“If it’s true that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then drummers are from Pluto.”
STILL CRAZY is a 1998 British film directed by Brian Gibson, produced by Amanda Marmot, and written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. It is a romantic comedy musical wiith an ensemble cast that features Stephen Rea, Bill Nighy, and Juliet Aubrey. The plot gives us a fictional 1970s rock band called Strange Fruit, which had a bad split up 20 years ago. But the opportunity presents itself now for the band to get back together and recoup some of their glory. The film therefore focuses on the lives of the band members and those around them as they deal with death, middle age, what made the band break up in the first place, unfulfilled ambitions, unresolved conflicts, and the success that eluded them.
JULIET AUBREY as Karen Knowles
HELENA BERGSTROM as Astrid Simms
BILLY CONNOLLY as Hughie Case
HANS MATHESON as Luke Shand
JIMMY NAIL as Les Wickes
BILL NIGHY as Ray Simms
STEPHEN REA as Tony Costello
BRUCE ROBINSON as Brian Lovell
TIMOTHY SPALL as David “Beano” Baggot
RACHAEL STIRLING as Clare Knowles
The band Strange Fruit had a rocky road to success including the death and replacement of their lead singer Keith Lovell. And just as they are about to achieve “fame, fortune, and fornication” they break up over opposing egos and the lack of control by certain members. Twenty years later the opportunity for a reunion and an anniversary show crops up when a promoter recognizes keyboardist Tony Costello. Tony tracks down Karen Knowles the band’s gofer because she knows where the other band members are. At first reluctant she agrees to help but insists on being the manager and Tony agrees. Karen brings her daughter Clare with her. Bit by bit she and Tony track down the others – Les Wickes the bassist is now a family man and a roofer, drummer “Beano” Baggot works at a flower nursery and is dodging the taxman, and lead singer Ray Simms who is now, strangely enough, clean and sober although a bit flighty. He is also broke but puts on a good show. Unfortunately, lead guitarist and writer, the soul of the band Brian Lovell is dead and donated his royalties to charity. At first the band doesn’t want to go on without Brian but then a shepherd boy with sheep comes over a hill with a boom box playing one of their songs and they take it as a sign that they should go on.
Hughie their roadie from the old days shows up at their first rehearsal and takes up his old duties. They audition for a new lead guitarist – freeing Ray to concentrate on singing – and hire young Luke Shand – who is unaware of the band’s drama. After a warm up European tour – in which their performances are lousy – Karen negotiates a deal with the holder of their catalogue. Les and Beano hold no hope for the band believing that the real talents were the dead brothers Keith and Brian. Tony comes on to Karen but she turns him down because she is still in love with Brian. Les and Ray have a confrontation and they both walk off. Ray has a nervous breakdown, buys drugs, and falls into a canal where he has a vision of Brian. He is then rescued by Clare. Ray’s wife Astrid blames Karen for their troubles.
Ray and Les make up. Ray believes he got a positive message from Brian. The bus breaks down and the band seems about to break up again when they meet a girl wearing a Strange Fruit tee shirt that belonged to her father who thought they were the greatest band ever. The band takes it as another sign and they are back in business. The next few shows go extremely well and they record a new song. But then Beano and Less give a drunken TV interview saying the band is nothing without Keith and Brian. Ray has another breakdown and quits.
The band returns to their old lives. Karen and Claire visit Keith’s grave to pay their respects and find a note from Brian. Karen confronts Hughie and he admits Brian is alive and working in a psychiatric hospital.
Karen and Tony got to see him and he agrees to rejoin the band. The others follow. But at a pre-show press conference hostile reporters cause a visibly shaken Brian to walk off with the others following – except for Luke. He stays behind and chastises the reporters (best part of the movie). Brain backs out of the show but gives his blessing to the others to go on.
Beano almost misses the show having sex with a stalker/groupie. Everyone is there in the audience including Les’ wife and children. The band starts their set with the same song with which they opened the last festival. Ray’s confidence is shaken and he can’t continue. Tony saves the day by playing “The Flame Still Burns.” The song has personal meaning for the whole band and Ray has never let Les sing it. He lets him sing it now and magnificently. The band rallies together, inspiring Brain to grab his guitar and go out on stage. To a thunderous reaction by the audience Strange Fruit plays and sings like they have never done before!
The songs in this film were written by rock musicians such as Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra and Mick Jones of Foreigner.
Some of the events depicted in Strange Fruit’s history were inspired by real events from real bands. The character of Ray Simms was inspired in part by David Lee Roth of Van Halen. Brian Lovell’s separation from the band due to his mental state is similar to Syd Barrett’s department from Pink Floyd due to a drug-induced nervous breakdown. Beano Baggot’s lateness for a gig is reminiscent of the drummer for The Who – Keith Moon. There have been other bands like Deep Purple who have had line-up changes with mixed success. Ray Simms and his wife Astrid have a similar relationship to what is believed to be that of John Lennon and Yoko.
Both Jimmy Nail and Bill Nighy actually performed the vocals for their characters.
STILL CRAZY was nominated for two Golden Globes in 1999.
Songs preformed in the film by Strange Fruit:
- THE FLAME STILL BURNS
- ALL OVER THE WORLD
- DIRTY TOWN
- BLACK MOON
- BIRD ON A WIRE
- SCREAM FREEDOM
- DANGEROUS THINGS
- WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
- STEALIN’ (performed by Billy Connolly)
- Nothing! Not a blessed thing. There is nothing I like dislike about this movie and given the chance I would not change a thing.
- I fell in love with Juliet Aubrey in this movie and I wanted to have her babies.
- The music and the songs made me cry.
- I was already a Stephen Rea fan from THE CRYING GAME and V. With this movie he cemented his position as one of my favorite actors.
- Everybody wants a second chance and some of us wish for a do-over. But we also worry about screwing things up a second time. We can all relate – I can relate – to how the guys in this band feel and what drives them.
- The movie is funny as hell!
- We have an ensemble cast but each character is given their chance to shine.
- Did I mention that the music and songs are amazing!
Allow me to say this right from the beginning – I FRIGGIN’ LOVE THIS MOVIE! I feel better now. Since this film first came out I have seen it at least two dozen times and I love it more and more with each viewing. And each time I watch it I cry at the end. There are plenty of movies about rock ‘n roll bands but none of them have more heart than STILL CRAZY. If you like music movies, if you like films that will make you laugh and cry, if you like to watch slightly beat up people get their act together and win in the end, then I recommend this movie to you. You won’t be disappointed.
In our rating scale I give this film Five Gray Geeks – the highest I can go!
Well guys and gals that is it for now. Thank you for spending your time with me I really do appreciate it. I hope you have enjoyed our time together. I sure love being here with you. Until next time remember this – it takes less muscles to smile and more muscles to frown. So be lazy and smile. Hasta la vista!