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April 06, 1980 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1980-04-06

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The Michigan Daily-Sunday, April 6, 1980-Page 5

Punk pop in Canton:
Playing by numbers

Spacek turns 'Coal' to diamonds

By MARK COLEMAN
"Oh, you missed the first band? Real loud and crazy, jumping around the
stage and all. They weren't that good-not as good as Hall and Oates or
anthing-but they sounded so nervous, man, everybody else started to gonuts,
too. I don't know, I guess you'd call it punk rock."
Call this music what you will, but clearly it's come a long way since the
halcyon days of 1977. To be exact, it's come all the way to the Centre Stage
Showcase Club in Canton, Michigan to assault the sensibilities of a paunchy ex-
wrestler, girlfriend in tow, who've come to spend a standard Thursday evening

By OWEN GLEIBERMAN
Coal Miner's Daughter, based on
Loretta Lynn's best-selling autobiog-
raphy, has spunky humor and a real
gutsy, low-down vitality. The opening
scenes sweep you up into the tiny,
tradition-bound Appalachian mining
town of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky with
such a bubbly energy and fine sense of
surface detail that you just sit back and
let the magic of movies transport you.
You can tell that the filmmakers got
their hands dirty-and loved every
minute of it. This movie boasts such a
simple, infectious love for its subject
that you go out humming Loretta
Lynn's songs and feeling like -you
understand just what she's all about.
Considering that Lynn is still alive
and well and singing the songs that
made her famous, the movie certainly
takes enough liberties with its
subect-it doesn't hide the "dirt." But
so much money and talent have been
lavished on bringing the story to the
screen that they overload the thin,
hackneyed Hollywood-bio genre. By the
time Coal Miner's Daughter winds into
its predictable second half, the writing
(by Thomas Rickman) and direction
(by Michael Apted) have become too
preoccupied with sustaining the
schematic,droad-to-success conceits
that defined such stillborn film
biographies as The Glenn Miller Story.
Fortunately, the strained conventions
don't straitjacket the backwoods poetry
that's the movie's real subect; as lively
and enjoyable as it is, Coal Miner's
Daughter sometimes bursts out of its
seams to be even better.
WHOEVER DECIDED to film Lynn's
story knew what they were doing: Coal
Miner's Daughter has a knockout
subject for a movie. Though some find
the twangy, elemental honesty of
country music too simple and naive,
C&W musicians with national acclaim
have had to wed the pure folk
emotionaLism of their roots to the
shimmering lights of pop-culture glory,
and that makes them romantic artist-
figures. Sometimes, the pop-culture
side takes over and tarnishes that
appeal, and you get Dolly Parton
singing trashy pop hits on AM radio,
exploiting everything that's sweet and
mellow in her little-girl voice and
leaving out the backwoods inflection.
But Loretta Lynn never strayed that
far from her roots, so Coal Miner's
Daughter is a true "rags to riches"
story. When a worn, bedraggled
housewife stumbles up to Loretta after
a show and says that when she sings,
"It's like you're singing about my life,"
that's the populist magic of country
music and, its stars; deep down (or so
we try and believe), they're just like
everybody else, and Sissy Spacek's
Loritta is such a sane, spunkily
likeable woman that we're convinced
she's a real star even without the tired
soap-opera melodramatics the movie
eventually resorts to. When she catches
her husband with another woman and
throws a tantrum, the scene has been
set up as the first brick on the road to an
end-of-the-world, agonies-of-stardom
nervous breakdown, but Spacek plays it
with such casual toughness that it

