How to Talk to Punks at Parties

Published: July 3rd, 2018

Category: Blog

My favorite movie so far this summer? How to Talk to Girls at Parties, released in the U.S. in late May. I teach a “PostPunk Cultures” course on the British 1980s, so of course I had to see a film set on the fringes of punk culture in 1977 (the year of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee). Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, my favorite summer movie generated from Neil Gaiman’s short story and graphic novel of the same name. Extraterrestrial aliens launch a stealth invasion of suburban London, hiding out in a house and donning Union Jack rain slickers to blend in with the public. Reviewing the film, Anthony Lane notes its nods to Stanley Kubrick’s pre-punk A Clockwork Orange (1971). I find a fitting predecessor in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee (1978), widely considered the first punk film.

Jarman features alienated English punks who emerge from their London house to make mayhem in public. In both films the emerging generation walks through derelict spaces of decaying buildings and Britishness. How to Talk to Girls at Parties imports beings from a technological future beyond London’s reach. Jarman’s menacing punk characters cry “No Future!” as they firebomb a house.

Without giving too much away, I’ll quickly note some punk parallels:

  • Historical sense. In How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Nicole Kidman plays the punk maven Queen Boadicea. In Jubilee, Jenny Runacre plays Bod, the punk tribe’s queen (she also plays a time-traveling Queen Elizabeth I). Kidman fashions armor in her workshop and rules her nightclub. In Jubilee, Jordan dons a helmet and wields a trident to punk up Rule, Britannia!
  • Fetishistic scenes. In HtTtGaP, aliens lure unsuspecting local teens behind closed doors for disturbingly perverse pleasures. In Jubilee, punk girls lure a lad to their house for more sadistic pursuits. Garish plastic covers bodies for both occasions.
  • Remediation. In self-reflexive fashion, HtTtGaP acknowledges its prior forms by flash-forwarding its comic-drawing protagonist to a bookstore. Jarman incorporates his Super-8 short “Jordan’s Dance” into Jubilee, flashing back to the film’s beginnings before Jordan became Amyl Nitrate.
  • Consuming the young. In the alien elder’s vision of No Future in HtTtGaP, the young go first. In Jubilee, music mogul Borgia Ginz squeezes profits from young punk singers like Adam Ant and The Slits: I don’t create it. I own it. I suck and suck and suck.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties looks back at punk, so nostalgia and the comic romance plot put a safety cap on its edginess. Still, it’s satisfying to see cosmic punk encounters begetting a multicultural future for this reimagined 1977. The film is now available online, and will be released to DVD next month. –MB


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