23 October 2009 | Lejink
The Telstar falls down...
I'm a little too young to appreciate Joe Meek's music and it seems to my ears that his music does seem nowadays as if it's from a museum, it sounds so fossilised....and yet, there's no denying the popularity of his rinky-dink pop music from the pre-Beatles era, even achieving the almost unique feat for a British "artist" (he'd have loved that soubriquet, no doubt) of having a number one in America with the irritatingly catchy "Telstar". I some time ago watched the BBC-TV "Arena" documentary on his life and times and my interest was piqued then at this most unusual man.
Even if you didn't know Meek's life story, we pretty much get to know from the outset that Joe's final breakdown is going to end in tragedy, with the narrative frequently inserting scenes from his last day leading up to the tragic shooting of firstly his landlady (pretty much an accident, as it appears here), this giving him the final spur to almost immediately afterwards take his own life in equally violent fashion.
The film unfolds from this downbeat start into a most entertaining first half as the story charts his rise to mini-Spector status, producing memorable number one hits for John Leyton, The Tornadoes and The Honeycombs. Into Joe's (no pun intended) orbit drift a motley selection of eccentric beat group personnel, with much bawdy humour to the fore. I especially enjoyed Kevin Spacey's spot-on upper-class English accent as Joe's eccentric business manager, military "crusty" Major Banks and there's also a fine turn by Tom Burke as Meek's nervous, sensitive indeed spiritualist in-house songwriter Geoff Goddard. I wasn't quite convinced that Con O'Neill really gave us Meek as he was, although there's no denying his conviction playing.
As for the narrative structure, I felt that the the film failed to truly give Meek his due when he finally reached the top and believe his achievements deserved a bit more highlighting, before the round-the-corner Beatles-era of grittier bands with in-built songwriting teams with the flair and talent to display their own writing ingenuity and studio inventiveness, effectively consigned Meek to, quoting Chris Andrews' 1965 hit, a "yesterday man".
The second half of the film I think, follows a little too much the fortunes of Meek's fellow-travellers, particularly the ridiculously one-dimensional "little-voice" that was Heinz Burt. Indeed Meek's character disappears from the screen it seems for some time before we're jolted back to the closing scenes and his final demise. His story is undoubtedly a tragic one (suppressed homosexual, thwarted talent, moody artist) but I didn't think the film quite got behind his character enough and thus failed to catch the full parabola of his eventful life.
The recreation of the period is great though - from the swinging, jigsaw-style opening credits to the chaotic scenes in Meek's makeshift studio above his landlady's leather goods shop and good acting by almost all on board (helped by the main characters' physical similarity to their real life counterparts) and of course the reproduction of that so distinctive "Joe Meek sound" replete with plinky-plonk organ jungle-drums and loads of re-verb, often married to "death-disc" lyrics.
An entertaining step-back-in-time then, if ultimately falling short in its attempt to do justice to the memory of a haunted but very talented and singularly individual pop maverick. To paraphrase Brian Wilson from a little later in the decade, I guess Joe just wasn't made for those times.