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Telstar (2009) Dir. Nick Moran 29 June 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Cinema Review.
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After a slew of American music biopics (including Ray, Walk the Line and Cadillac Records) now it’s the turn of the Brits with Telstar – the story of Joe Meek, the tone deaf songwriter-producer behind some of the biggest hits of the 1960s. But unfortunately it’s only the charisma of Telstar’s central character which pulls the film through as writer/director Nick Moran does little to differentiate his work from the cliched rise and fall narrative we’ve seen too many times already.

Opening in Joe Meek’s ‘studio’ (that is a flat above the store owned by his landlady, where the singers are placed in the lavatory because it has better acoustics!) the creative brilliance of Meek is immediately apparent, even to a person, like myself, completely unfamiliar with Meek or his body of work. The rest of the plot focuses on the rise and the inevitable fall of such a wildly destructive talent, the tumultuous relationship he has with his contracted artists (including James Corden and Ralf Little) and in particular the relationship that was to prove his downfall – with singer Heinz Burt (JJ Field).

Flamboyant and openly gay Meek as played by Con O’Neill is a difficult character to empathise with, he jumps from near-psychopathic anger to a caring father figure as quickly as Gollum, but there’s little to fault the performance. Not knowing anything about the music scene in the 1960s a lot of the references and the significance of some of the supporting characters simply flew over my head, I also struggled to understand what made his work so important or memorable that I would be watching a film about it 40 years later. Most of his biggest hits are covered including Just Like Eddie, Have I the Right and Telstar, but ultimately Telstar the film is less about the music and more about the tragic character of Meek.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels actor Moran does a good job of recreating the 1960s, the low budget feel of the sets helping to evoke the ramshackle nature of Meek’s operation, while he directs with just enough flair to elevateTelstar above TV movie of the week territory. The starry supporting cast all do a pretty good job, particularly Pam Ferris as Meek’s put-upon landlady, but Kevin Spacey stands out like a sore thumb whenever he’s onscreen as the prim and proper Major Banks, the money behind RGM Sound Ltd.

Your enjoyment of Telstar will depend on two things: how much you know/like about the music of the period and your tolerance for the tried and tested music biopic formula. This is certainly a much better effort than the dire Cadillac Records but it never reaches the same electric highs, or feels as significant, as a Buddy Holly Story or Walk the Line. It is a fascinating story well told but far from essential viewing on the big screen. One for Blu-ray then.

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