‘All this girl stuff is a load of nonsense.’
Kids, class and music combine in this lovingly made film which marks Sir Alan Parker’s first feature script. Who’d have thought it from the future writer/director of Bugsy Malone (1976)? Or, indeed, that Melody‘s producer would be Lord David Puttnam, and that the two male stars were fresh from the Dickens musical adaptation of Oliver! (1968)? Melody is an unexpected delight of a film which makes the most of its limited budget to mix kitchen sink drama, comedy, romance and music to endearing effect. Wes Anderson has commented that this is, ‘a forgotten, inspiring gem,’ and that isn’t just to provide positive publicity; in many ways its influence can be seen in Anderson’s own films, Rushmore (1998) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) in particular.
Middle class Daniel (Mark Lester) has just joined the Boys Brigade and there he meets mirthful mischief Ornshaw (Jack Wild), whose family is less well off. They strike up a friendship which extends into their school lives as they are both in the same class at the local comprehensive, a school which caters for children from all backgrounds. Daniel finds himself attracted to the new girl, Melody (Tracy Hyde). Can the two fall in love and cope with all the situations that approaching adulthood might bring? How will it affect his friendship with cheeky scamp Ornshaw? And could there, despite their youth, be wedding bells tolling in the desolate regions of the nation’s capital?
It all sounds very nice and rather twee, but the exuberant believability amidst the wish fulfilment narrative lies with the aspects of social realism that are portrayed. These kitchen sink elements mark out the social differentiation between the characters but the real joy of the film lies with the youthful exuberance of teens being teens – making bombs, smoking cigarettes, swapping naughty pictures, being cheeky enough in class to warrant corporal punishment (in the form of the slipper), the girls using magazine pictures of popular heart-throbs on gravestones to practice kissing boys – ‘How do you do it when kissing boys?’ Indeed the local graveyard is an ideal place for a burgeoning romance as Melody and Daniel hold hands as they walk together among the stones, time together which is surpassed, of course, by a day’s truancy spent on the beach with ice cream, paddling in the cold sea and enjoying Chipperfields amusements. The story is enhanced throughout by the appropriate use of sweet ballad songs on a soundtrack by the Bee Gees, prior to their international mega-stardom with Saturday Night Fever (1976).
The importance of Alan Parker’s work with the musical film genre cannot be overstated, but of particular relevance his the relationship here with later films Bugsy Malone (1976) and the school-based American musical Fame (1980). Included on the DVD as extras are interviews with David Puttnam, Alan Parker, Waris Hussian and Mark Lester, the latter of whom offers a wonderful recollection of the filming process, its relationship to Oliver! and the way that he and Jack Wild coped on-screen and behind the scenes; he talks about his friendship with the ill-fated Wild in a way that is very moving.
In many ways this is a film for adults recollecting their own schooldays, reflected perfectly in the Bee Gee’s song First of May, which contains the recurring phrase, ‘Now we are tall, and Christmas trees are small,’ which accompanies one of the many narrative montages which follow the lovers as they undertake their daily activities. The line ‘Most of the old people I know are old miseries,’ reflects much of the adult wish fulfilment of the film.
The re-release of Melody is genuinely a great rediscovery of a delightful film. Think If…(1967) but in a comprehensive school with lovesick early teens and more songs. But with a revolutionary conclusion nevertheless. An unexpected delight for anyone who ever was young.