Breaking Glass


‘…a gritty British music-industry drama that lands…somewhere between Black Swan and Vox Lux…’

I must have been an impressionable 11 year old when I saw a few clips from upcoming movie Breaking Glass as part of my Saturday morning television beat; who wouldn’t be wowed by singer Hazel O’Connor, dressed much like the robot Maria from Metropolis, blasting out the song Eighth Day as lazers fire into dark, adoring, angry crowds? Yes, this is what modern music would be like! Produced by Princess Di’s almost father-in-law Dodi Fayed amongst others, this is a gritty British music-industry drama that lands, in the full cut, somewhere between Black Swan and Vox Lux. It’s about the dangers of pop music, as experienced by soon-to-be-pop star Kate Crowley. ‘The charts is a lot of crap anyway,’ says Kate, but girls is players too and things inevitably change…

Opening with the strident Writing on the Wall, Kate doesn’t do things the easy or commercial way, haranguing her loyal audience and accusing them of harbouring mindless adulatory sentiment- ‘You’re a programme!’ Managing such a free spirit is hard work; Kate’s band get screwed over by various (male) record industry creeps in bars, as regular a fixture as fixed chart positions and industry office rubber plants. We also see what passed in 80’s Britain for seduction (‘I’ve got a packet of biscuits upstairs,’) and navigate the Seig Heil Nazi provocateurs that always seem to accompany right-wing governments at a rally where the opposing crowds are assuredly not wowed by Kate’s provocative song I Am The Black Man. Kate’s band are something to behold, including, on sax, the smooth stylings of Mr Jonathan Pryce (crowd noise), on production duties, give it up for Harry Potter’s Richard Griffith (cheers, applause), and as a Tony Visconti-style record producer, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Macbeth himself Jon Finch (crowd noise), and last, but not least, even the great Jim Broadbent has a cameo as a train platform staff-member. But none of them can hold a candle to Kate, with the anthemic Will You capturing the melancholy, angry mood here.

‘Sh-t, this is a w-nk!’ must be the most British line of dialogue in any film ever, and the general outlook is authentically dour; while success is praised as the best drug in the world, poor Kate Crowley gets hooked on something different. Starting out being characterised as a ‘scary bitch’ by men, she gets worn down by the constant touring and adrenaline shots in the backside before she goes on stage. ‘We’re heading towards 1984, Machines are taking over…silicon chips,’ she babbles to a radio interviewer. Kate/Maria obediently re-records a song to replace the word arse with nose to appease the airplay execs. ‘Pain in the nose’ doesn’t make much sense as a lyric, but we can see that all the constant creative pressure means Kate’s losing her mojo. The US version cuts to black immediately after the final concert in order to end on a triumphant note that’s very different to the fuller, UK version that makes clear that Kate’s manic pop dream is over. ‘What do you mean by anarchic?’ Kate once asked, but Brian Gibson’s intense, powerful film never has time to form a definition before the patriarchal pressures of manager, band, producers and assembled staff rebirth Kate Crowley as a malfunctioning, lobotomised fembot.


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  1. I think everyone was impressionable where Hazel O’Connor was concerned. But if you’ve never seen Footloose you had better remedy that situation asap. Not sure Lithgow ever pemtted much in any film.

  2. I did see this on release in 1980. My memories are mostly to do with its setting in Camden and the general feel of the period when Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League were things (and good things too).

    • Yup, lots of location work and footage of anti-fascist rallies. And we can agree, these were a good thing.

  3. How do you pronounce “Sht this is a wnk”? That header pic made me think this was a Tron sequel I hadn’t heard of. Alas, nothing is as old as the new wave now.

    • I’ve had to return to that phrase; WP is reading * as nothing, so I’ve had to put in a dash to conceal the swear for snowflakes in my audience. Nobody in the Uk has ever said “sh-t, this is a w-nk’, but it does sound like something we would say.

      Yup, I thought this was going to be sci-fi when I was a nipper, and maybe it is…

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