As stated in our previous review of Cha Cha starring Herman Brood, Nina Hagen, and Lene Lovich, your enjoyment of this (admittedly) pretentious “art house” flick hinges on your appreciation of the music of Ian Dury (which, I’ll admit, is an acquired taste for U.S ears raised on the commercial, new wave refrains of America’s the Knack and the Cars and the U.K.’s the Police and Gary Numan), the world’s first disabled “rock star.”
If you were lucky enough to have a college radio station in your area or frequented the then trendy, big city new wave clubs of the times, then you’re probably familiar with Ian Dury’s most memorable album hits of “Sweet Gene Vincent” and “Billericay Dickie,” but you’ve surely heard his hit singles “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick” and “Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part 3” with the Blockheads in a TV series, film, or video game in recent years. The title of this bioflick is, of course, derived from Dury’s biggest selling and most memorable single, 1977’s “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.” And while MTV ignored Dury’s catalog, the burgeoning video channel embraced the music of ex-Blockheads Chaz Jankel and turned his single “Questionnaire” into a minor U.S radio hit (watch the MTV video link, you’ll remember it).
So, in regards to the “art house” aspects of the film: Don’t go into this expecting a fluid, commercialized Tinsteltown chronicle on Dury’s life, ala Ray (Ray Charles), Walk the Line (Johnny Cash), or What’s Love Got to Do With It (Tina Turner). In lieu of a traditional, chronological narrative (that’s punctuated with animated segments and kinetic editing typical of an arty, indie film), Dury (a fantastic Andy Serkis — who you know as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and as Ceasar in the Planet of the Apes reboot series) appears as a colorful, brash carnival barker, telling his own life story from the concert stage via a series of flashback (e.g., his wife gives birth to his child upstairs, while he’s telling his story on a club stage; of how, as a child, he contracted polio from a swimming pool and was bullied for his leg brace; of how he met Jankel backstage at Kilburn and the High Roads (Dury’s band prior to forming the Blockheads with Jankel) gig, etc.).
Dury would go on to become an actor in his own right, with roles with in several British films and television series. Here, in the U.S., you’ve most likely seen Dury in Bob Dylan’s 1987 box office bust Hearts of Fire (hopefully, we’ll get to that one for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week”), The Cook, the Theif, His Wife & Her Lover (I dragged my date to see that one at an art house theatre because of Dury; she hated it, but of course), but you definitely saw Dury in the sci-fi flicks Split Second with Rutger Hauer (1992), Judge Dredd (1995), and The Crow: City of Angels (1996).
You can watch Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll as a free-with-ads-stream on TubiTv; if you’d prefer an ad-free experience, it’s available on You Tube Movies. You can also get all of the music of Ian Dury you could possibly need — featuring album tracks, videos, and live performances — over on his official You Tube page. You can also catch Dury at the top of his game with his 1978 appearance on the live German television rock program Rockpalast (aka “Rock Palace,” a Euro-version of U.S TV’s The Midnight Special), also on You Tube.