Graham Bendel’s novel Dress Rehearsal Brags: an a-z of unpopular culture (fortune teller press) is out on 1 May 2015 (but available now from Rough Trade). His documentary Derailed Sense: a film about Vic Godard & Subway Sect has its premiere at The East End Film Festival this year (tickets available in May).
If I was to name the many musicians and singers that got work as actors, we’d be here all day. But I’ll name a few: Bowie, Collins, Aquilera, Timberlake, Presley, Cube, Loaf (as in Rocky Horror) and a million others. A top ten or top twenty of these would be a futile and random exercise. So I’ve decided to simplify things with a much more sensible top 11 of my favourite
Rock ‘n’ Roll personalities that have made appearances on Film & TV.
11. Richard Hell in Smithereens (1982)
I was going to talk about the ex-Heartbreaker in Desperately Seeking Susan but I couldn’t find an appropriate clip of the film. But I did find this clip of him in Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens which she made before ‘Susan’. Funnily enough, the clip was has been titled ‘Crap Actor’ and it appears on a Youtube channel called ‘richardhellsux’. A further aside declares the words: “worse writer”. Hell also appears in the film Blank Generation acting with former Bond girl Carole Bouquet.
10. Viv Albertine in Exhibition (2013)
Is there anything ex-Slits guitarist Viv Albertine can’t do? – books, music, filmmaking, the list goes on. In 2013 she acted and starred (alongside artist Liam Gillick) in acclaimed director Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition to universal plaudits. Viv plays a housewife whose marriage to another artist is both remote but necessary. Funny, as it was middle-class ennui and housewifery that drove Albertine to become an artist again – so a rich seam for her to mine.
9. John Cooper Clarke in Plan B’s Ill Manors (2012)
As not to be accused of not stretching himself far enough, people’s poet John Cooper Clarke plays the role of John Cooper Clark (note different spelling of ‘Clark’), which is better than being ‘scummy man’, ‘lady with a purse’ or ‘Crackhead 5’ who are also on the credits. Clarke also appears in an advert for Sugar Puffs, which is markedly less violent than Ill Manors.
8. Joe Strummer in The King of Comedy (1983)
Joe Strummer is no stranger to acting: having had roles in Alex Cox’s Walker and Straight to Hell. But it’s interesting to note that in 1983, he appeared in Martin Scorcese’s King of Comedy masterpiece billed in the credits as “Street Scum”. He wasn’t alone, other “scum” included Don Letts and fellow band members, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. Simonon also appeared in the film Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains. He played a bassist in that.
7. Jello Biafra in Tapeheads (1988)
Jello Biafra makes a small appearance in this enjoyable and anarchic film. The movie stars John Cusack and Tim Robbins and also features Fishbone, Sam & Dave and Lords of The New Church. He stars as FBI man #1. Other research shows he played ‘the evil porn director’ in a Bikini Bandits video.
6. Nick Tesco in Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989)
Nicky Tesco from The Members (Sound of the Suburbs, Off-shore Banking Business) has a healthy role in this extremely popular arthouse movie from Finnish Director Aki Kaurismaki. The band Leningrad Cowboys have foot-long quiffs and wear freakishly long winklepicker boots in the movie which is reason enough for having a gander at this.
5. Iggy Pop in Star Trek (1998)
Iggy plays a Vorta in the Star Trek series Deep Space 9 and is no performing slouch. He definitely throws himself into the role, even bothering to dress for the occasion. And if acting is what it takes to have him wear a top more often, then more acting roles are surely what’s required.
4. John Lydon in Order of Death (1981)
Probably not Lydon’s finest moment. Playing opposite Harvey Keitel, gone is his trademark menace and ability to intimidate. But is that surprising? The Bad Lieutenant, in terms of being a complete freak, is always going to trump any one from the world of rock and roll. Though on saying that, Keitel does sometimes seem a little lost at sea. Also known as Corrupt and Copkiller.
3. Debbie Harry in Videodrome (1983)
Debbie’s been in a few films: Union City Blue, John Waters' Hairspray. But her appearance in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome was quite an eyebrow raiser. Harry plays the sadomasochistic shrink and seductive radio host, Nicki Brand. In one scene, she burns her chest with a cigarette. David Cameron, by the way, recently tried to say “sadomasochism” in the House of Commons but it came out wrongly as “masosadoism”. I wish he’d have the inclination to burn himself with a cigarette or flamethrower. Not really.
2. Robyn Hitchcock in The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
Robyn Hitchcock (ex-Soft Boys) has a small role in Jonathan Demme’s remake of The Manchurian Candidate. He plays the civilian guide Laurent Tokar and can be seen in the clip on the right hand side of some rather gruesome goings-on. Director Demme (who directed Stop Making Sense) is clearly a fan of Hitchcock and this is confirmed by his concert film Storefront Hitchcock (1998), entirely about the enigmatic musician.
1. Adam Ant in The Equalizer (1985)
Under his real moniker Stuart Goddard, the charming Adam Ant makes his TV debut appearance in TV’s The Equalizer, playing opposite Edward Woodward. Mr Ant’s been on celluloid before in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee and countless videos, but in this, he properly earns his acting stripes.
Buy Graham Bendel's A-Z of Unpopular Culture here.