A couple of decent early 70s British pop exploitation films – That’ll Be The Day (1973) and Slade in Flame (1975) – transcend their teen idol marketing to offer a glimpse behind the veil to something more adult and profound. By comparison, Born To Boogie (1972) is a quick cash in on the back of Marc Bolan and T.Rex‘s then chart-topping dominance, yet stands as a record of both the band at their peak and a time when ‘T.Rexstacy’ gripped the nation.
Bouyed by the success of their defining Electric Warrior album, Bolan had achieved a level of fame the then-still struggling David Bowie resented (“It was terrible, we fell out for about six months,” Bowie noted later), and a single to promote the forthcoming The Slider album, ‘Telegram Sam’, reached number one two months before filming, cementing the fact that, for the moment, Bolan had the nation’s teens in the palm of his hand.
Filmed during performances at Wembley Empire Pool in March 1972, Bolan and director Ringo Starr (the film was an Apple Production) fleshed out the running time with a hotch-potch of barely sketched Magical Mystery Tour-inspired skits and musical cameos from Elton John and Starr that almost all fall flat. As if to deflect criticism, Bolan said of the project, “We made the film strictly for a teenage audience who demand youthful excitement at the cinema as well as on television and in the theatre. I think the film does that – no more, no less.”
To that end, Born To Boogie works. Essentially a power trio at this point – plus Mickey Finn on percussion – the concert footage may surprise the uninitiated: T.Rex rock, with Bolan tossing out his primitive riffs to an ecstatic crowd and clearly revelling in his popularity. (It’s hard not to come away without thinking Jack White simply lifted Bolan’s entire stage persona.) ‘Get It On’ may be stretched out to a patience-testing eleven minutes-plus but ‘Jeepster’ and ‘Telegram Sam’ showcase Bolan’s knack for contemporising his 1950s influences for an audience ready to embrace what would become glam rock.
The audience shots themselves serve as a delightful snapshot of contemporary life – brightly coloured tanks tops and gaudy make-up being the order of the day – but it’s also striking how much fun the young audience are having, dancing and throwing themselves about in un-self-conscious manner that today’s too-cool kids would baulk at. Yet it’s Bolan that the camera really loves, and even when the tempo drops for a (slightly out-of-tune) ‘Cosmic Dancer’, it’s easy to understand why Britain fell so hard for him, even if his old friend Bowie would ultimately have the global success Bolan never achieved.
Shot on 16mm, this blu-ray looks pretty good (although the framing looks tight) but Edsel are asking fans and completists to choose from a bewildering array of formats in order to pick up various bonus features and edits. A standalone DVD/blu-ray or a single, all-encompassing ‘super deluxe’ edition might have been a fairer solution for all. Formatting concerns aside, Born To Boogie is a solid reminder of a time when pop and rock met head on, and Marc Bolan was the pied piper who brought a little stardust back into the lives of British kids.