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Looking through Kenneth Colley’s Eyes.. Does anyone else remember this film version of Ray Davies’ first solo album?

February 28, 2020


This wasn’t really a solo album… it was a Kinks album that Dave Davies wanted no part of – making the official credit “Ray Davies and members of he Kinks”.  The longer story of the relationship between the Davies brothers makes occasional tiffs between Lennon and McCartney look pretty lightweight.

The album soon became a film – which is just as well – because the music can only be described as sub-par by Ray Davies’ standards and needs visuals to sustain interest.  The idea of a nostalgic return to Waterloo becomes, necessarily, a meditation on not being able write songs like “Waterloo Sunset” anymore.  Of course, 99.99999999999% of humanity will never be able to write even one song as lovely as “Waterloo Sunset”.  To everything there is a season.

On the plus side, there’s something about Ray Davies’ rather cracked and awkward voice which gives pathos to rather cracked and awkward material.

The film is another matter, though.  The wayward songs score a film virtually without dialogue about a commuter train journey from Guildford to London Waterloo.  Its central character is just called “traveler”.  His daughter has left home and they don’t know where she is.  He himself may or may not be a serial rapist – at least he sort of resembles a wanted poster of one.  His marriage is in trouble.  Where does real life end and sinister day-dreamy fantasy begin?

The star of the film is Kenneth Colley’s face – one of the most perfectly sad faces you’ve ever seen in close up on any form of screen.  His face is so fascinatingly sad that Kenneth Colley is always invaluable in a comic context.  He played Jesus Christ in Life of Brian.  He also played a major role in The Testing of Eric Olthwaite alongside Michael Palin, which may just be the most perfect 30 minutes of comic drama the BBC has ever produced.

Kenneth Colley’s eyes seem to be so deep set in his face (resembling those of Samuel Beckett’s beloved Buster Keaton) that they look less like organs of sight than portals to another dimension – a universe even sadder than the universe the rest of Kenneth Colley seems to inhabit.  There’s something about looking into these pits of despair while listening to sub-par Ray Davies songs that is inexpressibly moving.

Oh, and you can see a very young Tim Roth in the film as leader of a small gang of “punks” who invade the train.  Ray Davies’ attempt to write a song in a punk idiom to introduce this character is rather proximate and timid, reflecting not actual punk in either the late seventies or the early 1980s, but rather (and perhaps more appropriately) the confused sense of dread that a tabloid misinterpretation of “punk” produced among the middle aged.  What we’re actually watching is actually that critical generational tipping point of when you’re sitting on a train and find yourself empathising more with bewildered pensioners than with screaming teenagers.

The cinematography is by Roger Deakins – now acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest cinematographers.  Fargo. 1917.  You should also watch this film if you want to feel nostalgic about travelling by train in London’s commuter belt in the 1980s.  While feeling nostalgic, you’ll be aware that you’re feeling nostalgic about a work of almost cloying nostalgia.  That’s where we’re at,  I suppose.


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