Nostalgia trip: a film, a book and song on the theme of children

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 May, 2015, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 3:08pm

Children of the Revolution
T. Rex

Childhood was something of an obsession for T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, who was himself a curiously childlike figure. The track Children of the Revolution completed the band's transformation from 1960s hippie folkies to hip-swinging, glitter-coated, '70s glam rockers, slowing down the tempo for a grinding, gritty boogie.

A swaggering celebration of teen rebellion that has become popular as a protest anthem (although there really isn't much by way of lyrics), it set the template for the rock-infused eclecticism of T. Rex's later career.

But it was also part of a recurring theme in Bolan's songs: Child Star on 1968 album My People Were Fair; Elemental Child on 1970's A Beard of Stars; The Children of Rarn on 1970's T. Rex; My Little Baby from 1976's Futuristic Dragon; and Teen Riot Structure from the band's final album before Bolan's death aged 29, 1977's Dandy in the Underworld.

But by 1974's Teenage Dream, the frontman had gone from using adolescence as a symbol of optimism to using it as a symbol of everything he had lost, as he became increasingly detached and went into tax exile, seemingly following the washed-up pop-star handbook.

His seventh single, Children of the Revolution was controversial among fans for its slow, dirty feel, and for the fact that, unlike most of their previous hits, it was difficult to dance to. But then plenty of their fans didn't like the band going electric after they had made four acoustic albums. And the results of doing so had been spectacular: before releasing Children of the Revolution as a non-album single, T. Rex had unleashed a non-stop stream of unforgettable pop classics, beginning in 1970 with Ride a White Swan, followed by Hot Love, Get It On, Jeepster, Telegram Sam and Metal Guru.

Children of the Revolution was a No2 hit after four of the band's five previous singles had been No1s, and T. Rex never had a No1 again.

Many artists have covered the song: it was given a dark, atmospheric treatment by indie-rock legends Violent Femmes in 1986; turned into slow, squelchy, glitchy electro by dance-rock band Soulwax in 2000; and in 2011 it was given a stadium-rock rendition by the Scorpions.

Children of the Revolution, the last flare of Bolan's sure-fire hit-making touch, represents T. Rex at their purest, a youth-riot stomp-along from a musical legend who hadn't yet grown jaded before his time - a man who became a symbol of youth for the most tragic reason.

Village of the Damned - English Gothic brought to screen

George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Martin Stephens
Director: Wolf Rilla

This well-crafted science fiction thriller is a good example of the quality sci-fi that Britain was producing in the 1950s and '60s.

Adapted from The Midwich Cuckoos, a novel by John Wyndham ( The Day of the Triffids), the film features a group of schoolchildren as emotionless villains, breaking an unwritten rule in Western culture that children can be depicted as evil only if they are reacting to harsh or cruel treatment themselves.

The story starts with the residents of Midwich, a fictional English village, passing out en masse one morning. The event is investigated by the military, which is stumped. A few months later, all local women of childbearing age discover they are pregnant - even the virgins.

When the children are born, they exhibit incredible intelligence, as well as telepathic and mind-reading abilities. Scientists conclude they are aliens, and the authorities want to lock them up. But Professor Zellaby (George Sanders), whose wife gave birth to one of the children, convinces the government that their powers can be harnessed for good.

Zellaby sequesters the children in an old schoolhouse, and begins tutoring them. But after watching the children kill a villager by setting him on fire, Zellaby realises he has made a mistake and must find a way of dealing with their mind-reading powers so he can destroy them.

The rural setting and brooding atmosphere of Village of the Damned make it as much English Gothic as science fiction, something that's accentuated by the black-and-white photography. Although it's not a B-movie - Sanders was quite a big name - the budget didn't extend to many special effects and the horrors take place off-screen. Yet far from looking cheap, this heightens the sense of malice in the movie.

The one special effect that was used - the children's luminescent eyes - might look cheesy today, but back in the day, British censors deemed the eyes too scary and the shots were replaced by wide-eyed stares for the release there.

Controversy preceded the start of shooting in the US, with religious authorities protesting the virgin births, and the production was transferred from the US to Britain.

The film was made before the Swinging Sixties assaulted the British class system, so it's peopled with toffs with stiff upper lips, and people who need the benevolent hand of authority. But direction by German-born Wolf Rilla, who'd trained at the BBC, was adept - and he did his best to humanise the starched characters and keep the plot suspenseful.


Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski - making a meal of childhood

Ham on Rye
by Charles Bukowski
Black Sparrow Books

From the start, Henry Chinaski's life is hell. In his earliest memory, he is hiding under a table, hearing furious adults scream at each other.

The backdrop to this childhood misery is the city where dirty-realist author Charles Bukowski grew up: Los Angeles. Stuck in high school during the Great Depression, Bukowski's semi-fictional double mourns suddenly losing his looks.

"I was 16, tan, blond and good looking, catching waves on my yellow surfboard … Little did I know this mini-heaven would quickly end and hell would begin in September. Why? My smooth-skinned tan face turned into an acne-filled mess. I suffered pimple by pimple for three years straight; many fat red pimples popping up every day," he recounts.

Adding to the agony, Chinaski's dad is a monster. The first world war veteran beats him with a leather strap, driving the budding outcast to find solace in alcohol, masturbation and retreating to bed. "I liked to stay in bed for hours. It was good in there, nothing ever occurred in there, no people, nothing," he says.

Another retreat is the Los Angeles Public Library. "Words weren't dull; words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you."

Chinaski's name, which evokes Eastern Europe and Asia alike, underlines his estrangement from American society. His bitterly honest story's title riffs on another coming-of-age novel, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Twinned with Chinaski's avowed love of language, the overtones give Ham on Rye a literary vibe.

In step with Bukowski's other output, however, Ham and Rye is gross. Look no further than the oft-quoted passage where Chinaski celebrates the laxative, supposedly fragrant effect of excessive beer consumption.

Some readers may be repelled by such crudity. Others may just find it cheap - a laboured attempt at annoying snobby critics irked by his obsession with sex, drink and hardship, which makes Bukowski resemble a one-trick pony.

Even still, it is hard not to be charmed by his trademark blue-collar flights of philosophy. "You only had one shot. Why be a window-washer?" Chinaski asks, presaging Eminem.

Even if you find Bukowski's take obtuse and predictable, you must admire the candour. Ham and Rye exposes the awfulness of Bukowski's upbringing, pimple by pimple.