If you grew up in middle school or high school during the advent of a new cable TV channel called HBO in the early ’80s, chances are you caught at least one of the incessant airings (we watched it multiple times, of course!) of this British rock film — alongside the likes of the juvenile delinquency classic Over the Edge (starring Matt Dillon in his film debut) and Ladies and Gentleman: The Fabulous Stains. (Meanwhile, over on the USA Network’s “Night Flight” programming block, we watched Social Distortion in the punkumentary Another State of Mind and the Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. Ah, those were the days. . . .)
O’Connor got her start as an actress, with support roles in the British films Girls Come First (1975) and Double Exposure (1977). To launch her music career (with financial assistance by Princess Diana’s then lover, Dodi Fayed), O’Connor was teamed with Marc Bolan’s (T.Rex) and David Bowie’s longtime producer Tony Vinconti (he also worked with Iggy Pop and Thin Lizzy) to craft the songs for the film; Brian Gibson (later of several Styx videos, as well as the Tina Turner bioflick What’s Love Got to Do With It and the 1998 Brit rock flick Still Crazy) was hired to craft a film around the songs.
Fans of ’70s British new wave music and of Toyah, know that the unknown O’Connor beat out Toyah Willcox for the role. At the time, Willcox was high on the British charts with her debut album, 1979’s Sheep Farming in Barnet, which featured the hit singles “Neon Womb” and “Victims of the Riddle,” and “Leya” from 1980’s The Blue Meaning. (If you’re a fan of the image and music of Lene Lovich and Nena Hagan — from our previously reviewed Cha Cha — or Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex and Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, then you’ll enjoy the music of Toyah.)
As with the plot of most rock flicks, Gibson devised a story about the ubiquitous, meteoric rise and even quicker fall of Kate, a young and angry rock star lost in a world of drugs that’s compounded by managerial, record company, and media manipulation that leads to her eventual nervous breakdown. It’s a tale not far removed from the career trajectory of the faux bands chronicled in Slades In Flame, the 1982 Australian new wave comedy-drama Starstruck, 1980’s Times Square, and the aforementioned Ladies and Gentleman: The Fabluous Stains.
Astute British music fans will notice Phil Daniels from his starring role in Quadrophenia (brilliant as O’Connor’s talentless, bottom feeding street hustler-cum-manager), along with bassist Gary Tibbs from Adam and the Ants and Roxy Music as a band member (with equally decent acting chops). And keep your eyes open for ex-Animals keyboardist Zoot Money (You Tube) and Gary Holton of the Heavy Metal Kids (You Tube) in support roles. And yes, that is Jonathan Price as Ken, the band’s deaf and heroin-addicted saxophone player — on his way to his breakout roles in Something Wicked This Way Comes and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
Caveat Emptor #1: Sure, you can stream Breaking Glass on You Tube Movies and Amazon Prime U.S. But those are the American edits of the film that run at one hour thirty four minutes (94 minutes) with the film’s ending and other scenes (about 10 minutes) excised — you want to watch the original British version distributed in Europe that runs at 100 minutes. Alas, due to the usual legalese, that British version is not available on Amazon Prime in the U.K. — but the intrepid staff of B&S About Movies found the lone online copy of the British cut of the film on Vimeo (it’s been there for three years, but watch it while you can).
Caveat Emptor #2: The film was out-of-print for years and the recently released, mass marketed Blus and DVDs — which come from the choppy American print — have received poor reviews. The U.S online streams come from those un-restored Blus and DVD impresses. The way the reviews read, it seems we’d be better off with a grainy, taped-off-cable or VHS online rip of the film. The Blus and DVDs offer no menus or extras, booklets or the usual commentary tracks you’d expect from the re-release of such a classic, coveted film.
And just how influencial is this film?
Well, we all know about the debated relationship between Jack Wood’s Equinox and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, right? Well, check out this shot of Hazel O’Connor’s “robot” from the “Eighth Day” segment of Breaking Glass against an image of 1982’s TRON.
Then, there’s the striking similarities between the hair and makeup of O’Connor and Daryl Hannah’s Pris from Bladerunner.
You can listen to the full soundtrack — which hit # 5 on the British charts and earned a gold album status — on You Tube. You can also watch two scenes/songs/rock videos cut from the film of the soundtrack’s two Top Ten British singles, “Will You?” and “Eighth Day,” also on You Tube. “Give Me an Inch” became somewhat of new wave “hit” on U.S college radio stations at the time.
You are a programme! Programme! Programme!