Glass talks to Simon Matthews, author of Psychedelic Celluloid

THE 1960s and ‘70s – an era with undeniable style and booming revolution in music, film and television. The book Psychedelic Celluloid looks at the significance of British pop music on the big screen by zooming into the era of the swinging sixties providing the ultimate catalogue of musical references in film and TV from that exciting period.

Glass sat down with author Simon Matthews to find out more about British popular culture and what inspired the book.

Psychedelic Celluloid

Book jacket

When did you start writing the book?
I wrote an article on 1960s pirate radio on the detail of who was doing it and why they were doing it; one of the major figures was Ronan O’Rahilly – and he ran . Ronan O’Rahilly produced three films, and because of this article I started researching it all and I remember seeing Girl on A Motorcycle and I thought, “it’ll be good to do a really good piece on all the pop films of the ‘60s that encapsulated pop culture and had a British single or band in it” because there were just so many. Pop culture at that time was very youth orientated as well so, I went from writing an article on Ronan O’Rahilly to doing all this research and eventually knocked it into some sort of shape where you could eventually start showing it to people in 2011-2012.

How long did it take in total to put it together?
Two years, but if somebody had said, “here’s some money Simon, just lock yourself in a room and give us a book when you’re finished” then I could have probably could have done it in six months.

Is sixties and seventies pop culture something you’ve always had an interest in?
Yeah. It’s certainly very different to what came before and it’s a lot better than what came afterwards for a considerable period of time. You didn’t see anything as good or as rich or as varied as it until at least the mid-1990s.

The Body film posterAuthor Simon Matthews

Why do you think that is?
It was killed off by government legislation and economics.

Why do you think the sixties and seventies left such a big mark on fashion and style?
It was a time of unlimited options, and it was a time when there was a lot of money comparatively in British cinema which allowed people to make all kinds of films that would never have got funding.

You mention in your book that London was the film capital of the world. How was this possible with the success of Hollywood?
It was very briefly. A Hard Day’s Night was made for £250,000, and it was one of the biggest box office hits in the US. If you made a film in the US, you’d spent about 1 million pounds, so A Hard Day’s Night was made with just a fraction of that budget. Hollywood studios at that point realised they could make lots of money if they made films in Britain. The same thing happened with James Bond. Doctor No was made really cheap and made a huge amount of money. It was made for the underspend on the entertainments budget on a typical Hollywood film so, it’s all partly because of the James Bond stuff and the Hard Day’s Night being such a Hollywood success, most of the Hollywood studios set up offices in London and began to spend a lot on UK film, and they had to have pop groups in them.

When bands feature in film and television now, they often face the criticism that they are selling out. Why do you think musicians were so willing to feature in such a commercial rival industry?
The answer to that is in two parts. Firstly, all the young men who were in pop groups in 1967 had all been brought up in household that didn’t have televisions and everyone went to the cinema. For them, being asked to be in a film was a big deal, and either way they wouldn’t have had a say in it because they’d been signed so they had to do it. People in those days just thought, “Oh cool, we’re in a film. My mum and dad will go and see that.”

A poster for the film The Body, featured in the book.

Do you think popular music plays as big a role in film and TV today?
I think there’s a lot more of it around but in a different format. There’s a lot of music used today and there’s all kinds of ways that music is available. It’s not used in a conventional way.

Would you write a book on current music?
It would be very difficult to research because one of the things that happened circa 1980s is that everyone started making videos – a lot of which aren’t very good – but lots of ok directors started making pop videos, so there would be thousands of them. A lot of it’s quite disposable and it would be hard to decide what’s good.

How did you decide on what content to include?
The process was that the film had to include a British group or singer in it, either acting or performing or doing the soundtrack.

What title do you think is the most influential?
Blow Up. It’s a very good example of that time because it’s the one that everyone has heard of so it’s an easy answer to give.

What are the difficulties of working around such a niche area?
One of the films in the book is called Connecting Rooms for instance and it’s mentioned in a couple of film reference books, and I couldn’t find anything about it anywhere. I couldn’t find any images for it, I couldn’t find a film poster for it so, I wrote a very brief account on it, and then two months after the text was finished, it appeared on Youtube for the first time ever and someone managed to find a film poster for it!

Can we expect a follow up?
Yeah, I’ve already done it. I’ve written a sequel and a prequel. Part of about it is about the preceding era in British culture, and the working title is The Kitchen Sink. The other one about the following era in 1975–1986 has a title with a line from the song of the period, but I’m not going to tell you.

by Katrina Mirpuri

Psychedelic Celluloid (£20) by Simon Matthews is available from here

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