It would have been fun to see some sort of interaction with other famous people of the time, especially politicians and Radio one DJs.
It’s a chunky two hours long and if you don’t like the dizzy visuals, his terrible vocal poet style of and a flashback narrative as wobbly on his feet as he is then not for you. But I have to say it was director Mat Whitecross that saved the movie with that vibrant approach and a talent to watch out for. I did sing along with the songs by the end and who doesn’t like ‘Hit me with your Rhythm stick’? Sadly, like the Dury’s music cannon, we are none the wiser about the other stuff in his life as this ends up a love story to Ian Dury and that 80s punk anthem. I’m sure there are so many more complexities to this guy. Maybe a real biography with the man and archive footage would have been the better option.
RELEASED: 2010, Cert.15
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 100 mins
DIRECTOR: Mat Whitecross
PRODUCER: Damian Jones
SCREENPLAY: Paul Viragh
MUSIC: Chaz Jankel (songs written by Ian Dury)
Andy Serkis as Ian Dury
Bill Milner as Baxter Dury
Olivia Williams as Betty Dury
Naomie Harris as Denise
Ray Winstone as Bill Dury
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is as biographic film, concentrating on the rise in the late 1970s of singer/songwriter and poet extraordinaire, Ian Dury.
The film begins in about 1977-ish, jumping back and forth between Dury & The Blockheads' gradual rise to fame and extracts from his childhood when as a result of contracting polio from a swimming pool, he was left permanently disabled. Other childhood traumas are briefly touched upon, such as the abuse and bullying he suffered whilst spending time at a hospital for disabled children.
Age-wise, Dury was quite a latecomer to the rock and pop scene, and in the film it is suggested quite strongly that his almost single-minded focus on his music caused a huge rift in his marriage. There also appears to be a similarity between Dury's difficulty in making a connection with his son Baxter and that of his on/off relationship with his own father, like repeating generational patterns, although Dury and Baxter did form a much closer bond with the passage of time.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll casts Dury as a rather unpredictable man who could swing from an affectionate bonhomie to aggressive outbursts, seemingly with little or no provocation, yet despite his volatility - sometimes fuelled by alcohol and drug abuse - lay a big warmth in this quite complex man who somehow managed to be off the wall, yet simultaneously down to earth.
Eventually Dury's marriage to Olivia hits the rocks, and he moves in with his girlfriend Denise, but that relationship isn't without its problems.
Some of the way the film is presented is rather bitty, jumping from one scene to another, but I personally didn't find it confusing. There also was a brave attempt to present certain scenes in a sort of borderline surrealistic fashion, very much in a late 1970s vein (almost imitating the style of the movie The Wall, but not taking it quite so far). Parts of the dialogue are in narrative format spoken by Andy Serkis as Ian Dury, and various sections are filmed as cartoon graphics which came across to me as being somewhat dated, perhaps even unnecessary.
All the cast members acted their roles extremely well, but for me the crowning glory is Andy Serkis as Ian Dury. He even managed to look more like Dury than I expected, and his stage performances in the film weren't all that far away from how Dury the man came across live....perhaps a little watered down though. Serkis almost perfected Dury's speaking and singing voice....maybe not 100%, but as close as dammit, and that was good enough for me. Serkis really stole the show for me, but it is true and fair to say that he had a good cast of support actors backing him up. It must have been quite a difficult role to play though, and I commend his performance.
Although I've always admired Ian Dury - the real Ian Dury I mean - as a person and loved his music, I've never really known too much about his life, so am unable to establish how accurate or otherwise Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is.
As a whole, I found Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll an interesting and enjoyable film, but there were some things I'd like to have seen done differently. For instance, I didn't really like the cartoon-style graphics, and for me the film as a whole was rather rushed, bitty and jerky. I also had the feeling that certain aspects had been 'prettied' up, maybe with the intention of reaching out to a wider audience? However, one thing I do feel the film puts across very well, is Ian's never-say-die attitude to life, his warmth, his determination, his spirit and earthy yet simultaneously complex character....anarchical, gruff, sometimes hostile, sometimes affectionate, and one of the greatest wordsmiths of 20th century popular culture.
I don't think I'd consider watching Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll again, as for me it largely came across as a bit throwaway, despite being enjoyable. Perhaps I'd have felt more bonded to it were the film longer, and had delved more deeply into Ian Dury's life rather than the periphery. I'd surmise that this is probably a movie for people who do like Ian Dury, but from a more on the surface standpoint rather than being an out and out Dury fanatic.
At the time of writing, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £2.52 to £23.05
Used: from £1.60 to £21.05
Collectible: Only one copy currently available @ £5.99
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Before watching this film I knew nothing about Ian Dury the rock star who spent his life battling the effects of polio and he was a controversial figure in the music world and this was a fascinating biography of the man.
