Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll: 6 out of 10
S & D & R & R has a lot going for it, but it’s a little lame in some departments.
I fear that political correctness and certain narrowness of view rather did for this movie. I never saw Ian Dury live, but I listen to his songs a good deal. They are fine pieces of English comic verse, sung clearly to excellent rock music. So how come this movie never really got to grips with There ain’t arf been some clever bastards? Point is: this lyric was Dury’s paeon to mainstream and old-style, upmarket smartness, and he was full of it himself.
Maybe the movie’s problem was that it never quite located Dury in the social and artistic scales. It could not quite face his being lower middle or middle class, in an art school era when social mobility was even more pronounced than it has been for many decades and even centuries. If Dury chose cockney or mockney as his idiom, that’s fine but it was a choice and it verged on self-parody.
You will say that the movie showed his wife, girlfriend and children in that fuller light, nicely spoken as they all were. And even Dury tells his son that the family wasn’t posh but more, “arts and crafts”. As in: bohemian, or even William Morris quaint. He praised education and all that. This was accurate, I guess. And yet, Dury’s self-consciousness and theatricality, his persona, his posing, weren’t quite there.
I think the difficulty is that the movie thought he had to be the disabled victim, of institutions and even class attitudes. The Spastics Society is given a hard time for not having the imagination to see that Spasticus, Autisticus was not suitable for their mainstream purposes. But the society did him the favour of triggering one of his best songs and he might have done them the favour of understanding that they were bound be less outrageous than he. Crank time on a bit, and his song is of course much less shocking.
Ditto: Dury’s pleasure in the suicide of one of his earlier carers. Maybe he was deeply angry with the man, and maybe he had a right to be. We had plenbty of the wounded Dury. But I agreed with his girlfriend in being thoroughly fed up with Dury and this example of what I took to be his self-indulgence.
However, my main irritation is not with Dury, but with the rather bog-standard reading of British social life which underpinned the movie and which led to him becoming rather monochromatic.
(These are, by the way, the failures which marred Control, about Ian Curtis and Joy Division).
And another thing. Ian Dury’s song-writing was sharp, and his singing was clearly articulated to focus on the words. Yet the movie’s sound balance and the approach to the songs didn’t give us that. Here again, it was too rock ‘n’ roll rather than properly theatrical or wordy or actorly.
I think some of what I’m aiming to say here has been captured by the interviews I’ve read with Ian Dury’s son, Baxter.