December 28, 2012

BREAKING GLASS (1980) - a pivotal time in music, fashion and politics

(1980, UK)

This was England

When Breaking Glass was playing cinemas in late 1980, I'd already seen Stardust, also a drama warning us of the machinations of the music industry, but set in the world of rock bands. Recently, I caught up with Slade in Flame which also preceded it. But I found this far more engaging, the main difference being the punk attitude and birth of several music genres. Back in 1980 though, this music could be heard all over the radio and even on Top of the Pops and the movie Quadrophenia (1979) had already captured the attitude effectively.

So instead, that month, I opted to go see the very different musical movies Can't Stop The Music and Fame, ahem. With the gift of retrospection I should've seen  Breaking Glass.

I remember songs from the soundtrack being in the charts and hadn't realised that singer/star Hazel O'Connor has been recruited for the film, which launched her as a pop act in parallel with the plot! The songs 'Eighth Day' and 'Will You' were the strongest, but it's fair to say her career as a singer and actor floundered soon afterwards.

Film Review, August 1980
The story is a small idealistic band being gently bludgeoned into shape as a pop product by a record company (an insight I'd like to see dramatised again in the present music industry). As in Stardust and Flame the various players all look deadly accurate, no doubt modelled on key characters of the time. What sets this apart is the year, 1980, a transitional time when British bands were finding their feet post-punk. New wave and new romantics were getting started and cheap electronic keyboards added a new important new sound to garage acts.

Janine Duvitski and Hazel O'Connor
Amazingly, this emerging minority music scene is reflected in a slickly-produced amply-budgeted movie. Smooth crane shots at odds with the grotty, non-spectacle of North London locations. We see the Camden Town that Withnail & I have only just vacated. There's added grottiness from the dustmen strikes and power cuts from the end of the 1970s which, synched with the nihilism of punk, suggested that society was breaking down.

Full page ad from Film Review, October 1980
The end of the 1970s also marked the rise of Oi! bands, music for skinheads, some of whom supported racist extreme-right organisations. The punk fashion use of swastikas had blurred their politics in the eyes of the media. So, in the movie, fictional post-punk band Breaking Glass take a visible and vocal anti-fascist stance, reflecting the time when young anti-Nazi groups emerged to face off against the rise in organised racist rallies around Britain.

While the story has few surprises and the dialogue more than a few unintentional laughs, the rare representation of the political, musical and fashion scenes are a valuable snapshot of what was going on at the pivotal dawn of the '80s.

Hazel O'Connor's many images includes one that predates the scary Pris (Daryl Hannah) of Blade Runner and a glowing circuitry suit and helmet before Tron had been made.

Phil Daniels plays the band's manager, linking this movie to Scum and Quadrophenia, making a violent and cynical trilogy of young people finding out about the system in place. Inexplicably, this was his last great role.

Jonathan Pryce (just before Something Wicked This Way Comes, Terry Gilliam's Brazil) has a good, but largely mute, supporting role as a deaf saxophonist. The enigmatic Jon Finch (The Final Programme, Frenzy, The Vampire Lovers) struggling to avoid TV roles. Jim Broadbent and Richard Griffiths have pre-fame cameos, as well as future feature director Jonathan Lynn. There's also the original Zaphod Beeblebrox (of radio and TV), Mark Wing-Davey, and Gary Tibbs just before he joined Adam and the Ants.

All this and a beginner's guide to rigging the pop charts...

Breaking Glass has recently been restored for DVD and blu-ray in the US, with a longer 'uncut' edition released on DVD in the UK. Unusually for downbeat British cinema, it was shot 2.35 widescreen.


  1. "Breaking Glass" is great film that has stood the test of time. I love your reviews & the attention to details adding rare pics. keep up the good work.

  2. I'm only aware of a US Bluray, which is of the shorter American version of the film. The full version can be found on the UK DVD.

  3. Thank you, Miles. I'll correct accordingly. Any idea what was cut? Is this not just the difference in frame rates?

  4. DVD Beaver states the US version "runs ten minutes shorter than the original British version".
    IMDb says the 'asylum' ending is missing, but whether that accounts for 10 minutes - I've yet to see the film though I do have it on disc - I don't know.
    I think I'd always been put off seeing it by its star. Her 'new wave' records didn't much appeal to me, and she didn't come across as or even look appealing. I have a feeling it's a film I'll probably enjoy very much 30 years on.

  5. I want to compare versions now!

  6. best film ever hazel oconnor is a star