tue 21/11/2017

DVD/Blu-ray: Melody | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Melody

DVD/Blu-ray: Melody

Pre-teen romantic comedy set in late Sixties London gets a welcome restoration

Mark Lester and Jack Wild as anarchic schoolboys in 'Melody'

Nostalgia is dangerous; return to your childhood haunts and what was huge is now tiny, what once was magical at the movies is now mundane. Luckily this is not the case with Melody (also known under a distributor-enforced title as S.W.A.L.K.), unseen since its first release in 1971 when I was even younger than its central characters, a couple of 12-year-olds who fall in love much to their parents’ and teachers’ disapproval. It’s as charming now as it was then.

Mark Lester and Jack Wild, then fresh off the megahit musical Oliver!, play two south London lads whose friendship is interrupted when one of them meets a girl (Tracy Hyde, pictured below, in her debut role). Think Jules et Jim for an innocent, pre-teen audience mixed with a sprinkling of school anarchy à la Zero de Conduite and If..., with character actor stalwarts Roy Kinnear, Keith Barron and Sheila Steafel thrown into the mix.

Watching the newly-restored Melody is to take a time machine back to London in the late 1960s – post-war, pre-developers. Mainly shot on location, the story plays out in Battersea churchyards, Trafalgar Square and sleazy Soho, council estates, railway edge lands and a musty school. Credit must go to cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (son of Wolf, the acclaimed documentary photographer of London, and the cinematographer on Get Carter, among other films) and production designer Garvik Losey (son of Joseph). Together they helped first-time director Waris Hussein (moving from BBC drama) to create a naturalistic, low budget vision of summer in the city (with a foray to the Weymouth seaside).

Almost documentary in its visual style – Hussein describes in one of the extras here how many of the action scenes were shot in one take – it was actually tightly scripted by Alan Parker, then making a living as an advertising copywriter. Melody marked Parker’s debut in the British film industry, alongside David Puttnam, a first-time producer who used his acquisition of the Bee Gees’ song cycle as collateral to get the movie made. Their pop ballads soundtrack the tale of young lovers, paired well with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Teach Your Children.

The extras are a little basic – baldly-shot interviews with Hussein, Parker, Puttnam and Lester, but the anecdotes about the film’s production are fun. The film kickstarted several careers: even though it was a flop in the UK and US, it was huge in Japan and its success there bankrolled Puttnam's next few projects. Something of a cult movie, Melody apparently inspired Alfonso Cuarón to become a film-maker, and Wes Anderson pays homage to it in Moonrise Kingdom. Puttnam lets slip that the original story was based on him meeting his future wife at school, a marriage that’s lasted as long as the movie. Melody is unashamedly sweet but its appeal extends beyond mere nostalgia; it's a glimpse of an era when British cinema made contemporary, original films for children with nary a superhero, wizard or animated creature in sight.  

@SaskiaBaron

Watching 'Melody' is to take a time machine back to London in the late 1960s

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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