Made in 1998, the band movie Still Crazy doesn't appear to have been heralded much or be well-known. Hopefully one day it might get the acclaim it deserves.
I'd always thought The Commitments would forever remain my favourite band movie as it has everything. It has great writing in which every character is memorable and believable, even if they have only a few lines, along with a perfect mixture of comedy and drama, all culminating in an avoidance of the Hollywood style ending. And it has superb music too (Here's The Dark End of the Street). I was therefore pleased to accidentally come across Still Crazy recently and after watching it a couple of times I reckon it is at the very least as good as Alan Parker's film. What's strange is that even though I like the work of pretty much everyone involved, I'd somehow never been aware of it before.
The story is a familiar one. The Strange Fruits were a 1970s rock band. They never achieved the fame they reckoned they should have got, mainly because their lead singer and only talented member died (in a Little Chef) and the new lead singer turned out to be a pretentious idiot. Artistic differences split the band and they all vowed never to play together again. 20 years later a concert organiser, who is putting together a nostalgic concert of old bands, bumps into the keyboard player, who is doing his current job of filling a condom machine, and suggests he puts the band back together. Everyone has gone their separate ways, mainly downhill and outside the music business, or is dead. When the survivors meet up a spooky sign from beyond the grave (involving sheep and their song Tequila Mockingbird) encourages them to try again, but it's not long before their initial enthusiasm dies out and all the old arguments that tore them apart resurface. Added to which is the problem that they're all too old to be rock gods again, they weren't that good in the first place, and the practice gigs they land are all in terrible venues. So can these broken-down has-beens who never were anything much in the first place somehow overcome their failings to pull together for one last triumphant performance…? Can they, heck!
The slightness of the story doesn't matter as it's not that sort of film. Written by the two giants of realistic British drama / comedy Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, this is a film, like most of their other works, about ordinary blokes bickering, being a cross between their previous The Commitments and Auf Weidershen, Pet. From Pet there's Jimmy Nail and Timothy Spall, both of whom play characters that are the direct opposite to their Pet roles of headcase Oz and lemon Barry. Nail plays the sensitive and sullen guitarist who thought he should have been the lead singer, while Spall plays Beano, the all-farting all-boozing wild man drummer. On the other hand there are some obvious similarities with the reunion series of Pet with the theme of characters getting back together after years apart as well the minor part of the European wife (Ingrid in Still Crazy & Tatiana in Pet) being pretty much the same character. Also in the mix of well-known faces is Bill Nighy (who also appeared in the reunion Pet series) playing the dim-witted lead singer doing his usual off-centre performance where it's hard to tell if he's a terrible actor or a brilliant one. And there's keyboard player Stephen Rea who still pines for ex-groupie Juliet Aubrey, narrator Billy Connolly, and the legendary Bruce Robinson in an appropriately enigmatic cameo as a man who was too fragile to cope with fame.
Most of the film follows them travelling around Holland, playing badly and getting on each other's nerves while delivering the great dialogue and interaction you expect from the people who did The Likely Lads and Porridge. There's plenty of well-judged satire about music and nostalgia from Nighy and his obsession with big hair, platform soles and all the trapping of bad glam rock while Nail encourages a more pared-down musical style. Even the clunky bits such as Juliet Aubrey being too young to play an old groupie, the occasional terrible line like, 'let's bury the past before it buries us.' and Jimmy Nail's singing are excusable in such a good-natured film. Actually I'm joking about the latter as I don’t subscribe to the traditional view that Nail was a joke figure in the music business. He along with Bill Nighy sing very well and the original songs get the flavour of 70s rock just right with bombastic guitar solos, pretentious lyrics and the occasional genuinely tuneful rock anthem. But having said that the music is secondary to the main point of the film, which is about friendship, getting old, insecurities, regrets and listing all the bands that are named after body parts (Cockney Rebel gets two points).
Anyhow, youtube has the last scene, so don't click if you don't want to find out if the Fruits stop arguing for long enough to come back from the dead and ensure there's not a dry eye in the house by delivering one last gut-wrenchingly emotional rendering of the song they vowed never to play again The Flame Still Burns.