Freeview films on TV 7/8/21 to 13/8/71


Earlier this summer I was planning to show some movies under the Hopeful Films banner, and one I picked was One Man’s Madness (2019). Unfortunately, the wheel came off.

Pop documentaries are ten-a-penny, but this one is something else. You may think you aren’t interested in Madness, the all-conquering chart sensation of the 1980s and onwards, but if you like British humour, late 20th century social history, pop music and mischief, you won’t want to miss it.

One Man’s Madness is a hilarious fan-financed biography of Lee J. Thompson, the band’s crazed saxophonist, songwriter and all-round force of nature. As a boy, he served time in a Young Offenders institution. Somehow, he acquired a decent Selmer saxophone (he has no receipt for it, oddly) and learned to play it. In the mid-1970s, he became a prolific graffiti writer (I wouldn’t say artist). He and his pal Mike Barson scrawled ‘Kix’ and ‘Mr B’ all across North London. George Melly’s garage door was tagged, leading the surrealist jazzbo to denounce the mysterious Kix and Mr B in print, making them briefly but pseudonymously famous. 

In 1976, that annus mirabilis, he joined Barson (a pianist) and Chrissy Boy Foreman (barely a guitarist) and they began to make up songs, play gigs, invent comic dance routines and perform skits. In 1979, having collected a frontman, an orphan named Suggs, they made a record. Thompson wrote it. ‘The Prince’ was a smash-hit homage to their Jamaican idol, Cecil Bustamente Campbell, who, as Prince Buster, recorded ‘Madness’, the 1963 song that gave them their name.

The saxophone had not been a frontline pop instrument since the 1950s, because you tend to stand still, frown and look moody while playing it. Not Lee. He liked stunts, and they got madder and madder: famously, he liked to play while flying through the air. As someone says in the film, ‘If Lee wasn’t in the band, he’d be locked up in a secure unit’.

The film’s director, Jeff Baynes, started as a cameraman for Stiff Records and shot the band’s early videos (not for ‘The Prince’: that was on Two-Tone). He still makes pop videos, but One Man’s Madness is a proper film, exploring the roots of creativity and originality, deploying both Thompson’s anarchic energy and Baynes’s cine-literacy. In a way, it’s a conventional BBC4-type rockumentary, with band members, relatives, witnesses, fans, industry suits and experts: and yet it’s not. I don’t want to spoil the surprise (here’s the trailer if you want it), so let’s just say that the pair have their own way of using interview audio, based on Thompson’s readiness to role-play (in drag, where necessary) and Baynes’s familiarity with Nick Park’s wonderful Creature Comforts animations. 

Thompson officially left Madness in 1986, although it’s all more complicated than that. He now has his own ska orchestra, a website and a new autobiography, called Growing Out of It: Machinations Before Madness. (Sadly, his publishers haven’t mastered Amazon’s algorithm: it stands at No 179,594 in its Top 100 Books chart.)

One Man’s Madness is on Sky Arts on Sunday (8/8) at 01:45. Set your recording apparatus, because it’s quite hard to see otherwise: you can buy an NTSC DVD, or you can subscribe to NOW TV, which is Sky, and Rupert will want £9.99 a month from you. There’s a free trial, but there’s very little else on there worth watching, and you’ll probably forget to cancel. I know I do. 

World Cinema

On Sunday (8/8) at 01:15, Film4 has Racer and the Jailbird (2017). Belgian ‘amour-noir’ (a new one on me) with Matthias Schoenaerts as a gangster and Adèle Exarchopoulos as a posh racing driver. Love and death. At 23:45, BBC2 had The Workshop (2017). In rundown Marseille, a young man attending a writing workshop writes a novel from the POV of a mass murderer, which both intrigues and frightens his tutor, a top novelist (Marina Foïs)

On Tuesday (10/8) at 02:20, Film4 has Menashe (2017). An orthodox Jewish widower tries to get custody of his young son, but the community expects him to marry again first. In Yiddish, which first-time fiction director Joshua Z Weinstein did not know.

Stephen’s Picks

On Sunday (8/8) at 14:30, Channel 5 has Hello, Dolly! Big budget musical with match-maker Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau in search of a mate. (1969). At 18:55, Great Movies has The Truman Show (1998). Insurance salesman Jim Carrey (surprisingly good) discovers he is living inside a reality TV show. Stylishly directed by Peter Weir and unnervingly prescient. Also on Friday at 18:55.

On Monday (9/8) at 18:35, Great Movies has The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). Weird American Dream movie, with Will Smith on the streets, trying to become a stockbroker, and looking after his little son, played by real son, Jaden. The grown up Jaden was very good in the 2018 indie Skate Kitchen, At 21:00, Talking Pictures has To Die For (1995). Nicole Kidman makes a wonderful killer bimbo in Gus Van Sant’s sharp and astringent media satire.