seems like just another of life's irksome
ordeals.
Spacek gives such a perfectly
controlled performance that she's a joy
to watch every minute she's onscreen.
By now, though, that's hardly any
surprise. In Carrie, she went from lame
ugly duckling to glittering Cinderella,
and here she's as convincing playing
the 13-year-old Loretta who suddenly
found herself hitched to a brawny back-
country boy with big future plans as she
is when Lynn proudly takes the Grand
Ole Opry stage as a big-time country
superstar. Spacek's physical
appearance gives her some leverage;
though the actress is nearly thirty, she
looks about seventeen. But Spacek
makes us feel like we're in the young
Loretta's head, growing up in a
poverty-stricken coal-mining village
with creaky old shacks and square
dances and a network of social rituals
as central to the community's survival
as it was to the tradition-obsessed
Jewish peasants in Fiddler on the Roof.
THE MOVIE is most exhilarating in
the early Kentucky sequences, which
have the look and feel of authentic
ethnic drama. This is the dreamy, old-
time-religion Americana that heard its
cinematic death-knell with McCabe and
Mrs. Miller but is still alive and
flourishing in our imaginations. As
Loretta 's father, Levon Helm (the
drummer with the Band for fifteen
years, and making his first dramatic
appearance) mixes a few .drops of
tenderness into a generally gruff
demeanour, and his scenes with Loretta
are intensely poignant. You wince with
pain when he whips his daughter for
staying out late, but at the same time
it's this strict social and religious
organization that holds the tiny
community together.
We miss the rich, religious earthiness
of the coal-mining milieu in the second
half of the movie, but Loretta's rise to
stardom-often the most glib, foregone
section of Hollywood-bio movies-has
resonance, too; we see her singing her
kids to sleep, adding some self-taught
g'uitar, teaming up with a country band
in a local pub, and finally landing a hit
single and headlining a tour with
friendly rival Patsy Cline, who's played
by Beverly D'Angelo in a fine,
comically world-weary performance.
As Doo (short for Doolittle), Loretta's
big, boorish husband, Tommy Lee
Jones is alternately fiery and
lunkheadedly tender, slapping Loretta
around after their disastrous wedding
night and then buying her a book on sex
for newlywheds, pushing her to go on the
road and hype her songs at two-bit red-
neck radio stations and then standing
by as a safety net when things get too
mean. But Jones, fine as he is, never
steals the scenes; he's there for Spacek
to play off of, and their scenes together
(and with their load of kids) have an
easy-going familial warmth and fun-
lovingness.
ASIDE FROM -the conventional
melodramatic mechanizations, the
biggest problem with the latter half of
the movie is the star's voice. Sissy
Spacek (who did all her own singing)

has a decent, tuneful vocal ability and a
catchy sense of phrasing, but she's
basically an average singer, and she
needs to be better for us to believe is
Loretta Lynn as a seminal country
artist. Since I'm not a special Loretta
Lynn fan, I wasn't bothered by
discrepancies between Spacek's
versions of classics like "Coal Miner's
Daughter" and "I'm a Honky Tonk
Girl" and the originals. But while the
numbers are generally effective
dramatically (especially one Cline-
Lynn thunderstorm duet with the two
stars holding umbrellas), musically
they're lackluster.
, By the time Loretta suffers an
onstage breakdown and rambles to her
audience about how things just keep
happening too fast, we, of course, can't
help but recall Roriee Blakley's
incomparpble performance in Nasville
as a Loretta Lynn-based singer whose
wily manager husband kept pushing
her from hospital bedrooms to
performances. But Blakley was an

actual recording artist who wrote her
own songs for the movie, and she
brought to her numbers a shimmering
performance energy that was part of
her character; her renditions of
"Tapedeck in His Tractor," "Dues,"
and "My Idaho Home" melted into
Robert Altman's fabulous real-life
crazy-quilt to create some of the most
sublime moments in all of movies.
SPACEK'S LORETTA is a strong,
triumphant woman with a reverent
sense of her culture and her roots, but
that's never fully translated into the
music. (The same problem-scarcely
solvable in the case of most film
biographies short of resurrecting the
dead-marred The Buddy Holly Story,
in which Gary Busey managed
competent musical performances
without a trace of Holly's rambunctious
charm.) For a backstage view of an
American artist, though, CoalMiner's
Daughter 4turns the stories and
characters from Loretta Lynn's songs
into the kind of excitingly authentic
American drama that's been woefully
scarce in our most recent films. At its
best, this movie doesn't simply stretch
the limits of the star-bio format; it
transcends them. And it's in those
moments that Coal Miner's Daughter
comes as close as possible to turning
formula into myth.

TONIGHT SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS TONIC
(ELSA KAZAN, 1961)
Seldom seen (even on T.V.), a sensitive view of adolescent love in a small
town in the 20's. Prophetic for its candid treatment of the boy and girl. Glan-
dular version of Andy Hardy?
7:0089:15 $1.50 atOLDA&D
MONDAY: DARK STAR
WEDNESDAY: THE BIG SLEEP

