Neil Hepburn, Marketing Manager at The Cameo, Edinburgh, previews today’s Discover Tuesdays title: Born To Boogie
Director: Ringo Starr.
Starring: Marc Bolan. UK 1972. 62 mins.
In 1968 The Beatles formed the Apple Corps. This ill-fated multimedia company gave four rich young men an opportunity to direct their income away from the taxman and towards a wide array of crazy projects. Most notably they released music through the Apple Records division, but they also launched ventures in publishing, fashion, electronics and, in their own single-minded, haphazard way, cinema.
Fewer than ten features emerged from Apple Films, most of them distinctly odd. They began with the poorly received Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and ended with 1974’s Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs, a cult British gem recently reissued by the BFI. In between, Ringo Starr took the helm on a couple of projects, the most successful of which was 1972’s Born To Boogie.
Shot across two nights at what was then the Wembley Empire Pool (now Wembley Arena), it’s essentially a concert film capturing the brief moment when T.Rex appeared to fill the pop phenomenon void left by the dissolution of The Beatles. The press (presumably searching for the 1970s’ answer to Beatlemania) dubbed it ‘T.Rextasy’, which seems a reasonable description of the ecstatic reverence and total freak-outs with which Bolan’s every strut, pout and note is met.
Cinematically, the film succeeds in capturing the atmosphere and energy of the concert, with much of the footage shot on 16mm film by Ringo himself. Legendary Bowie producer Tony Visconti, on sound-mixing duties, gets the most out of the band’s minimal set-up. Bolan’s iconic, grinding guitar riffs are backed only by bass, drums and bongos, but the result is impressively sonic, reaching something of an apex in an unhinged extended rendition of Get It On.
Punctuating this sweaty glamfest we get some – how shall I put it – weirdly fascinating abstract interludes, shot in the grounds of John Lennon’s estate. Ringo, clearly caught in a maelstrom of dubious early-’70s fashion trends, sports an audacious crackpot mullet. There’s a garden party in which Bolan, backed by a string quartet, performs a T.Rex medley for hamburger-munching nuns. In one scene, Ringo, dressed as a rodent, squeaks incomprehensibly in the back of a convertible. And then there’s the questionable presence of an aggressive dwarf, literally chewing up the scenery. Hey man, it was the ’70s!
The meat of the matter comes unexpectedly from a studio jam, featuring Ringo on drums and Elton John playing the piano with such kinetic intensity it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he were to spontaneously combust. Luckily for him he didn’t, and the world got his bestselling album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road the following year. But as Elton’s star was on the rise, Bolan’s faded.
Hampered by rock star excess, he never quite returned to the creative heights on display in Born To Boogie. Several years later his life was cut short by a car crash. We’re lucky, then, to have Born To Boogie as a testament to an on-form Bolan at the height of his dominance. If you’ve only ever seen the Electric Warrior miming along to a backing track on Top Of The Pops, hearing his live vocals and guitar playing is dirty and sweet, oh yeah! Get it on.
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