On Wednesday (11/8) at 23:15, BBC2 has The Bling Ring (2013). Glitzy crime drama about rich schoolkids in California robbing the homes of celebrities. Directed by Sofia Coppola.

Other modern films of interest

On Saturday (7/8) at 15:30, Sky Arts The Doobie Brothers: Let the Music Play (2012). Authorised documentary about the pioneers of the smooth sound now disparaged as Yacht Rock. At 21:00, Sky Arts has Southern Journey (Revisited) (2020). This sounds more interesting. A recreation of musicologist Alan Lomax’s 1950s song-collecting journey through the Deep South, with reflections on black and white American then and now, and a rootsy soundtrack.

On Friday (13/8) at 02:30, Sky Arts has Why Are We Creative: The Centipede’s Dilemma (2018). Over 30 years, director Hermann Vaske asked a lot of rich artists and luminaries ‘Why are you creative?’ Not the most incisive journalistic exercise ever. Includes Gloucestershire-based fish-pickler Damien Hirst.


On Saturday (7/8) at 23:00, Channel 5 has Saturday Night Fever (1977). Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices. Oh no, that was the Hee Bee Bee Gees. It’s actually rather good. At 23:25 Film4 has The Return of the Living Dead (1985). Important milestone in the development of that seemingly immortal genre, the zombie movie. Debut director Dan O’Bannon’s living dead can eat brains, not just flesh, and can also run and speak.

On Monday (9/8) at 00:35, Talking Pictures has Johnny Come Lately (1943). Jimmy Cagney vehicle about a vagrant who becomes a journalist. Usually it’s the other way round. At 10:00, Talking Pictures has Desert Victory (1943). British propaganda documentary about the grim struggle between Montgomery and Rommel across north Africa. Won an Oscar.

On Tuesday (10/8) at 16:40, Great Movies has The Way We Were (1973). Superior romantic drama about left-wing Jewish Barbra Streisand in and out of love with privileged WASP-ish Robert Redford.

On Wednesday (11/8) at 18:40, Film4 has Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). Bravura comic turn by Robin Williams as an actor who poses as a Scottish nanny so he can see his own children after a bitter divorce. Not entirely convincing: the accent rather than the cross-dressing.

On Friday (13/8) at 01:25, Film4 has Cal (1984). Heartfelt drama about a love affair between an Irish Republican and the wife of a murdered protestant policeman, starring John Lynch and Helen Mirren, who took best actress at Cannes. Mark Knopfler soundtrack. At 20:00, Talking Pictures has Houdini (1953), with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, married in real life, as the legendary illusionist and his wife. Curtis hoped it would give him a new career as a serious actor: it didn’t.

Laurel and Hardy on Talking Pictures

On Saturday (7/8) at 09:00, County Hospital (1932). Also on Thursday at 15:35; 16:00 Hog Wild (1930); 16:25  Saps at Sea (1940); 17:35 Busy Bodies (1933).

On Sunday (8/8) at 16:00 ,The Flying Deuces (1939); 17:20 Laughing Gravy (1930).

On Wednesday (11/8) at 07:30, Liberty (1929).

Some of Laurel and Hardy’s best shorts this week on Talking Pictures, writes Stephen Ilott. Whenever I think about Ollie asking ‘Have you seen my hat?’ at the start of Hog Wild (1930), it makes me laugh. This classic short is showing on Saturday at 16.00.  Then at 17:35 there is wonderful slapstick in a sawmill in Busy Bodies (1933). They try to hide a dog from their landlord in Laughing Gravy (1930) on Sunday at 17:20. Plenty of great gags here. County Hospital (1932) gets further showings on Saturday at 09:00 and Thursday at 15:35. It is probably worth seeing again, but don’t miss the silent short Liberty (1929), showing on Wednesday at 07:30, which features amazing acrobatics on a construction site high in the air, reminiscent of Harold Lloyd. 

Unfortunately,  the features this week are not so strong. Saps at Sea (1940) on Saturday at 16:25 was the last of their films for Hal Roach and a poor way to end their relationship with the producer responsible for all their best works. Flying Deuces (1939) was their only film for RKO and, though it avoids being padded out with romantic subplots, it is one of their lesser efforts. As it is in the public domain, it does tend to get shown quite often. For those who receive the Great Movies Classics channel it is showing on Friday at 21:00 and the following day at 17:20. Both films do nevertheless have some good moments for fans.

Sadly, this is the last weekend of ‘Teatime with Laurel and Hardy’ on Talking Pictures, although further shorts are scheduled for the Saturday Morning Pictures slot later in the month. 

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