Monkey Grip (1982)

“Songs about sadomasochism and masturbation can’t be on the radio. The children! Protect the children!”
— the battle cry of the PMRC’s  membership

Courtesy of the Divinyls’ MTV’s patronage—and the conservative right’s “outrage” over the songs “Pleasure and Pain” from their second album, What a Life! (1983), and “I Touch Myself” from their fourth album, Divinyls (1991)—Sydney, Australia’s doppelganger to Akron, Ohio-by-way-of-London the Pretenders (with a little AC/DC raunch and punky Blondie in the woofers), rose up the U.S. charts.

There’s nothing quite like a little Tipper Gore-mock controversy to inject a floundering career. . . .

I remember my ex-Operations Director, with her endless stream of inane memos and made-up-week-by-week-as-you-go-along “station policies” that she’d spring on us; she loved her “write-ups” and warnings. The memo I especially remember—in the context of this film review—is the one advising us that, while it’s a “real toe-tapper” (Her words, I kid you not. Who works in radio and vocabulary-holsters “toe tapper”?), “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls will not be added to our rotation. Forget the fact we were an alt-rock station that specialized in indie-artists and unsigned locals in the midst of a grunge wave and if a mainstream Madonna-lite copy was put into rotation, it would have be accidently-on-purpose scratched-beyond-airplay or “misfiled” into the 40-pound hallway receptacle—then buried under more trash. “Toe tapper,” indeed. But, once again, I digress. . . .

Anywhoo . . . we say “floundering” because, unlike MTV turning around the then floundering career of Duran Duran (with those bane-of-my-existence Sonny Crockett-on-a-yacht videos), the audience response (due to MTV’s low rotation) to the Divinyl’s debut American single-video “Boys in Town”—was indifference. (That song, in addition to “Elsie” and “Only Lonely” from the soundtrack, were reissued on their international debut, Desperate.) But the late Christina Amphlett had black bangs (!), looked cute on the album cover, and she’d swing a neon-bluelight mic-stand like no other. And the song was like a chick-fronted version of AC/DC; even Blondie-heavy (before that band started meandering with disco-rap hybrids and faux-reggae tunes like a pre-Crash Test Dummies annoyance). So I bought the album. It was a hell of a lot better than Men at Work. And that Men Without Hats cacophony. Oh, wait. They’re from Canada. Never mind.

And if you’re creating a Divinyls-list for the .mp3 files: don’t forget their (minor) hit cover of the Syndicate of Sounds’ ‘60s garage classic “Hey Little Girl” (changed to boy, natch) on their third Chrysalis album, 1988’s Temperamental (which my old station did play, because it fit the format). And it if all sounds like Blondie, that’s because that band’s producer, Mike Chapman (Suzi Q), is behind the boards. And if you hear of a dash of Madonna erotica in the grooves, that’s because “I Touch Myself” was written by the team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who wrote “Like a Virgin.”

Ack! Get back to the movie!

Anyway, before the bogusversy and before MTV, there was Christina Amphlett’s AACTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Monkey Grip (and she never acted again). Amphlett got her part by way of the Divinyls’ rise on the Melbourne local scene—and the film called for a band whose female lead singer is the gal-pal for the film’s domestically-troubled lead character. And instead of casting actors in a lip-sync faux-band, the producers cast a real band—in a rock flick doppelganger to Nina Hagen’s Cha-Cha and Nena’s Hangin’ Out (and, in a male perspective: Michael Hutchence of INXS co-starring in the punk chronicle Dogs in Space)—the Divinyls.

Based on the best-selling Australian cult novel by Helen Graham and fueled by a six-song EP soundtrack by the Divinyls, the story follows Nora, a single-mother in her thirties scratching out a living on the outskirts of Melbourne’s alternative music scene-business. In addition to struggling to raise her thirteen year-old daughter, she has to deal with her own mental and physical abuse at the hands of her heroin-addicted lover, Javo, a mostly-unemployed theatre actor. As result of the financial and domestic instability, she squats in a number of households with other single parents in Melbourne’s local art community (the suburbs of Calton and Fitzroy; think of New York’s Greenwich Village and Los Angeles’ Silver Lake communities) of musicians, actors, and writers. Nora, as with her likeminded contemporaries, refuses to play by the rules of conventionality, torn by their competing desires for freedom and stability that’s exacerbated by their artistic endeavors.

There’s no freebie online rips. But we found this 10-minute clip of scenes to sample and a VOD stream on Vimeo. You can learn more about the influential novel behind the film with its extensive Wikipage.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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