One moment in: ‘Melody’ - Sports day
Waris Hussein, 1971, UK
Wes Anderson is quoted on the cover calling Waris Hussein’s ‘Melody’ (1971) “a forgotten, inspiring gem”, and in the chock-full coming-of-age genre, this as enchanting and as affecting as any. It has that decidedly British 1960-70s feel that’s part rough-and-tumble, part cheeky-chappy, part whimsy. As they were so successful in ‘Oliver’, Jack Wild and Mark Lester are paired again as odd-couple friends. This time, Lester is a doe-eyed kid who just wants to marry his first love, Melody (Tracy Hynde). Wild is the loveable delinquent that gets involved and has pangs of jealousy. His deadpan delivery of “I thought you might” is a highlight. And many supporting faces will be familiar to anyone watching TV during that time. ‘Melody’ scores by treating the children’s romanticism seriously and as a proper put-down to the adult world.
The moment where Daniel and Melody bond through playing their instruments is a peak moment and the whole escapade all ends with some ‘Hue and Cry’ kid’s anarchy; the former scene could easily be chosen for this post, but I am going to go for the sports day sequence. Oh, I am sure there’s some nostalgia at play in my choice here, for anyone that was a kid experiencing sports day in that era will find memories and feelings stirred. There’s bound to be a little shock for younger audiences that it so casually has very young kids smoking, or a teacher asking a boy if it is whiskey he smells on his breath, but it was a very different era.
Key to the sports day vignettes are that they are set to the Bee Gees ‘To Love Somebody’. It’s mostly through Nina Simone’s devastating version that I came to this song: I'm not a Bee Gees fan yet I have to admit to finding this track affecting. But its placement here is both surprising and transcendent, underscoring the whole school event with Daniel’s romantic longing. The music is like the sound of Daniel reminiscing as an older man about the sports day when he first had a big crush; the song's slight incongruity makes this moment feel like a memory. Yet it’s also music that places it firmly in the era. The song is slick and yearning and gives a gloss and elevation to the sports day montage that could quite easily have come from ‘Grange Hill’ or Ealing Studios. That it feels slightly at odds with the rough edges of an unremarkable school event provokes a surprising elegance and pathos.
Oh, and watch out for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on the soundtrack too.