Side by Side Review
In the town of Sludgley, the struggling old-time variety theatre The Golden Nugget, owned by Max Nugget (Terry-Thomas) and his sidekick Rodney (Barry Humphries), is next door to the Sound City nightclub, attracting a much more youthful crowd who want to hear the latest groups, and run by Gary (Billy Boyle), and both resentful of the other's existence. A court ruling establishes an ancient byelaw that says that Sludgley may only have one club, but which will it be?
Bruce Beresford (born in Paddington, Sydney, in 1940) arrived in England in 1962 looking to break into the British film industry. He spent much of the sixties making documentaries, working as a film editor in Nigeria, and for five years back in London became Head of Production at the British Film Institute. Some of his early production credits can be found on the recent BFI Flipside release You're Human Like the Rest of Them, collecting the short films of B.S. Johnson. He made his feature debut in 1972 with The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. That film was commercially successful and stands as one of the starting points of the Australian cinema revival of the 1970s. However, the critics loathed it, Australian ones in particular who took exception to their countrymen being portrayed as vulgar chundering sex-obsessed drunkards. They certainly didn't like the sequel, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own any better, a film that Beresford agreed to make in return for being able to make his dream project, an adaptation of Henry Handel Richardson's 1910 novel The Getting of Wisdom. But that went into turnaround (he finally was able to make the film in 1978, review here). Beresford took the critical slatings of the Barry McKenzie films to heart, and thought his career was over. Side by Side was, in Beresford's words, “all he could get” and thought it was “a disaster”. It certainly didn't set the box office alight and frankly isn't very good, but the dedicated will find things worth sticking it out for.
Side by Side is basically a lowbrow and pretty broad comedy, one intended to cash in on current treads in British pop music. The latter is the best of it, with well-filmed appearances by Hello, Mac & Katie Kissoon, Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band, Desmond Dekker and the Israelites, plus “special guest stars” Mud, Kenny, Rubettes and in a “featured appearance” Fox (whose lead singer, Australian-born Noosha Fox aka Susan Traynor, is the mother of Ben Goldacre of Bad Science fame), appearing on a TV set performing their number 15 hit “Imagine Me, Imagine You”. Though that list contains three acts who had had UK number ones, it's fair to say that Mud apart (and they're kept to last) the big guns of the early Seventies, such as Sweet and Slade, are absent. (The latter were making their own, much better, film, Flame, the same year.) You may or may not be glad to hear that Gary Glitter doesn't appear in person either, though his biggest hit, “I Love You Love Me Love” accompanies a striptease. Stephanie De Sykes plays a major role as Julia, Max's niece and Gary's girlfriend, and belts out her number two hit from the year before, “Born With a Smile on My Face”. That said, if you are a fan of early 70s British pop, then this is probably the best reason to see this film. It certainly wasn't the only film of the time to paddle in those waters: see also, for example, Bread, and Robin Askwith's Timothy Lea gets into glam rock in Confessions of a Pop Performer, so don't say you weren't warned. There isn't a great deal of difference between the two, other than in Side by Side the tits and bums remain clothed and the innuendos are scaled down to a family-friendly A certificate, the predecessor of the current PG. (“I like your equipment,” Gary says to Julia, referring to her hi-fi, though Beresford makes sure to emphasise the double entendre by framing De Sykes from waist upwards, side on in a tight top.)
Beresford was one of four credited writers, so has to take some of the blame for a ramshackle screenplay which basically throws all it can in the hope that some of it sticks. Even at 82 minutes (with PAL speed-up) it's padded out, with Gary doing impressions of current TV stars (Tommy Cooper, Michael Crawford playing Frank Spencer), and an entirely irrelevant slapstick sequence involving two painters and decorators. Terry-Thomas's role as an old-school song and dance man is undermined by the fact that he had Parkinson's by then, and Barry Humphries as his sidekick seems to be phoning in his performance. Viewers of a sensitive nature may wish to know that the film includes a fantasy sequence featuring Humphries at a piano performing a musical number in blackface, a la The Black and White Minstrel Show, which was very popular Saturday night BBC entertainment at the time. Mud's drummer, Dave Mount, takes an acting role and very familiar small-screen face Frank Thornton, sans moustache, plays the local busybody.
As a director, Beresford makes the best of a bad job. There's an interestingly long take following Gary and Julia through Trafalgar Square, presumably shot with a hidden camera. Along with the later and rather more notable Tender Mercies, this is the only Beresford feature up to and including 1986's The Fringe Dwellers not photographed by Don McAlpine. Harvey Harrison did the honours here, and his work is professional though nothing inspired.
But at the end of the day, what was I'm sure intended as disposable entertainment became disposed of in Beresford's filmography. Fortunately for him, soon after he received the script for Don's Party in his letterbox.
Odeon Entertainment's DVD of Side by Side, part of their Best of British range, is a single-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only. The disc bears a PG certificate, though at the time of writing there is no entry for it on the BBFC database, and it is fairly close to 12 territory for reasons hinted at above. It begins with a trailer for another Odeon DVD release, Never Too Young to Rock, which shares personnel in front of the camera and behind it with Side by Side.
The DVD transfer is in 1.33:1, not anamorphically enhanced. This is fairly obviously open-matte, and 1.85:1 or maybe 1.75:1 is the likely intended ratio, so watch this zoomed to 16:9. This is a very soft, interlaced transfer from an original that's possibly a little faded. (There a couple of clips in the making-of documentary on the Australian Don's Party disc which look no better, but are in closer to the correct ratio.)
The soundtrack is mono, as per the original, and it does its job though nothing more than that. Given the obvious limitations, the music sounds perfectly okay. There are no hard-of-hearing subtitles.
The only extras are some trailers for other Odeon DVD releases: Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Four in the Morning, Meet Mr. Malcolm, The Body Stealers, The Harassed Hero (misspelled “Harrassed” on the menu), The Mudlark and The Seekers.
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