Andy Serkis plays the role of Dury and he delivers a passionate and realistic portrayal of the man, having listened to Ian Dury music I was impressed with how similar he managed to get the voice. The story starts with the birth of Dury's son it tells the story of his career with some occasional flashbacks to his childhood where he started to suffer from polio from a young age. His education at a special needs school for the disabled left a number of scars on him and certainly influenced the path his life took.
Also appearing in the film is Ray Winstone as his father, he is portrayed as a distant prescence in his life but one who attempted to teach him not to feel pity for himself but to be tough and rebellious something that again can be seen in his lifestyle and dealings with authority.
Serkis does a good job of showing the absolute commitment and obesession with his music that Dury had and teh tough battles he had to get his music heard, the clever lyrics are a strong feature of his music and while some of the songs have a novelty act feel to them his rough London voice certainly adds prescence to his music.
This film is not a total Ian Dury love fest, it does show the darker sides to his character. the fact that he left his family similar to the way his own father behaved. I must say I found this to be a fascinating story and a really well made film.
Serkis is excellent in the lead role and delivers a really powerful performance which is intense and gripping in equal measures. The music was mostly new to me although I did spot a couple of songs that I had heard before, whether real Ian Dury fans will enjoy the film I have no idea but it is well worth seeing in my opinion.
I was never particularly a fan of Ian Dury and the Blockheads' music, but having worked in many record stores and been a massive fan of punk and rock music over the years I was well aware of the legacy and influence of the band, the man and the music.
With this in mind I was very keen to see this film, released in 2009 and directed by Mat Whitecross and starring the very talented Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings) as Ian Dury himself. A British made film, which was nominated for two BAFTAs and won Serkis the award of best actor at the Evening Standard Film Awards in 2009.
This is essentially a biographical account of Dury's life, featuring many flashback scenes to his childhood, battling polio and left at a boarding school for children with 'disabilities' by the father he clearly adored.
As an adult we watch Dury on the long hard road to stardom, as a relatively unknown punk singer with a very defined look and manner, genius lyrics and a chaotic life, slowly clawing his way into the mainstream media attention. We see his long suffering artist wife managing to be incredibly patient with his eccentricities, sharing him with his mistress and trying to raise their two children.
We also see the rise and fall of Ian personally as fame and all its trappings sends him even further off the rails and threatens to destroy his own relationship with his precious son as well as with his band mates and family.
Andy Serkis - Ian Dury
Olivia Williams - Betty Dury
Ray Winstone - Bill Dury
Bill Milner - Baxter Dury
Charlotte Beaumont - Jemima Dury
Naomie Harris - Denise
Mackenzie Crook - Russell
Noel Clarke - Desmond/Sparky
Tom Hughes - Chaz Jankel
Ralph Ineson - Sulphate Strangler
This film starts with a psychadlic stage scene featuring a mesmirising performance of Blockheads track 'Billericay Dickie' (not a tune I was familiar with but quite entertaining) which then segues into a very Film4-esque (by which I mean quirky, clever and definitively british) part animated and part real action sequence.
The message from the word go is that this film is going to be a little bit different, very vivid and arty and humorous too. It sticks to it's promise in this respect. Apparently these fantastic opening credits were designed and illustrated by Peter Blake, a celebrated pop artist and one of Dury's teachers at the Royal College of Art in the 60s. A very fitting link.
Serkis is outstanding as Dury, he captures the personality so well and from what I have seen and know of the man himself the likeness is uncanny. In my opinion, between Serkis and Michael Sheen we have two of the finest chameleonic method actors in the world. The way Serkis manages to walk exactly like his leg really is wasted by polio throughout the film surely took massive effort on his part, it really is believable.
I adored the way the film was edited, quirky, fast cutting techniques, a mish mash of real life, dream sequence and stage scenes, it was impossible not to get drawn in, regardless of whether the music is to your taste.
The balance between Dury, his on and off wife Betty and his lover Denise is portrayed with such intimacy and understanding that it makes you feel it simply makes sense for them to exist as such.
Liberal to a fault, Betty (an established artist herself) understands that he needs to be as free as possible and whilst she has frustration over his parenting skills (or lack thereof) she is open to the fact that the much younger Denise is good for him musically.
There are some hilarious scenes of both domestic bliss and carnage in the triangular relationship, there are also some touching scenes between Betty and Denise who ultimately both find they cannot be everything he needs and that they need to live their own lives away from the mania. Both Harris and Williams carry their roles with aplomb.
I loved the way the relationship between Ian and his son Baxter was played out parallel to Ian's own memories of his father and how he dealt with the loss of him. At times the poignancy of watching little Baxter grow up much too quick and exposed to the excesses of a rock and roll lifestyle only serve to highlight the vast differences between his childhood and that of Ian. Perhaps Ian's rebellion is very easy to understand when you see what he went through as a child.
Moving, funny and incredibly easy to watch, there are many times when you will realise that yet another cameo by a British actor has just been made, Ray Winstone in particular was ideally cast as Ian's dad Bill and Mackenzie Crook pulls off a wonderfull Russell - Ian's co-writer and ever patient musical accomplice.
I do not think anything about this film could be described as bad. Only one or two minor niggles did I notice, one was that it seemed slightly odd that whilst Baxter, Ian's son, was a very key part of the story, Jemima, his daughter was only featured very slightly.
I do not know whether this is a true reflection of the family relationships but it did make me wonder why it was so. Of course, the father son dynamic was essential for the narrative so perhaps it just made sense to portray it so.
A fantastic watch, one which was both educational from a music history point of view and also incredibly satisfying as a story, from start to finish. I feel that for me it filled in some gaps and explained why this band were so key as an influence to so many, it also paints a very vivid picture of the UK music scene during the late 70s and early 80s.
Enjoyable, very witty and cleverly written, marvellously cast and well made. This film really does showcase some very impressive British talent, both in terms of the actors but also the story which they tell so well.
Length: 113 minutes
I was only about 9 years old when "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads was No. 1 in the charts. It was received with rare acclaim, which I thought unusual for what seemed to my young mind to be no more than a novelty song by a band I knew nothing about, and might as well be another here today, gone tomorrow act. I was into the Boomtown Rats, which is another story.
But Ian Dury had been involved in music a long time before he came to my attention, and this biopic takes us from the cradle to very nearly the grave of the controversial musician's life.
I should say from the very start that Andy Serkis seems to have been poured into this role. Even if people who know Dury better than I do quibble about the accuracy, for me he brought the character alive, and much of the tale is in his own words, and in an excellent impersonation of his voice.
Beginning with the birth of Ian's own son Baxter, this tale proceeds through the main years of Dury's career with occasional flashbacks to his childhood. Stricken with polio from the age of seven, we see Dury enduring an unhappy schooling under the disciplined regime of Chailey school for disabled children, and he would never forget the humiliating experiences of dormitory life. His father (played by Ray Winstone), often absent from his life, was an East End geezer of the age, who wanted to instil his son with a sense of tough, defiant independence so that he would earn the respect, rather than pity, of the world around him.
The resultant adult entered the music industry at a turning point in the national scene. While the 60's had been ruled by Liverpool and the Merseybeat, 1970 saw the break-up of the Beatles, and a resurgence by London in the ensuing decade as a leading cultural light, with the emergence of Punk, New Wave and the English 2 Tone ska revival. It must have been a fascinating time and place to have lived through, and the film brings across little snapshots of life as it was then. This includes the living circumstances - Dury leaves his wife to go and live with 19 year old Denise in Catshit Mansions, a large post-war housing block - and the competitive pub rock scene that bands had to break through, as we see Dury's live musical early efforts meet with hostility from audiences - a hostility Dury is more than willing to reciprocate. What must also have been typical was the struggle to obtain a fee from an aggrieved landlord.
Dury was committed to his music, almost to the exclusion of everything else around him. He combined clever wordplay with a powerful stage presence, and the progression through his career throws up tracks that, perhaps, you might have forgotten were ever his. As well as "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll", we hear "Reasons To Be Cheerful, 1, 2, 3", "What A Waste", and "Billericay Dicky", all delivered in a cockney accent so gravelly you could drive your 4x4 off it into Islington traffic. His healthy disrespect for authority, and the working class humour in his music, ensured him a cult following in our capital, and by the time "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" comes along, you'll be happily tapping your foot along to the music.
Like many originals with huge charisma, Dury could be driven to the point of taking those around him for granted, and he is shown as less than an ideal father. Indeed, you may conclude that it may be his associates who deserve a lot of the credit for his success simply for putting up with him. Dury comes across as unfailingly funny with a heart of gold, and his visit back to Chailey school as an adult shows him in his best light, making children laugh and ruffling the feathers of the powers that be. Here we also see the rationale behind his most controversial work, composed in response to 1981 being termed the Year of the Disabled, called "Spasticus Autisticus". Although never officially banned, its title and lyrics meant it was never going to be given serious radio play, essential to chart and financial success in the days before downloads, and this annoyed Dury intensely, as he felt his work was being misunderstood and misrepresented.
By watching this film about an artist I knew little about previously, I not only learned more but I liked what I learned, and consequently have a higher opinion of the late Ian Dury, appreciating more now why he became such a cult figure in the music scene. One of the benefits of living in London is the fact that the pub rock scene is still in rather rude health, at least compared to other parts of the country, and it must have been great to have been at a Blockheads gig when they were in their prime, at a venue like, say, the Hope & Anchor on Upper Street. The fact that the film has made such an impression on someone like me, who knew little about the subject beforehand, is probably sufficient testament to its merits. If the film does have a fault, it skims over Dury's acting and other side projects, which may have given us a further insight into the whole person - but perhaps I'm being too greedy for more. I'd say you should give this a go not only because Serkis's performance alone deserves it, but also, on the basis of what I've now seen, because Dury deserves to be remembered this way.