In this week’s #IFFReview, Insight member Christopher Norris watches a film that examines whether or not ‘the devil has all the best tunes’ (apologies to the 19th-century vicar, Revd Rowland Hill, who coined the phrase).
#IFFReview: film 16
Director: John Williams
The Beat Beneath My Feet has the story arc of a fairy tale for its two heroes, whose journeys lead in opposite directions until they meet in the middle.
‘Steve’ (Luke Perry, astute casting) is a fallen ‘Prince Charming’, running away from his identity as Max, front man for the iconic rock band, Nothing (which was anything but); Tom (newcomer, Nicholas Galitzine) is a gawky, teenage ‘Cinderella’, trying to find his feet in a world of feckless adults, absent musician father and school bullies, all of whom do nothing to encourage his talents.
‘Steve’ and Tom meet by chance when the former drowns his sorrows by turning his ghettoblaster up to 11. In the real world, ‘Steve’ would have been evicted by the Council’s noise police and slapped with an ASBO. We are, however, watching action played out in a parallel universe. The premise of an American rock star hiding from the world in a Council flat in Sutton comes from the land of make-believe; in everyday life, ‘Steve’ would have got nowhere near the social housing ladder, even assuming he could persuade the Home Office he could stay.
No matter, as long as we assume a world where magic realism is truth, the film follows a path of consistent internal logic.
Life starts to change for Tom and ‘Steve’ when the former recognises the latter from a homemade tattoo on his forearm. Their stories start to coalesce when ‘Steve’ has to make a decision whether or not to teach Tom how to play electric guitar: will he choose the red or the blue plectrum?
Tom moves through an awkward adolescence, surpassing his flashy father, Chris (and his appropriately named seedy band, Risk Factor), finding his musical feet and aiming to reach his potential at the Battle of the Bands competition.
‘Steve’ gradually rediscovers his reasons for living as Max; he begins to get his mojo back.
The Beat Beneath My Feet really does explore which side – light or dark – has the best music, featuring, as it does, the full range of holiness from church choir to stadium-filled adulation. Who has the best tunes? Is it Tom? It is Max? Is it Chris, Tom’s father? Or is it Damien, Tom musical rival and nemesis? The Faustian bargain myth of blues genius, Robert Johnson, even gets a mention.
The film is a rich mix of sounds and images, which skilfully signpost where we are on the journey. Riffs starts tentatively, then gain in confidence and complexity; clothing styles are shed like snake skins, ‘Steve’/Max loses the beanie and the black jumper while Tom stops wearing school uniform and/or an anorak; ‘Steve’/Max gets progressively better at walking while Tom becomes less clumsy and stops bumping into people; and there are doors galore, many opportunities to be upstairs or downstairs, and various types of smoking/vaping. The director, John Williams, uses light symbolically: darkness and light represent moods, circumstances and atmospheres.
The Beat Beneath My Feet belies its relatively low budget by making excellent use of John Williams’ animation skills; interweaving stop-motion cartoon sequences like stand-alone pop videos for the films excellent songs and soundtrack.
As rock-music aspiration movies go, this is a very British movie. The Beat Beneath My Feet exudes grime, grit and the grind of everyday life – not the exuberance of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure or the bounciness of School of Rock, both of which feature versions of the ‘Battle of the Bands’ at their climaxes. British films tell individual stories to make general points about society; their US counterparts go for the big picture from which audiences draw conclusions for their own lives. It’s low-key, tenacious ambition versus bold and brassy confidence – toffee versus candyfloss – and both approaches have their merits, depending on what mood we are in.
The Beat Beneath My Feet is a well-structured film that punches above its weight and gets people dancing in the aisles as a bonus. It also has that rarest of structural achievements – a credible climax within a climax. It’s a feel-good movie, even when the characters aren’t feeling too good themselves. The film is well worth an investment of 91 minutes of your life, especially when you want an alternative from Richard Curtis/Working Title style sweetness.
Product links: #IFFReview: film 16 (UK only)
Film: John Williams, The Beat Beneath My Feet (2014), DVD issue 2015, Luke Perry, Nicholas Galitzine, Lisa Dillon
Film: Stephen Herek, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), DVD issue 2008, Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin
Film: Richard Linklater, School of Rock (2003), DVD issue 2004, Jack Black, Mike White, Joan Cusack