Marc Bolan - The Final Word Review
20th Century Boy is like Zeppelin for kids, such a thrilling little riff that not even Marc Bolan can help himself. Short, sharp and with such crunch as to snap out of the speakers, Bolan knows that he's on to something when he hums along with his own riff. "Duhn-du-duh-du-duhn...duh-du-duh-duhn!" And at home, his teenage audience were doing the same, playing air guitar, riffing along to Bolan and doing the glam rock thing in stack heels, a silver thigh-length shirt and a pink feather boa, knowing that this little feller with corkscrew hair, an impish grin and with a fancy for makeup was a one-of-a-kind pop star.
It's that kind of pop star that deserves a DVD of his own. Bolan has had a few before now but this aims to be yet another on the pile, one that has access to not only archive footage of Bolan in the usual places - Top Of The Pops, Marc and Supersonic - but Bolan's family, his friends and, in Tony Visconti, his record producer and architect of that unique T Rex sound. T Rex publicist BP Fallon, Steve Harley, Marc Almond, Queen drummer Roger Taylor and Gloria Jones all add to the film, from his school days to the night that his Mini fatally crashed into a tree, from the early wispy folk of Tyrannosaurus Rex to the dull T Rex sound of a man surrounded by session musicians and from the likeable Face of the sixties living in a one-room apartment to the cynic hoping for a comeback on the back of punk. Brief but still complete, this is a fair look at the life of, as Almond puts it, a man who bridged the hippie rock and folk of the sixties to the glam rock of the seventies.
Bolan's story will be well-known to anyone with more than a passing interest in rock history. Bolan was one destined for a life in music, plucking away at guitar in his youth, picked up by Simon Napier Bell and as willing to record a demo tape of Blowin' In The Wind as he was lending his songwriting skills to the short-lived John's Children, a band that tried topping the headlining Who by inciting a riot. Soon, they were on their way home and Bolan as off on a Ravi Shankar-inspired tip, entertaining the hippies with the whimsical folk of Tyrannosaurus Rex - Bolan on guitar, Steve Peregrine Took on bongos - and My People Were Fair And Had Sky In Their Hair But Now They're Content To Wear Stars On Their Brow. John Peel liked them and so did a lot of other people but being the kind of folk who liked using album covers to roll joints on, Tyrannosaurus Rex were not going to the record collections of the pre-teens. Roll on Ride A White Swan, Jeepster, Get It On, Children Of The Revolution, Metal Guru and 20th Century Boy and T Rex were creeping up on #1, fighting to be heard over the screams of teenage boys and girls - T Rexstasy! - and encouraging every hod-carrier between Watford and Inverness to wear makeup, pink satin trousers and platform shoes as glam rock shimmied up and down the charts. Tax exile, the pre-punk comedown and an increasingly lonely life led to Bolan slipping out of the skintight outfits and into clothes more flattering before a
The Final Word won't be anything of the sort but by allowing Tony Visconti to have his say, we hear something of the pre-fame Bolan struggling to have his music heard before finding success with T Rex and a string of thrilling pop songs. Never, outside of Zeppelin, has Tolkein-esque nonsense sounded quite so good but much better was to come and behind it all was Bolan and Visconti. Gone were the songs about Gollum in favour of Solid Gold Easy Action and very soon twelve-year-old girls were screaming their little hearts out. Here, Visconti is the man, taking the viewer through T Rex's history song-by-song and on Ride A White Swan, track-by-track, building up a picture of Bolan on the way to a success that was deserved. However, there are also dissenting voices, describing a Bolan who grew fat, unlovely and full of self-importance. Visconti describes a session in which Bolan, surrounded by his hangers-on, wouldn't listen to his producer asking him to tune his guitar. John Peel, in an archive recording, talks about not finding the electric warrior Bolan half as interesting as the hippie elf of the Tyrannosaurus Rex years while even BP Fallon articulates his sadness as seeing Bolan on the set of Supersonic miming to Ride A White Swan while riding around the studio on, well, a giant white swan. Fallon says of that time, "If that was the only film left of Marc Bolan, I would be very disappointed."
The Final Word doesn't spare the viewer the sight of a Marc Bolan on the slide, nor the words of those friends of his who were shocked to see Bolan pimp himself for one more moment in the spotlights. Those television appearances would reach a sorry conclusion with Bolan appearing alongside Bowie and falling off the stage. However, it also avoids any pleasure in seeing a star on the slide, returning to the familiar sight of Bolan on television - Music Laden, not Top Of The Pops - in gold lame and a white feather boa, knocking out 20th Century Boy from behind a Les Paul. Visconti, Fallon and Harley, no matter the trouble that came their way with Bolan, won't hear a bad word against their friend, admitting to seeing the more unpleasant side of Bolan's character but also how that only came later in his life.
At the end, Bolan co-headlined with The Damned, sang with Gloria Jones and died in an auto accident. But no matter how his final years went and no matter the later sound of T Rex, Bolan will be remembered for recording half a dozen or more classic pop songs. The Final Word, if still paying its dues to the later years, is a brief look at the life of Marc Bolan. Coming so soon after something Amazing Journey, it feels slightly insubstantial but, then again, where The Who went from a run of tight little singles to rock operas, Bolan and T Rex will be remembered for a glorious run of pop singles, which The Final Word does very well to honour, not only in its short running time but in its playing of every decent hit enjoyed by T Rex, 20th Century Boy included.
Presented anamorphically in 1.78:1, there isn't much to say about The Final Word. Made for television, it doesn't look very much different to what one might expect of a broadcast special. The picture looks reasonable but nothing out of the ordinary with much of the detail in and the sharpness of the picture sacrificed in favour of something that will look fine regardless of what it's watched on. However, this doesn't leave The Final Word looking particularly attractive, more a DVD presentation that suffices but isn't to DVD what Children Of The Revolution is to glam rock. No classic, in other words. But for that, it sounds fine. The DD2.0 stereo soundtrack is good, offering plenty of space in the mix for the likes of Tony Visconti to offer their thoughts on Bolan and on the music while never allowing it to sound cluttered. Finally, there are no subtitles on the disc's content.
Deleted Scenes: Unlike many such outtakes, these could easily have slipped back into the main feature, offering three deleted scenes, one on Grandad (1m06s) - Ride A White Swan was kept at #2 by Clive Dunn's charming little recording of Herbie Flowers' song - and others on Marc's Guitar Playing (3m55s) and his Speaking Voice (2m49s).
Extended Interviews: Again, these could have been included in the main feature and few would have complained about their inclusion. The first of these is Memories Of Marc (3m16s), which features Steve Harley, Herbie Flowers and Chris Townsend and Andy Ellison from John's Children, all of whom have their own memories of Bolan, from Townsend talking about Marc reading pornographic poetry on a cross-channel ferry to Harley teaching Bolan to play table tennis. A Premonition (2m12s) has Chris Townsend tell a story about Marc ending a story by describing how he won't die in a car crash in a Roller but in a Mini. Finally, The Marc Bolan School (1m43s) has Gloria Jones talking about such a place that will be built in Sierra Leone.
In The Studio: These are great little features, similar to the BBC's Classic Albums series, sitting with producer Tony Visconti as he takes the viewer through the original recordings to point out little moments in the production that are almost unheard, such as Marc playing bass on Ride A White Swan (18m36s) and his, "Yeah!" in the background of Jeepster (15m08s). Those two songs are the only ones featured on the disc but Visconti goes into detail on both of them and is an enthusiastic host, picking out what's most likely to interest the viewer and keen on revealing the background to each song.
Promotional Films: These would be described as pop videos a decade later but back in the Electric Warrior days of T Rex, they were promotional films, little movies that featured the band performing their song with Bolan giving it his all. The three songs featured are Get It On (4m29s), Jeepster (4m13s) and Children Of The Revolution (2m34s).