The Ghost Goes Gear [DVD]
Director : Hugh Gladwish
Screenplay : Roger Dunton and Hugh Gladwish
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1966
Stars : Spencer Davis (Himself), Peter York (Himself), Muff Winwood (Himself), Steve Winwood (Himself), Nicholas Parsons (Algernon Rowthorpe), Jack Haig (Edwards), Sheila White (Polly)
In the mid-1960s, the Beatles starred in two films directed by Richard Lester, A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965), that not only helped solidify the all-encompassing global star power of the Fab Four, but also helped to revolutionize cinema. According to Andrew Sarris, A Hard Day's Night was a "cataclysmic cultural event" that marked the end of an era, and film scholar Robert B. Ray has noted that it was the film most responsible for introducing the aesthetics of European cinéma verité (the use of hand-held cameras, jump cutting, long tracking shots, etc.) to American audiences.
Because of the financial success of those two films and the rapid rise in popularity of British rock in the U.S., producers scrambled like mad to ape the Beatles' success with their own variations on the British Invasion pop movie. These included Having a Wild Weekend (1965) with the DC 5, Hold On! (1966) with Herman's Hermits, and, until now, an almost never-seen-in-the-U.S. flick called The Ghost Goes Gear, starring the Spencer Davis Group.
The Spencer Davis Group consisted of guitarist/singer Spencer Davis, drummer Pete York, and brothers Muff and Steve Winwood (Steve, of course, would go on to a substantial solo career in the '70s and '80s). At the time The Ghost Goes Gear was made in 1966, the four band members were in their late teens and early 20s, yet they were already at the top of their careers, having scored several number one hits and played alongside the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Who. The Spencer Davis Group was lumped in with other pop artists, but much of their sound was distinctly blues-based, with even a few twangs of country. Of course, most of their biggest hits, including "I'm a Man" and "Gimme Some Lovin'," were pure British pop rock, but their musical range was wide and far-reaching.
The Ghost Goes Gear was a quickie movie, sloppily thrown together to cash in on the British Invasion frenzy. For those not up with their "mod" lingo, the phrase "goes gear" in the title is roughly analogous to "being cool" or "getting with it." The ghost of the title haunts an English manor visited by the Spencer Davis Group. The manor is owned by the family of Algernon Rowthorpe (British game show host Nicholas Parsons), the band's stiff, upper-class manager.
Not surprisingly, there is little or no plot to speak of outside of that, and the first 40 minutes of the film act as a bare-bones set-up that gives an excuse (the need to raise money to save the crumbling manor) so that a concert can be put together for the grand finale. The fund-raising concert, which takes up the last third of the film, plays like a who's who of obscure mid-’60s mod groups, including Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band, The Three Bells, St. Louis Union, and the Lorne Gibson Trio.
One doesn't have to watch much of The Ghost Goes Gear to see how cinematically inept it is. While much of the music in the film is quite good, the acting is painfully amateurish, and one-time director Hugh Gladwish doesn't help his fledgling performers by throwing scenes together with no style or sense of purpose. Some scenes are sped up in a hopeless attempt to look wacky, pratfalls and screwball-type rapid-fire dialogue abound, while the threadbare narrative is often ground to a sudden halt to include badly lip-synched musical numbers. The humor throughout the film is self-consciously bad, so much so that it becomes funny out of a sheer force of embarrassment.
Of course, such criticisms are almost beside the point. No one could possibly hope to defend The Ghost Goes Gear as good cinema, so its relative importance can only be fixed in its particular historical moment, which is why it was such an excellent choice as an entry in the 1999 American Cinematheque film festival titled "Mods and Rockers: Groovy Movies From the Shagadelic '60s" (which, incidentally, marked the film's American premiere, since it was never seen stateside during its original run 33 years earlier).
Only those with a proclivity for bad British pop comedy outside of the satirical bite of Austin Powers movies could truly say they like this movie. While The Ghost Goes Gear is often referred to as a long-lost cult classic, it is, more than anything else, the epitome of a long-lost guilty pleasure.
|The Ghost Goes Gear DVD|
|Audio||English Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements|| Running audio commentary with Spencer Davis and humorist Martin Lewis|
History of the Spencer Davis Group
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||April 23, 2000|
|The anamorphic digital transfer was mastered from the only uncut print of the film known to exist (apparently, the film also exists in a badly mangled 50-minute cut). Considering the age of the film and the fact that it has been essentially missing for so many years, the source materials must have been in exceedingly good shape because the image is very clean, free of any nicks, scratches, or dust. The transfer was nicely done, with good detail and no artifacting. The color seems a little bit faded, but that may be the intended look of the film.|
|The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack isn't particularly notable, but it is functional. The sound is generally clean, and the dialogue (despite some heavy Welsh accents) is always understandable.|
|The running audio commentary with Spencer Davis and Martin Lewis is the most engaging aspect of this disc. It runs something like a laid-back interview, with Lewis asking Davis various questions about the film. Much of their repertoire is quite hilarious (much more so than the film itself). Some notable moments include Lewis using Spencer's clean white chompers to dispel the notion that all Englishmen have bad teeth and Lewis starting in on the fact co-star Sheila White went on to make primarily sex farces in the 1970s. The commentary does offer some interesting history on both the Spencer Davis Group and the film itself, and what is so refreshing about it is the fact that these two refuse to take the film seriously in any way, even as a historical document. The best line is when they are discussing the fact that the director, Hugh Gladwish, never made another film, and Lewis says dryly, "Well, I guess he said everything he had to say about the human condition with this film." Indeed.|
Copyright ©2000 James Kendrick