FISHNETS AND CIGARETTES: An Opinion on Rock and Roll, Youth and the Movies

Gone were the days of the Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney musicals with kids saving their farm, their home, their malt shoppe. Or something.  The sounds of “bobby soxer’ Frank Sinatra (who changed himself to record some of his biggest songs) changed to Bobby Darrin, Fabian, and others with that curled up lip, smoldering smile and sporting a cowlick. Women were not left out as Brenda Lee, and Connie Francis brought the new and controversial sound of rock and roll forward. Leading them all was, of course, Elvis Presley.

Rock and roll has been a key ingredient since Bill Halley first told us to rock around the clock. Films of this style, along with the beach movies of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Elvis Presley, even BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2018),  gave the people what they wanted to see.  The movies, which were sometimes “B” pictures, were often the first and sometimes only time people would see these performers.   They packed the theaters, sending kids to record shops afterward to buy 45s and later LPs.   You wrote some sort of a story, blended in songs like a musical and you had the new youth market.




The other side of these pictures is that they cross into exploitation film with the story of the juvenile delinquent. This was sometimes a leather jacketed, motor cycle riding girl or guy who can play a guitar. Film genres with titles like HIGH SCHOOL CAESAR, HOT ROD GIRLS, and the films of Mamie Van Doran became the motorcycle films of Peter Fonda, early John Cassavetes ,  and Bruce Dern.  The genre mutated with EASY RIDER (1969) and the advent of ALMOST FAMOUS (2000).


The mockumentary style of Rob Reiner’s THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) lends itself to authenticity and fun.  While it is a strong film in that it has appeal (it gives us a slice of the absurdity of rock and roll), it doesn’t give us a sense of the danger and consequence of our actions.

There is a price for everything. The dark horse choice for this style is SID AND NANCY  (1986).

SID AND NANCY was made in 1986 by Alex Cox with two unknown actors and true events that played out in the media at that time. The result is an experience that leaves a taste of metallic bitterness in your eyes.    It features  tour de force acting performances by Gary Oldman  ( chemically altered, perhaps?) and  Chloe Webb as the doomed lovers Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.  People will say that their mannerisms were excessive yet so is dangerous rock and roll music that teeters on the edge of violence, illicit behaviour and societal change. It pisses off people like your parents because you want something of your own.

Cox uses startling images of faraway expressions as Sid and Nancy watch their dreams of stardom unravel in the reality of no acceptance.  The best and most telling is the long slow motion kiss in the alley way as the trash falls slowly downward. These people are garbage to everyone except one another.

Characters grapple with delusional fame in a pitiful attempt to gain acceptance and show that they are worth something.  Rock and roll music is the background to all this with its deals, eccentric ways of doing business and general sanctioned lawlessness.

The film features a version of the Frank Sinatra tune “MY WAY,” which the real Sid Vicious did record and release.  Brilliant choice of song since its selection bridges a gap between the old and the new. It is also a statement of individuality.  Oldman turns a pistol on the audience in a chilling moment that was edited out of some prints.  He also points it directly to the camera in what could be an accidental homage to the sequence in the ground breaking western THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903).

Youth pictures by American International Studios and  Columbia included DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK (1957), ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK (1956) and other titles that sported rock and roll, girls, guys and bewildered parents.

Exploration film done by independent companies and  some questionable film makers  such as  Russ Meyer and his seminal cool  picture  FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL (1965) rose to fill the drive in culture and seedy movie houses.  Trash was cool.

Pictures of this style I enjoyed were Richard Lester’s HARD DAYS NIGHT (1964), CONTROL  (2007) (directed by Anton Corbijn),  Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS (1991) and Franc Rodam’s  QUADROPHENIA (1979) and Claude Whatam’s THAT’LL BE THE DAY (1973).

Music is a part of all these pictures.  Yet, it is the stories that they tell – either of an era or a dream – that makes them not just musicals.    A STAR IS BORN went from Janet Gaynor to Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand now to Lady Gaga with different musical styles. proving the story is universal along with music.  Rock music today has splintered into groups of fans and many different genres similar to today’s film world.  The music, film and now television and the internet tread a path toward occasional seismic change. That is what keeps it vital.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: