Saturday, May 3, 2014

Hold On! It's the Dave Clark Five (ATV, Big 5 Films, Dave Clark International Productions, 1968)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After that Charles and I watched a download of 32 minutes’ worth of the 1968 TV special Hold On: It’s the Dave Clark Five, a show I’d been interested in seeing since I showed him the documentary Glad All Over: The Dave Clark Five and Beyond, which mentioned Hold On and also included footage from it. I suspect the show was originally about 15 minutes longer (47 minutes was the usual length of an hour-long show for commercial television then — now it’s 42) but what we have here was surprisingly good and engaging. According to its page (which doesn’t list a running time for the show) it was intended as a pilot for a Saturday night variety show, but it wasn’t picked up either by the British commercial networks or the BBC. It advertised Richard Chamberlain and the singer Lulu (then enjoying her 15 minutes as the singing star who not only recorded the theme song for Sidney Poitier’s movie To Sir, With Love but also had an important and showy role in it) as guests, but all they did was brief skits in which they played themselves. Chamberlain got a fantasy sequence in which he says he wants to be a photographer so he can take pictures of hot-looking girls (which seems odd now that we know he’s Gay — he came out relatively late in life, after his active career was over and therefore wouldn’t suffer from it) and Lulu got an interview scene in which most of the jokes were about the indigestible real name, Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie, she got saddled with by her Scottish parents (she was born in Glasgow in 1948). I suspect anyone who saw this show in 1968 was disappointed that Lulu did not get to sing a number with the Dave Clark Five; certainly I was!

Wisely, Dave Clark — who wrote, directed and produced this show himself, reflecting the overall control he had over his own career (far more than any other band from the British Invasion) — went easy on the comedy sketches and made the show more of a series of music videos of his band, set to songs from throughout the four years of the band’s career (including their early hits, “Glad All Over” and “Bits and Pieces” — the former to the Five riding around in Jaguar XK-E’s and the latter accompanying an odd montage of clips of auto and airplane crashes from the early days of cinema). This meant that Hold On didn’t have the bizarre quality of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (its equivalent in the Fab Four’s résumé — despite the way the Dave Clark Five were seized on by London’s showbiz establishment as the band that would dethrone the Liverpudlians once and for all when “Glad All Over” knocked “I Want to Hold Your Hand” off the top of the British charts, the Dave Clark Five spent virtually their whole career following the Beatles; they stopped touring when the Beatles did, they made an independent TV film just after the Beatles did, and they even broke up in 1970, just like the Beatles did) but it also didn’t have Magical Mystery Tour’s maddening longueurs. It was mostly just the Dave Clark Five playing in odd locations, sometimes in a recognizable recording studio (there’s a shot of string players adding parts to the Clark song “Inside and Out” that seems to have been, uh, inspired by the United Nations telecast on which the Beatles were shown recording “All You Need Is Love”), sometimes accompanying footage of themselves having fun, sometimes with them in improbable situations (like trying to hold their own in the ring with a professional wrestler — to, of all things, their cover of Marv Johnson’s unsung soul classic “You Got What It Takes”) and sometimes accompanied by silent-film footage.

Interestingly, this film was edited by David Gill, who would later make a series of documentaries with Kevin Brownlow that took the silent era seriously and added to our appreciation of Chaplin, Keaton, Griffith, Lloyd et al. — and though in Hold On the silent-era footage is treated for laughs (whether it was originally intended to be funny — as some of it clearly was — or not) one suspects it was Gill who ransacked the world’s film vaults for these clips and talked Clark into inserting them. There’s also a weird montage of British prime minister Harold Wilson, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, French president Charles de Gaulle and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (who’d actually been out of power for four years when this film was shown) ostensibly commenting on the decadence of modern-day pop music and the dangers it posed for social cohesion. Like most of the Dave Clark Five’s work, Hold On was pretty dispensable (they made good music but fell so far short of the Beatles’ achievements it’s almost unfair to compare them) but also a lot of fun, and it helped that neither Dave Clark nor anyone else in the operation took them all that seriously. The show begins with a patient being wheeled into an operating theatre and ends with the person dying, and Dr. Clark (who of course had sought help from Dr. Kildare, whom Richard Chamberlain had just finished playing on U.S. TV after five years) turning to the camera and saying, “Well, you can’t win ’em all,” following which the credits come up and the patient (or at least the actor playing him) gets off the prop operating table and is revealed as alive and well. Referencing the Monty Python film The Meaning of Life, Charles joked, “I hope they had the machine that went ‘ping’!”