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Breaking Glass

1980 - writer/dir Brian Gibson, Phil Daniels, Hazel O'Connor, Jon Finch, Jonathan Pryce

A conversation... with special guest Erin.

E: Wow is this dated or what?

K: I don't even know what to say. The fact that when I was in high school this movie seemed very profound and I went around singing the songs is now just profoundly embarrassing.

I have to say this movie really isn't all I remembered but it has been at least 17 years since I last saw it. It kind of makes me wonder what happened to people like Nina Hagen and Lene Lovich with whom this character could be compared. Perhaps they too are just dated.

E: Yep, I must agree that I too found this movie profoundly moving when I was in high school. What was I thinking? I'm mortified now.

For the uninitiated let us just give a brief blurb about the plot - according to the video sleeve: 'An exciting 'new wave' soundtrack permeates this poignant rags to riches story' which revolves around a very punk looking girl with bleached hair who sings songs about socialist values, gets a band, a manager, and eventually sells out all of her ideas for fame.

K: I have to question the “sell-out.” Because although she gets questioned about it all through her rising fame which I guess is supposed to make us see that she has, she never actually gives up her beliefs she's just manipulated into thinking she can have her cake and eat it too. Mmmm, cake…no no must think about movie.

E: Yes, she seems more a victim than a loser. But the one thing she doesn't convince me of in this move is that she's a musician. I mean, thank God her stage presence gets mildly better as the movie progresses - from horribly embarrassing to cut rate Lene Lovich - but now that as an adult I have met real live musicians I think her portrayal of a rock star (except the egomania/meglomania angle) is pretty poor. Maybe it's just her dancing I'm responding to though.

K: Word! She's “working on” her robot moves indeed.

E: There are lots and lots of dated things about this movie which I think Kelly and I should list here - Number 5: the main character's love of white pancake makeup, blackened eye makeup and tunic shirts with belts and leggings.

K: Number 4: Use of a saxophone in the band.

E: Number 3: The leimotif that machines are our enemies and that they will one day take over the world; and similarly, Kate actually writing a song and singing it to her future beau/manager telling him with a straight face 'You are just a program!'.

K: Number 2: All the references to the fear of 1984 and Big Brother.

E: Oh, this is too much pressure. How about, Number 1: Kate's totally mundane non-arty and non-rock apartment which she lives in alone and apparently pays for by pumping gas only once in this movie?

For the record I will say that I thought the portrayal of the record weasels at her record company are spot on - especially when they tell her that they think her song will be a big hit single if she changes the line 'Big Brother's got no heart, when I get the chance I'm gonna kick him up the arse' to 'I'm gonna hit him in the nose'. Also the other hot hit of the day by 'Suzie Safire' is the sort of lovely traditional late 70's dance crap that launched a hundred 'Death Before Disco' T-shirts.

K: I felt rather sympathetic to her plight as a female rocker. She, and by that I mean Kate who only seemed to actually get a name halfway through the movie, started out full of personal conviction and wound up totally railroaded not only by the sleazy record company guys but also her own band and her manager/boyfriend.

E: So maybe ultimately it's not much of a feminist movie, I mean in that Kate is sort of shown to be a sell out, not as strong of a character as she appears initially.

It is sort of interesting though that they decided to give this film the downer ending - which is that Kate becomes all the things she says she stands against. Ultimately it's sort of a hopeless story, everyone ends up with nothing - man, screenwriter/director Brian Gibson must have been a washed up rock star himself. Though he does go on to direct some lovely HBO movies in his career apparently as well as Poltergeist 2.

K: I kept wondering if there was some sort of significant connection between the way in her music she kept railing against programming, computers, and robots and how she wound up in the end. Were we all that afraid of technology in 1980?

E: I think that fear of technology controlling our lives thing was a big deal in the 1980's. It is also the theme of Electric Dreams let us recall, plus many punk songs about new wave being gutless. Do you think this is why the band is inexplicably tailed by Nazi Punks wherever they go?

K: Perhaps that's an England thing. I think they definitely had more of a problem with Nazi punks - for the most part English punk was always way more political than the American counterpart. But may all the forces of good in this world spare me from ever again having to listen to that cringe-inducing speech about what it means to be an anarchist.

E: And for me this movie was cringe-worthy throughout. It underscores how glad I am that my suburban upbringing is over with and I'm glad that I know better now. I'd say it's dated, but there are movies from this period that are dated but not so painfully so. I'll forever wonder if the folks involved with this movie had ever met a character like Kate in real life or if they'd only seen her in other bad movies like this.