The hits, mem­o­ries and may­hem of New York’s mu­sic scene in the 1970s are back as Vinyl spins its magic

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell Vinyl, Wanted,

What just may be the se­ries of the year ar­rives this week, ex­press from HBO in the US, and it’s just as good as any of us may have hoped. Vinyl is from Ter­ence Win­ter and Martin Scors­ese, who gave us the re­mark­able, highly stylised, highly vis­ual pe­riod drama Board­walk Em­pire, in which the clas­si­cal film­maker em­braced the new dig­i­tal world with­out los­ing any of his tra­di­tional film­mak­ing flu­ency or skills.

The brain­child of Win­ter, the writer be­hind The So­pra­nos, the se­ries metic­u­lously re-cre­ated At­lantic City dur­ing the roar­ing 20s, res­ur­rect­ing an era of cor­rupt politi­cos, big bands, suf­fragettes, show­girls, boot­leg­gers and capri­cious crim­i­nal mas­ter­minds.

Vinyl — the ti­tle refers to the ana­log sound stor­age medium in the form of a flat polyvinyl chlo­ride disc with an in­scribed, mod­u­lated spiral groove — co-pro­duced by Mick Jag­ger, who has his fin­ger­prints all over the se­ries, does the same thing for New York in the mid-1970s. It ex­plores the cor­rupt and of­ten vi­o­lent mu­sic busi­ness in the era of pay­ola and stan­dover men, a deadly en­ter­prise fu­elled by co­caine and en­velopes of cash.

And it’s al­lur­ingly played out through the story of a NYC record ex­ec­u­tive with a dark past and a se­ri­ous habit try­ing to re­vive his la­bel, Amer­i­can Cen­tury records, and keep his per­sonal life from spi­ralling out of con­trol.

He’s Richie Fines­tra (Bobby Can­navale, Emmy-award win­ner for his psy­cho­pathic killer Gyp Rosetti in Board­walk Em­pire), volatile boss of Amer­i­can Cen­tury Records — he tells his story in voiceover nar­ra­tion — and times are grim in 1973, rock’n’roll “no longer recog­nis­able as the thing peo­ple used to be so afraid of”.

The record­man (his de­scrip­tion) re­lates how he started at the bot­tom of the in­dus­try, clean­ing ash­trays, rolling beer kegs and scrap­ing Chubby Checker’s vomit out of the in­side of toi­lets un­til he reached the top. “I had a golden ear, a sil­ver tongue and a set of brass balls — the prob­lem be­came my nose and ev­ery­thing I put into it,” he says.

Now fac­ing crises with clients — he owes a bun­dle to Jack­son Browne, among oth­ers — and his team is un­able to land sig­nif­i­cant new acts. Their ros­ter, he tells them, is like a Chi­nese menu, all over the place, “too much Robert Goulet”. He wants to dump and run, and, he tells his dis­en­chanted wife Devon (Olivia Wilde), live a nor­mal life. This is his story he says, “clouded by lost brain cells, self­ag­gran­dis­e­ment and maybe a lit­tle bull­shit — but how could it not be?”

We zip back five days ear­lier and he’s in Ger­many with his hench­men try­ing to sell the com­pany to a Ger­man con­glom­er­ate, a deal seem­ingly set­tled apart from the fact he hasn’t landed the con­tract with Led Zep­pelin.

And that’s where we start on this dizzy­ing rise through Amer­ica’s mu­sic-busi­ness land­scape in Scors­ese’s art­fully re­alised New York. It’s the be­gin­ning of the five years many would say changed mu­sic for­ever, a time of cre­ative pol­li­na­tion as gen­res clashed, died or emerged, fos­tered in a cli­mate of dense, young, artis­tic pop­u­la­tions drawn down­town by low rents in the yet-to-be-gen­tri­fied ware­houses of SoHo and Tribeca. It’s punk ex­plod­ing out of the grungy clubs, and hip-hop on the street cor­ners but also disco in the swish clubs, salsa and loft jazz.

It’s just breath­tak­ing, a Scors­ese fea­ture film of a pi­lot, even if — with so many char­ac­ters, plots and fore­shad­owed sub­plots so fleet­ingly in­tro­duced — it can leave you feel­ing as if you’ve had too much Peru­vian danc­ing dust.

Scors­ese’s film­mak­ing is stu­pen­dous, as en­er­gised and an­ar­chic as the mu­sic he cel­e­brates — surely this is the most ex­pen­sive pi­lot in TV his­tory. There is the fran­tic ac­tion, the tu­mul­tuous crowd scenes, his cam­eras some­how push­ing through to find his sub­jects, the freeze-frames and whiz pans, the pre­cise pe­riod de­tail — those hair­cuts and mous­taches and the long shark­finned col­lars — and, as in Good­fel­las, a morally ques­tion­able lead­ing man re­lat­ing his story.

Then there’s the sig­na­ture long track­ing shots of great emo­tional power. What we see and how we see it, and how the cam­era moves in re­la­tion to its sub­ject are all per­fectly in­te­grated. The whole ca­boo­dle is drenched in mu­sic, car­ry­ing the ac­tion, com­ment­ing, some­times just cel­e­brat­ing with af­fec­tion. Not a mo­ment is wasted; Scors­ese, as al­ways, uses the whole lan­guage of film to in­volve us.

He said of the mak­ing of Good­fel­las that he wanted to be­gin it like a gun­shot and have it get faster from there, al­most like a 2½ trailer. “I think it’s the only way you can re­ally sense the ex­hil­a­ra­tion of the life­style, and to get a sense of why a lot of peo­ple are at­tracted to it.”

And he does some­thing sim­i­lar here at the start, tak­ing us into a fren­zied con­cert at the Mercer Arts Cen­tre with a drugged-out Fines­tra af­ter he has just scored on the street where the New York Dolls are rock­ing out Per­son­al­ity Cri­sis, that an­them of kitsch yet men­ac­ing blues­based garage rock. Punk, glam metal and the new wave are just around the next cor­ner and Fines­tra is in heaven along with the crowd. The cam­era move­ments not only take us into his head (“Now frus­tra­tion and heartache is what you’ve got”) but right into the mu­sic, its raw power to trans­form. As Win­ter says: “It’s rock ’n’ roll, just go with it.” Hats off, too, lo­cally, to Seven and Match­box Pic­tures for the small-scale, ex­tremely tense, char­ac­ter-driven new se­ries Wanted, star­ring Re­becca Gibney and new­comer Geral­dine Hakewill, which started last week. It is of a small sub­genre film critic Stephen Holden once called coun­try noir, “which takes the ni­hilism and vi­o­lence of the city and de­posits them in some bu­colic pas­ture with dev­as­tat­ing re­sults”.

Gibney’s Lola Buck­ley is the fad­ing 40some­thing blonde who has squan­dered what chances her beauty af­forded her and has fallen into a job at the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket. Hakewill is Chelsea Bab­bage, a 29-year-old fi­nance worker who com­pul­sively seeks con­trol in ev­ery­thing but never finds hap­pi­ness. They’re strangers who have silently waited at a bus stop ev­ery

Wanted, morn­ing for two years, po­lar op­po­sites shar­ing lives of quiet des­per­a­tion.

A vi­o­lent car­jack­ing goes wrong and they find them­selves pitch­ing about in the boot of the car, a carry bag of money on the back seat, a small-time crook (Ryan Corr) at the wheel — and the cor­rupt cops be­hind the crime on their tail. Each woman has se­crets from her past and has to quickly learn to trust the other de­spite their dif­fer­ences.

It’s cre­ated by Gibney and her hus­band Richard Bell and, guided by vet­eran pro­duc­ers Tony Ayres and Julie McGau­ran, they skil­fully give us a world where guilt and in­no­cence are prob­lem­atic. It’s not one of those crime shows where a death is at its heart, one that is mys­te­ri­ous, and we wait for the res­o­lu­tion, the restora­tion of or­der. As di­rected by Peter Tem­ple­man, Ti­mothy Hobart’s script is far more ad­ven­tur­ous and chal­leng­ing, es­pe­cially on free-to-air TV, and Seven must be ap­plauded for such a brac­ing se­ries that once would have seemed more at home on Fox­tel.

What’s in­ter­est­ing is the ef­fect of the crime on those in­no­cently and in­ex­tri­ca­bly tied to it. It’s a story of in­creas­ing anx­i­ety and dread, and we’re only at the end of the first episode.

All the con­ven­tions of the cop show are thrown out of kil­ter from the start and the prob­lems of guilt and com­plic­ity, of men­ace and vic­tim­i­sa­tion dom­i­nate the fren­zied ac­tion. There’s a lot go­ing on here, though it un­folds in a smart and gener­i­cally know­ing way, su­perbly re­alised in John Stokes’s noirish pho­tog­ra­phy.

One thing is cer­tain: th­ese two women, whose only role is to sur­vive the hos­tile world in which they find them­selves, are go­ing to pro­vide plenty of sur­prises as this grimly en­ter­tain­ing nar­ra­tive un­folds. Gibney is ter­rific; her usual steely ex­act­ness is re­placed here with vul­ner­a­bil­ity and a slight tremu­lous­ness — and an adroit way with some mor­dent one-lin­ers — al­though as al­ways she main­tains an acute con­trol over the shape of ev­ery line and move­ment. And Hakewill is a won­der­fully fresh lead­ing ac­tress, tall and charm­ingly un­gainly with a gift for sub­tle phys­i­cal com­edy. Wanted doesn’t make a sin­gle false move. It’s tight and grip­ping with two won­der­fully real women at its cen­tre. Bravo.

Mon­day, Show­case, 3.30pm ex­press and 7.30pm en­core.

Tues­day, Seven, 9pm.

The cast of Vinyl, left; Re­becca Gibney in below

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