There’s a special moment in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds when an elderly ornithologist says it’s against our feathered friends’ nature to strike out against people — and then witnesses the dear winged creatures launch a full-scale attack on humankind. The vacant glaze on her face when, in an instant, her whole life’s work has been rendered useless is priceless; and it’s a tactic that British comedian Paul Kaye uses to great effect in It’s All Gone Pete Tong.
Kaye plays raver DJ Frankie Wilde, who turns the techno music world on its ear, only to find it has left him deaf. If you can imagine Keith Richards at his most elegantly wasted in the ’70s — like the notorious rumor that he tried to record a guitar solo on bass for 20 minutes before finally giving up — you’ve got some idea of Kaye’s starting point. A zonked-out reveler, Frankie’s extended drug and booze hangover postpones his realization of his rapid descent into silence until the very last moment. Fortunately, Frankie undergoes a transformation that leaves him with startling new insights on music and life that are neither straight-laced nor moralistic — rather like Keith Richards after a blood transfusion.
This mockumentary owes just as much to Citizen Kane as it does to This is Spinal Tap or Fear of a Black Hat. Frankie’s story is told through wicked send-ups of soulless record industry executives and hack music journalists. There are notable performances throughout, particularly by Mike Wilmot, who plays Frankie’s sleazy American manager, and Kate Magowan as Sonja, Frankie’s trophy wife who is anything but a prize. Canadian screenwriter-director Michael Dowse bravely combines spot-on spoof with two potential comedy cancers: overcoming drug addiction and a permanent physical handicap. If you remember what a laugh riot Ray was, you’ll appreciate the lack of melodrama and cheap pathos on display here. Dowse plays Frankie’s deafness for laughs (in a nod to Spinal Tap, we actually get to see some eardrums bleed) and we’re allowed to inhabit Frankie’s drug dependence, which comes to him in the form of a giant coke badger. This is probably the most literal depiction of beating cocaine addiction in any film you’re likely to see, unless Sylvester Stallone decides to go a few rounds with a vial of white powder in Rocky VI.
The film’s title stems from the genuinely world famous DJ Pete Tong, who makes a cameo appearance as himself. But that’s probably more than you need to know about techno music or rave culture to enjoy It’s All Gone Pete Tong. As far as “redemption through music” films, this one doesn’t miss a beat.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).
Serene Dominic writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].