GHT

Daily Photo by MAUREEN O'MALLEY
999
English rockers 999 caught off guard while relaxing backstage after their
show at the Center Stage on Canton. They are currently sweeping the.,
country in support of their recent album "Biggest Prize in Sport."
at this wretched venue. They asked if I knew anything about the other groups,
so I attempted to reciprocate: "Next on the agenda are the Dickies, one of the
!'original' .wave of L.A. punk bands. So stupid they didn't realize their approach
was outdated before they even began, the Dickies new album is somehow
tuneful and fun almost in spite of itself. Rounding out the bill is 999, one of the
foremost post-Pistols English punk bands. On record they exhibit so much
restraint and balance people accuse them of secretly being a pop band. But the
live show could be a whole 'nother story."
MY NEW FOUND friend was right: this show was pure punk, circa 1980. The!
Dickies follow the Ramone's doctrine to the letter by keeping things short, fast
and dumb. The guitarist buzzed with the steadiness of chainsaws, the
drummer rarely missed a sped-out beat, and naturally the bassist and
keyboard player were. inaudible most of the time: Lead singer Fu Manchu
established a friendly rapport with the crowd; if he substitutes "good time" for
"blow job" in his rap he could make.it real big on television. He couldn't sing his
way out of a wet Burger King Salutes the Olympic bag, but who cares? Any
band that can make wimpoidsepics like "Sounds of Silence" and "Knights in
White Satin" sound like Black Sabbath at 78 rpm is A-OK in my book. In fact
they even do "Paranoid" for honesty's sake.
True to their California roots, the Dickies offer a slick, well-paced show
right down to the stage props. Even the musical loose ends seemed somehow
calculated-one can't be in a real punk band and get too professional. Now this
would all be as sterile as a castrated laboratory rat if the Dickies didn't possess
a pervasive, self-deprecating sense of humor. For all their image calculation
the Dickies convey a goofy verve and vitality that's irresistable. Like Mad
magazine and Gilligan's Island, I enjoyed the Dickies not because I saw
through the ruse, but because the brunt of their humor and attack lies within
that transparency. If nobody in the audience cares how good these guys really
aren't, who am I to complain?
As soon as 999 stalked onto the stage, the frivolous atmosphere created by
the Dickies dissipated in a hurry. These Englishmen mean business. Like the
Dickies, 999 work within a rigidly well-defined style but manage to adopt it to
their own uses quite effectively. Sure, they pack a punch of raw power but they
are cunning enough to bend and twist it, shaping melodies around it and forging
hooks through the heart of it. The sound comes out melodic and structured
overall, but the group certainly isn't above shouting and flailing for emphasis.
AS IF THEY needed to emphasize anything! 999 intimidated the audience
through sheer physical presence alone; no small feat in a bar full of pseudo-
punks, hippie greasers (only in Detroit) and a behemouth gestapo of eager-to-
displease bouncers. Well, it isn't everytband that has a bass player who could
pass as the mutant offspring of Kojak and Popeye and plays even tougher than
he looks. No posing here; 999 righteously refused to tote the line for either the
greedy club management (higher drink prices than usual, according to my
friend quoted before) nor the neanderthal radio station that "promoted" the
show.
It's this commitment and honesty that set 999 apart from the rapidly
multiplying number of punk rockers. "We get asked a lot about the violence in
our music, but all we want is to get people to dance." And at their best
("Biggest Prize in Sport," "English Wipe Out") 999 throw this gauntlet down in
an unequivocal, irresistable challenge. Lyrically they are not overly
ponderous-hanging out with the crew, the boys in the gang et al, lots of
camaraderie and uncompromising good times. And while they've channeled the
forces of punk to fit their own musical needs, 999 are a band well aware of their
heritage both in American punk (the intro to "Inside Out") and the English
invasion (Nick Cash's Ray Davies style inflection) and delivery on
:"Hollywood").
Through their tempered use of punk polemics, 999 develop a different kind
of tension than one might expect from a punk band (like the Dickies) but when
the pressure is released, better look out. Grinding out their FM-radio play hit
"Homicide," 999 was joined on stage 'by a few hundred fans for a joyous,
seemingly spontaneous rout. No fights, no broken glass, no trashed drum sets,
just a bunch of kids having a great time. Call the music rock and roll: that's all
one needs to know.

CINEMA GUILD

WITH

YOU ALL YEAR

_ 0CINEMAII
presents
GRANDE ILLUSION 7

(Jean Renoir, 1937)
The great humanist of the French cinema directed what many consider to be
the most moving film about war ever made. Two pairs of men become friends
in WW1. The pair from the aristocracy realize that their way of life has come to
an end, the other two find something which points to the future. (111 min.)

ANGELL HALL

7&9

$1.50

Tu.sday: DAISIES (Chytilova)

AaM Recording Artists
SQUEEZEg

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7-

SUN. APRIL 13

- I - UMM - 'U W-7::mllo -- d- IGi1(y C

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