Telstar, written & directed by Nick Moran
(UK, 2008) 114 min.
June 14, 2009 7:00 PM, Egyptian Theater
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review by Leigh Bezezekoff
British songwriter/producer Joe Meek may not be a household name here in the states, but he is responsible for advancing many of the sound and recording techniques still used today and for creating Margaret Thatcher’s favorite album of all time, which is no small feat. A contemporary of Phil Spector (hello, foreshadowing?), Meek was an extremely complex character: he was a homosexual man living in London during a time it was illegal to be so, was one of Britain’s first independent producers, and was a man obsessed with the occult and specifically Buddy Holly, having correctly predicted the date of Holly’s death. And that was on top of his regular use of methamphetamines.
The bio pic Telstar gives a snapshot of this troubled man’s life and the strange crew of session musicians and others (including Kevin Spacey as the aptly named Major Banks who is Meek’s financier) that populated his world. It opens when Meek was already occupying his home studio at the now famous 304 Holloway Road when an unknown songwriter Geoff Goddard (who was a practicing psychic and helped further Meek’s beliefs that they were being assisted by Holly and other musicians from “beyond the grave”... ooooohhhhhhh!) walked into his studios and penned several UK #1 hits for Meek’s musicians. The film covers quite a span of Meek’s life including his rise to success as an independent producer (and humorously how he passed on The Beatles and thought The Kinks were a load of rubbish) to his eventual demise that ended in murder and suicide. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Meek’s life (which included me until about 3 weeks ago), this may be a spoiler as far as the film goes, but I assure you the constant glimpses into the last hours of his life were enough of a hint.
Overall, I liked the film; it was chock full interesting characters and the banter and practical jokes amongst the musicians was good and funnily enough pretty realistic from what can be seen around town these days. It also afforded the audience a glimpse into how much of an innovator he truly was (vocalists had to sing into the toilet so Meek could capture the right amount of echo and reverb on their tracks) as well as the depths to which he sunk psychologically and emotionally. One of my favorite scenes shows Meek (who was tone deaf and didn’t know how to play any instruments) writing his hit song (the first UK song to top the US charts) called “Telstar.” He recorded “demos” of him voicing all the melodies and instrumentation and would yell at (and in some cases hit) the musicians until they played the right notes and melodies.
Here’s a live performance of Meek’s #1 hit “Telstar” as performed by The Tornados:
I think for those who are unfamiliar with Joe Meek, this film is likely to whet your appetite to learn more about this unusual person, and luckily enough, there are a number of books and documentaries about him. But, even if you haven’t been under a rock like me, and know a thing or two about Meek it’s still worth it.
Telstar made its North American debut at the Seattle International Film Festival and is the first feature film from writer/director Nick Moran who was Eddie the card shark in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. The film stars Con O’Neil (a UK TV actor and who also played Meek in the original stage production) and has some fun casting choices including Carl Barat (The Libertines & Dirty Pretty Things) as Gene Vincent and Justin Hawkins (The Darkness) as Screaming Lord Sutch.
Telstar‘s last SIFF screening is at The Egyptian on Sunday June 14th at 7:00 pm but it looks as if there will be a wide release if you miss that.