Thursday, August 25, 2011

Forgotten Books: Hollywood Rock by Marshall Crenshaw

I've always liked Marshall Crenshaw's songs especially the heartbroke ones which he manages to write with a light but no less painful touch. I saw him once in person just after his career started to slide. He's an interesting guy and a fine musician. The interesting guy angle is on display here with this guide to rock'n roll movies.

The Guide goes all the way to 1994. The reviews are sometimes serious demonstrating that besides being a true rocker he's also a perceptive critic. But the most fun for people like me who grew up in the fifties are his reviews of the rock movies of that decade (and on into the sixties).

God were those movies terrible. I lost count of how many had the same basic plot--town/suburb of oldsters hate rock but kids put on a show for charity/fame and convince even the crabbiest oldster in the film what great young `uns they are after all. And those were the ones that were at least about rock `n roll. There were hybrids put together by adults who didn't have a clue. Thus in the same movie you might have Chuck Berry, the Platters and Liberace.

One of these was so bad that Crenshaw calls it "The attempted murder of rock `n roll." This starred Jimmy Clanton as "Teenage Millionaire." The first thing wrong with it Crenshaw notes is that Clanton "looks about twenty-eight." Here you had Jackie Wilson and Dion appearing with Zasu Pitts (talented actress who started in the silents) and that great actor...Rocky Graziano. Crenshaw's summary line for this one: "The producers of this film are probably on the run because there's no statute of limitations on crimes like this."

Inevitably he gets to Elvis movies and has a great time with them. He says that in "Kissin Cousins" "Elvis fights heroically for a nuclear missile site" to be implanted in this lovely bucolic setting (thanks El). There's also a weird sad note for those of us who liked the Fifties western series "Sugarfoot." At the time Will Hutchins appeared in his Elvis movie he was employed by a studio as a bicyle messenger. Edd Byrnes deserved this fate not Will Hutchins.

A dazzling, smart, fond look at the good and bad that has been done to rock `n roll in both American and British films (The Brits were at least as goofy as we were). You can't go wrong with this one.


Andy 7 said...

I've owned this outstanding book for awhile and enjoyed his reviews of "Girls Town" (Mamie Van Doren, Paul Anka, etc.) and his harsh criticisms of those awful Herman's Hermits movies. And the stills and poster scans are excellent, too.

John Kenyon said...

I'll have to check this out, Ed. Crenshaw is quite a talent. Great singer, guitarist and songwriter, and a historian to boot. In addition to this, he has produced a music anthology called "Hillbilly Music... Thank God!" that helped kick off the late 80s/early 90s wave of alternative country. Saw him play in Iowa City back in May. Great performer still: