By Mike Finkelstein
On Friday night at the Egyptian Theatre, the American Cinematheque screened what could possibly have been the only showing of Midnight to Six, a truly entertaining and satisfying tutorial on the career of the legendary Pretty Things. This is one of five (so far) projects focusing on influential bands of the British Invasion in the series of documentaries put together by the archivist wizards at Reeling in The Years productions. All of these projects feature extensive, insightful, and informative interviews and full-length musical performances that completely immerse the viewer in the band’s world. You couldn’t get any closer to the topic through a film.
The British Invasion began in the wake of the Beatles’ phenomenal success in the U.S. The floodgates opened up and a torrent of fascinating and wonderful British talent flooded the U.S. radio market, basically putting the music squarely on the map and on the minds of, well, pretty much anyone who heard it. On Saturday, Midnight to Six, featuring the Pretty Things was shown as a double feature with All or Nothing about the Small Faces. This is noteworthy because, as legendary as both these bands were in the British Invasion, neither of them enjoyed more than a blip of any noteworthy radio success in the US…and never toured in this country during the 60’s when the movement was blowing up.
The Pretty Things’ history actually is cinematic on its own merit. With several members attending art school alongside members of the Rolling Stones, the Pretty Things took up music for fun and expression and followed in the Stones’ wake playing art school dances and such. Midnight to Six brings out fascinating pieces of humor and irony from interviews with original members Phil May, Dick Taylor and John Stax. As the film progresses we cannot help but begin thinking that these guys were a real life Spinal Tap, right down to having a weird succession of drummers with a knack for getting into big trouble and drumming on anything available. I actually found myself wondering if director Rob Reiner or any of his researchers for Spinao Tap weren’t fans of the band.
The Pretty Things began as a good time rhythm and blues band, taking their name as a giggle from “Pretty Thing” by Bo Diddley. Aware that the Stones concentrated on Chuck Berry, and the Yardbirds on Howlin’ Wolf, the Pretty Things offer that they chose toconcentrate on Bo Diddley’s catalogue and within five years of image changes, personnel changes, personal leaves, losses of sanity, pill popping, and acid trips they evolved into an adventurous, psychedelic, progressive rock band. Ambitious harmonies, Mellotrons, esoteric guitar tunings, and working with imaginative production finally got them to a place with S.F. Sorrow where they were actually satisfied with the way their art was developing, if not selling. And, yes, the music does sound quite like Spinal Tap in places.
This film is a tickle because it all actually happened. There is one scene where the band are filming themselves near the docks and a woman comes walking through the shoot…walking a goat and totally unplanned! At this point, drummer Skip Alan decides to take his cymbal for a strolling play and can barely stand up. You can see the spontaneity in this and other stoned moments for the band. There is a prodigious amount of fascinating footage that has been assembled for this project and it is all a pleasure to watch. It would be a shame if Midnight To Six were not to see the light of day.
But this is a world where, perhaps more than ever before, it’s still all about profit, even in a medium where the big idea is simply to galvanize a performer’s legacy as original, influential, and seminal. These projects aren’t aimed at a large market, but they will delight those of us who are interested and are finally getting to learn a lot more about the performers. Currently, the Midnight to Six team is out of money and thus cannot clear/buy the rights to release it. So it remains waiting in the can. Saturday’s screening was an effort to generate interest in getting the project to see the light of day.
Producer David Peck was on hand as part of a panel discussion and we understood his huge enthusiasm for the project as well as the frustration of working the dynamics of getting through the red tape and bullshit to simply get the film released. It put him 50 grand into a personal hole of debt and that’s sad. Hopefully, there is someone out there who has the nerve, the resources, and the good intentions to get this deal done.
To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.