IT COULDN'T HAPPEN HERE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JACK BOND / SCREENPLAY: JACK BOND, JAMES DILLON / STARRING: NEIL TENNANT, CHRIS LOWE, JOSS ACKLAND / RELEASE DATE: 15TH JUNE
Back in 1988, realising that a planned tour would be too expensive to mount, Pet Shop Boys decided that a film version of their album Actually might appease fans. What was planned as a collection of filmed versions of the album’s songs developed into a feature film. Albeit a bad one…
Keen to avoid “pop star on film” clichés, Neil Tenant and Chris Lowe joined forces with writer / director Jack Bond, who was more or less given free reign to interpret songs from both PSB albums of the time, Please and Actually. What resulted is a collection of surreal scenes and situations held loosely together by the band’s undeniably fantastic songs.
While there’s no discernible narrative to speak of, the film sees Neil and Chris escaping from a seaside town and embarking on a road trip, meeting a variety of “colourful” characters played by the likes of Barbara Windsor, Joss Ackland and Gareth Hunt. Along the way, we get dancing nuns, Hells Angels, punks, seaside bed and breakfasts, a ventriloquist's dummy spitting actual philosophy and a WW1 pilot. Oh, and child versions of Neil and Chris with a blind creepy priest so that “It’s A Sin” can get played.
The film plays with notions of social commentary, the elusiveness of time, Englishness and escape. At one point a man leaves a house and he’s on fire. We don’t know why. You get the sense its surreal quality is inspired by the likes of Derek Jarman and perhaps Ken Russell. It isn’t in their league.
As a band, Pet Shop Boys are up there with the very best and hearing tracks from their early output is a joy. How can “West End Girls” still sound so good, so right, 35 years later? And as the video for “Always On My Mind” shows (it’s a section from the film), the OTT, gurning performances and daft situations presented in the film can work in the context of a short pop music video, but they just don’t work as a connected whole. In fact, you could probably play the scenes in the film in any order and it’d still make the same amount of sense.
The extras on this BFI disc aren’t too exciting either. Jack Bond’s interview is sweet but not very revealing, although the commentary provides more insight into the actual filming. There are various scripts in different versions, music videos and a gallery of photos too.
What is fascinating is how much It Couldn’t Happen Here is a capsule of the time it was made - the style of late 80s music, fashion, choreography and film is perfectly captured and makes for a truly fascinating document of its times.
But, to quote PSB’s own song, “It’s A Sin”…
'Cause I didn’t care and I still don’t understand.