The Legend of Leigh Bowery is a brilliant documentary about a brilliant man.
Directed by Charles Atlas, the film covers Bowery’s life and times from his suburban beginnings in Sunshine, Australia, to his fame on London’s club scene in the 1980s and his success as one of the most influential and daring fashion designers in the past thirty years.
The Legend of Leigh Bowery has incredible archive footage and excellent contributions from Michael Clark, Sue Tilley, Michael Bracewell, Richard Torry, Donald Urquhart, Damien Hirst, Boy George and Leigh’s wife, Nicola Bowery.
This excellent documentary on Malcolm McLaren was originally shown as part of Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show in 1984, when McLaren was recording Fans—his seminal fusion of R&B and opera. Apart from great access and behind-the-scenes footage, the film and boasts revealing interviews with Boy George, Adam Ant, Bow-Wow-Wow’s Annabella Lwin, Sex Pistol, Steve Jones, as well as the great man himself.
Everyone whoever came into contact with McLaren had an opinion of the kind of man he was and what he was about. Steve Jones thought him a con man; Adam Ant didn’t understand his anarchy; Boy George couldn’t fathom his lack of interest in having success, especially when he could have had it all; while Annabella Lwin pointed out how he used people to do the very things he wanted to do himself.
All of the above are true. But for McLaren, the answer was simple: “Boys will be boys,” and he saw his role was as:
“To question authority and challenge conventions, is what makes my life exciting.”
Out of the ashes of Punk came the New Romantics, rising like a painted phoenix over London’s club scene. From clubs like Billy’s and Blitz, where Steve Strange and Rusty Egan played Bowie, the Velvets and T.Rex, and Boy George was the coat-check guy, came the New Romantics. Clubbers known as the Blitz Kids, who were made-up and beautiful, and knew imagination was more important than money when it came to having fun.
The Blitz Kids were Steve Strange (Visage), Rusty Egan (The Rich Kids), Boy George (Culture Club), Tony Hadley, Martin Kemp, Gary Kemp, John Keeble, Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet), Tony James, James Degville (Sigue Sigue Sputnik), Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama), Marilyn, Princess Julia, Isabella Blow, Stephen Jones and Michael Clarke, and together they were the generation of New Romantics.
Last year, in the Guardian, Priya Elan talked to some of the “movers and shakers behind the scene that spawned the New Romantics.”
STEVE STRANGE, BLITZ CLUB HOST, VISAGE FRONTMAN: By 1977 I’d gotten very bored by punk. It’d become very violent. The skinheads and the National Front had moved in.
RUSTY EGAN, BLITZ DJ, VISAGE MEMBER: The punk venues got invaded by football hooligans wearing Le Coq Sportif clothes. They’d call us “poofs” because we weren’t dressed in a normal way. Hence why we formed the club. It was for those ex-punks who liked Lou Reed, Bowie and Iggy.
SS: It was about being creative, we wanted to start something that didn’t have anything to do with punk.
RE: It was a horrible time of recession. Covent Garden was isolated and badly lit. But then you’d walk into the club and it was like “Ta-da!” Everyone was drinking and taking poppers. The atmosphere was like Studio 54.
SIOBHAN FAHEY, BLITZ CLUBBER AND BANANARAMA MEMBER: We’d spend the whole week preparing our outfits for the club. We’d go and buy fabrics, customise our leather jackets, make cummerbunds, find old military things and throw them together in a mix of glam, military and strangeness. It was all DIY because we didn’t really have any money to properly eat. We lived off coffee and cigarettes, really.
RE: The song that became the anthem of the club was Heroes by Bowie. “Just for one day” you could dress up and be more than what Britain had to offer you.
Will George O’Dowd still be Boy George when he hits his half-century later this year? Man George doesn’t have the same hook to it - sounding like something a porn star would use; and we can never think of him as Middle-Aged George, even though that’s closer to the truth. For the wonderfully soulful-voiced O’Dowd has been a fixture of pop culture for thirty years, and he is now as lovable a character as the Queen Mum was to London cab drivers. Add to this his back catalog of hits and a shelf-full of notable tales - from his own fair share of ups and downs as internationally successful pop star, actor, writer, ex-druggie, ex-convict and DJ - and you’ll see why Boy George is a modern pop culture hero.
In 2000, George presented The Chemical Generation a fascinating documentary examining “the Acid House, rave and club culture revolution and also the generations favourite chemical - ecstasy.” This gem was first broadcast in the UK on Channel 4, on the 27 May 2000, and it is:
...the story of British club and drug culture from the early days of acid house. The documentary includes interviews with promoters, bouncers, drug dealers and the clubbers themselves, shot in clubs and bars around London and club footage from across the country. Interviewees include (DJs) Danny Rampling, Judge Jules, Nicky Holloway, Pete Tong, Lisa Loud, Mike Pickering, Dave Haslan, along with Ken Tappenden (former Divisional Commander of Kent Police) and writer (Trainspotting) Irvine Welsh.
The background to rave in the UK goes something like this:
In 1987 four working class males, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling, Nicky Holloway and Johnny Walker found themselves in clubs across Ibiza, listening to the music which was to make them legends in the dance scene and transform the face of youth subculture in Britain. Not only did they discover the musical genre of Acid House, played by legendary house DJ’s Alredo Fiorillio and Jose Padilla in clubs such as Amnesia and Pacha, they were also crucially introduced to the drug MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy. Johnny Walker describes the experience:
“It was almost like a religious experience; a combination of taking ecstasy and going to a warm, open-air club full of beautiful people - you’re on holiday, you feel great and you’re suddenly being exposed to entirely different music to what you were used to in London. This strange mixture was completely fresh and new to us, and very inspiring”
The Chemical Generation covers their story and more, and giving an excellent history of Rave Culture, its drugs, its stars, and its music.
Bonus clip, Boy George sings ‘The Crying Game’, after the jump…
Could this be the worst celebrity guest star appearance in television history? Methinks so. Watch the cringe-worthy trailer below. Also, take note on how Boy George delivers his line “Totally awesome, Hannibal.” It’s sheer brilliance.
You can watch the entire episode titled “Cowboy George” over at Hulu. Thank God!