Blu-ray Commentary: “That’ll Be The Day”

Here’s an unusual rock movie about an aspiring star in his formative years. That’ll Be The Day stars British pop/rock icon David Essex as Jim MacLaine, along with Ringo Starr as his carny buddy Mike. Directed by Claude Whatham, the film is about a young man from a broken home growing up in England in the late 1950s. He ditches the opportunity to attend college in order to take up a menial job in a fair and try to find himself and maybe some inspiration, not to mention romp around with lots of young ladies. It’s a slice of life film that looks into the time period that would inspire and spawn the British rockers to come in the 1960s, and it is also the first of a two-part film cycle which concludes with the Michael Apted-directed Stardust a year later, in which MacLaine becomes a bonafide rock star and deals with isolation and the downsides of fame.

This was an interesting project to work on, particularly as after I had already done my first take of the commentary I discovered the website for screenwriter/music journalist Ray Connolly, who covered the Beatles and had a close relationship with them back in the 1960s. I delayed passing in my commentary in order to send Connolly almost two dozen questions by e-mail, and he graciously answered everything in detail. His input made my commentary track that much richer when I recorded the second version, and he helped to clarify a lot of lingering questions that I had.

That’ll Be The Day takes place in a late 1950s England that is in stark contrast to the upbeat American 1950s depicted in a film like American Graffiti or television show like Happy Days. While America stopped dealing with rationing by the end of the 1940s, England would not come out of a financial depression until a decade later. Unlike America, England had suffered serious damage after the nine-month bombing from Germany that took place during The Blitz in 1940 and 1941. This in turn created a very long period of reconstruction following the conclusion of World War II in 1945. What Connolly told me is that the character of Jim MacLaine gave up a great opportunity to attend college because only 4% of students actually attended university in the late 1950s. While That’ll Be The Day is not as high energy or as “rock ‘n roll” as its sequel, it’s still an engaging story that sets up Stardust (not that that was the initial idea) and also helps us to understand the economic and social climate that produced a lot of the raucous bands to emerge in the mainstream of England by 1965.

Classic rock fans will love that the film features cameos or extended cameos from Who drummer Keith Moon, Cream bassist Jack Bruce (if you can spot him), and singer Billy Fury who was very popular in England in the early 1960s (he was basically the British Elvis) and was a big influence on Morrissey. While not as exciting as the sequel, That’ll Be The Day is still a good movie and serves up a fine performance from British pop/rock icon David Essex, who had one hit in this country (we know him in America for his 1973 hit “Rock On” which has been covered live in recent years by Def Leppard) but he had many more hits overseas. The film also offers an interesting turn from famed Beatles drummer Ringo Starr. It’s worth checking out.

The following is review coverage for my commentary work on That’ll Be The Day. I will add more as other reviews surface. Click on the logo to go to each review site directly.

“Britain’s 1973 ‘That’ll Be the Day’ (Blu-ray, KL Studio Classics, PG) is the first-half of a 2-part ‘50s story about an ordinary bloke’s rise to rock stardom with a well-cast David Essex as the rising star. ‘Day’ is bolstered by a soundtrack of classic early rock n roll singles. According to Bryan Reesman’s informative, engaging audio commentary ‘Day’ is NOT — as rumored — inspired by John Lennon’s early life. (For that chapter in rock history see the most excellent 2009 British film ‘Nowhere Boy’ with Aaron Johnson perfection as young Lennon.)”

“In this exclusive new audio commentary, critic, entertainment journalist, and author Bryan Reesman discusses in great detail the conception of That’ll Be the Day, the journey of its main protagonist (with comments about the sequel, Stardust), the use of music throughout the film, the different locations where key segments from the film were shot, etc. It is a very nice and informative commentary.”

“Kino Lorber’s restoration is again beautifully done, although the sound is not as strong as the visuals. Reesman also gives a commentary track on the Blu-ray of That’ll Be The Day, this time solo. While he talks very quickly, especially at the beginning, he is full of intriguing background, from the film being partially inspired by Harry Nilsson’s 1941, to the history of the Isle of Wight and other locations, and on to pocket biographies of the main players. He puts the film in the context of the ’20-year itch of pop culture nostalgia,’ cogently explaining the differences between the exuberant, almost cartoonish American take on the 50’s (Grease, Sha-Na-Na) and this more downbeat approach. I certainly hope Kino Lorber brings him back should they decide to reissue the sequel, Stardust.”

“The disc has a commentary track by entertainment journalist and author Bryan Reesman, which is both very impressive and exhausting. He’s done extensive research, having reached out to the film’s screenwriter Ray Connolly (who also wrote Stardust) via email, netting new facts to spare. But, in order to work it all into the film’s ninety-one-minute running time, he delivers information so fast that it sounds like we’re hearing it at 1 1/2x speed. Reesman leaves no stone unturned (and even works in a few personal details) which should please academics hungry for facts but will likely be too caffeinated for the casual viewer. Reesman literally never slows down; his speedy pace clashing with the often-laconic film itself.”

“Kino Lorber has two new music-themed releases out this month. The first is a true music release, Go Go Mania, a music film from the 1960s that features no less than The Beatles (performing just a couple of songs) as well as other acts like Herman’s Hermits, The Animals, The Spencer Davis Group, and more… Following that, we have That’ll Be The Day, a drama set in the world of Rock ’n’ Roll that features performances by no less than Ringo Starr and Keith Moon! The film is rumored to be based on young John Lennon’s life (and there are some parallels, but also some differences) and while it’s not exactly a great film, it is fascinating to see Starr and Moon in acting roles in a film about the birth of rock and roll. Both of these films are making their Blu-ray debuts, and both come with commentary tracks by music journalist Bryan Reesman (along with Jeff Slate on Go Go Mania), who does numerous commentaries for Kino Lorber and has become one of my favorite commentarians. Fans of the music and culture of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s would do well to check these releases out.”

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