×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Telstar: The Joe Meek Story

The energy, craziness and often downright shabbiness of London's early '60s, pre-Beatles pop biz are vividly brought to life in "Telstar: The Joe Meek Story."

With:
With: Con O'Neill, Pam Ferris, J.J. Feild, James Corden, Tom Burke, Kevin Spacey, Ralf Little, Sid Mitchell, Mathew Baynton, Shaun Evans, Callum Dixon, Tom Harper, Jon Lee, Nigel Harman, Carl Barat, Justin Hawkins, Jess Conrad, Clem Cattini, Chas Hodges, John Leyton, David Hayler, Craig Vye, Rita Tushingham.

The energy, craziness and often downright shabbiness of London’s early ’60s, pre-Beatles pop biz are vividly brought to life in “Telstar: The Joe Meek Story,” a biopic of the legendary producer-composer of one of the bestselling records of all time. Bigscreen helming debut of thesp-writer Nick Moran (cardsharp Eddy in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”) fairly crackles with character and period flavor for its first 90 minutes but is let down by a repetitive and tiresomely maudlin final half-hour. Cutting by 20 minutes would benefit pic’s chances as a modest retro item.

Now largely forgotten except by specialists, Meek was a maverick, do-it-yourself producer who pioneered techniques (like multiple overdubbing, close miking and reverb) that later became standard in pop music. Operating from a home studio above a handbag shop in Islington, north London, Meek rode high on instrumental megahit “Telstar” — the first Britband single to top the U.S. charts — but less than five years later, after shooting his landlady, committed suicide in February 1967.

Though most of the movie is set in the tiny, three-floor apartment where Meek lived and worked — re-created with striking naturalism by production designer Russell de Rozario and art director Joe Howard — tight cutting by Alex Marsh and mobile Steadicam work by Peter Wignall (an ace d.p. whose prior work includes “Lock, Stock”) keep at bay any feelings that pic is simply a bigscreen transposition of the legit play by Moran and James Hicks (which opened in 2005).

Point of entry for the audience is Geoff Goddard (Tom Burke), who arrives in 1961, at the legendary 304 Holloway Road address, after having a tune accepted by Meek (Con O’Neill, reprising his stage perf). Chaos of the so-called “studio” is succinctly drawn: a singer in the toilet, the “orchestra” in another room, Meek running hither and yon, and the whole shebang funded by Major Banks (Kevin Spacey, with an impeccable accent).

The painfully shy Goddard and histrionic Meek bond through a shared fascination with the occult and Buddy Holly, and Meek (who can’t read a note of music) sees someone he can dominate. Meek manages a recalcitrant band, the Tornados, but aches to be accepted into the pop world’s real hierarchy and to record artists like Billy Fury (Jon Lee).

Look and acting styles of the early reels strongly recall Brit movies of the period, from Spacey’s stiff-upper-lip ex-army major, through Pam Ferris’ gossipy landlady, to J.J. Feild’s spot-on impersonation of blond singer Heinz. There’s also the uncanny experience, for older auds, of seeing surviving names from the era — such as singers John Leyton and Jess Conrad, plus Tornados drummer Clem Cattini — cast in small roles, as well as being portrayed onscreen by lookalike actors. Conrad’s cameo as legendary producer Larry Parnes alone is a tiny gem of bitchy bonhomie.

In its initial stages, the setting’s strong gay element is discreetly downplayed, with Meek’s attraction to Heinz (which will ultimately contribute to his downfall) soft-pedaled.

Meek’s lousy business sense, emotional instability and stubborn delight in his outsider status gradually take their toll as he alienates everyone he’s worked with. It’s at this point, alas, that the movie also starts to alienate the viewer. Final act, with the main characters brought back for a final meeting with the now drug-addicted Meek, plays like a legit device that doesn’t work in movie terms.

O’Neill, who’s lived the character from its earliest incarnation as a read-through in the mid-’90s, powers the film in its first half and handles the script’s satirical shafts with ease. But at almost two hours, it’s a theatrical perf that needed to be reined in more by helmer Moran. Large supporting cast is aces.

End titles sadly sketch the various demises of the main characters, plus the ironic outcome of a lawsuit over “Telstar” royalties.

Telstar: The Joe Meek Story

U.K.

Production: An Aspiration Films presentation of a Simon Jordan production. (International sales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Simon Jordan, Adam Bohling, David Reid. Executive producer, David Groves. Directed by Nick Moran. Screenplay, Moran, James Hicks, based on their 2005 play "Telstar."

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Peter Wignall; editor, Alex Marsh; music, Ilan Eshkeri; production designer, Russell de Rozario; art director, Joe Howard; costume designer, Stephanie Collie; sound (Dolby Digital), Jamie Gambell, Mike Dowson, Paul Govey; casting, Kate Plantin. Reviewed at London Film Festival (New British Cinema), Oct. 17, 2008. Running time: 117 MIN.

With: With: Con O'Neill, Pam Ferris, J.J. Feild, James Corden, Tom Burke, Kevin Spacey, Ralf Little, Sid Mitchell, Mathew Baynton, Shaun Evans, Callum Dixon, Tom Harper, Jon Lee, Nigel Harman, Carl Barat, Justin Hawkins, Jess Conrad, Clem Cattini, Chas Hodges, John Leyton, David Hayler, Craig Vye, Rita Tushingham.

More Film

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    Writers Guild Says Over 7,000 Members Have Fired Agents

    Over 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America have fired their talent agents, the Hollywood union said on Monday. As promised, the guild delivered a first round of termination letters to agents in a show of support for the WGA’s full-on war with the Association of Talent Agents. “Today the Guild delivered a first [...]

  • BRAZILIAN FLAGFRENCH OPEN TENNIS, PARIS, FRANCE

    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, [...]

  • David Leitch Kelly McCormick

    'Hobbs & Shaw' Director David Leitch, Kelly McCormick Sign First-Look Deal With Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Universal Pictures is signing David Leitch, his longtime producing partner, Kelly McCormick and their recently founded 87North Production banner to a first-look production deal. “David and Kelly have established themselves as a distinctive, stylish filmmaking team who can do it all, from contained thrillers to franchise tentpoles,” said Universal’s president Peter Cramer. “We are confident [...]

  • Still from cannes competition film "Parasite"

    Cannes: Bong Joon-ho Says ‘Parasite’ Is Too Local to Win Competition

    Having been partially responsible for the Netflix fall out with the Cannes Film Festival, “Okja” and “Snowpiercer” director Bong Joon-ho returns to Cannes competition this year with conventionally- financed “Parasite.” But the Korean-language film is a tragicomedy that Bong says may be too nuanced for the festival. “Cannes always makes me feel excited, fresh, and [...]

  • Summer Box Office: 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Lion

    Summer Box Office: Five Weekends to Watch

    Popcorn season is upon us, and it’ll be up to comic-book heroes, a wise-cracking genie, and a lion who would be king to ensure movie theaters are still the hottest place to spend the summer. Last summer, blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Ocean’s 8,” and “The Meg” drove moviegoers to their [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content