David Lister: The Week in Arts

It's not enough to be a rock star any more
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The Independent Online

Liam Gallagher said this week that he is to be in a film. The Oasis singer has been lined up to play a gangster in a new film, which will also star Robert Carlyle. Well, it had to happen. For rock stars, making a movie is a rite of passage. It comes somewhere between playing Glastonbury and doing the American Express ad.

But why do rock stars want to be in movies? I've never quite got it. They don't aspire to any other art form. You don't see Liam dropping a hint to an interviewer that he might be doing a turn as Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House, or pirouetting with the Ballet Boyz at Sadler's Wells. Nor will he be trying his luck at stand-up at the Edinburgh Festival, or starring with brother Noel in The Comedy of Errors for the Royal Shakespeare Company. (Actually, that might just work. I would like a producer's fee if the RSC take up the idea.)

But from the earliest days of rock'n'roll, every singer has reckoned he, or occasionally she, can act. Elvis set the ball rolling. The Beatles followed, as did Sting, Cher, Roger Daltrey and Madonna. But Liam Gallagher should be careful. Elvis lost a lot of street cred with some of his films. The Beatles played themselves rather well, but that's a lot different from playing a gangster. Madonna started well but ended up collecting a lot of raspberry awards. And those are the pop stars turned actors we remember. What about the ones that won't be getting retrospectives at the National Film Theatre?

The Beatles' 1964 movie A Hard Day's Night is seen as a classic of its type. But how many people know or want to know that another chart-topping band had a film out at the same time? Catch Us If You Can starring the Dave Clark Five has been airbrushed out of cinematic history. So have many other period pieces too excruciating for video and DVD. It's Trad, Dad was one early Sixties vehicle for many of the pop stars of the moment. But who would want that title in their living room, let alone the film?

And those who think any rock star can act being a rock star should watch again Paul Simon's embarrassed and embarrassing cameo in Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Not a pretty sight.

Pop stars have a rather quaint attitude to acting. They tend, with the odd rare exception, to avoid stage acting as that is a bit too much like hard work. But films look pretty easy and anyway are cooler. And for some reason, they think that the skills involved in being a musician and those involved in being an actor are transferable. It doesn't happen the other way round. Robert Carlyle won't be playing the Isle of Wight; Judi Dench won't be joining Paul McCartney at Live8. Actors would probably love an adoring crowd of 50,000 people watching them. But they recognise that singing or playing an instrument is a different skill from theirs.

Rock stars have no truck with such skills differentiation, or with such things as training, voice coaching and experience. Film acting, they have decided, is easy. Liam Gallagher might find that it is. Or he might find, when the awards are given out, that he's seen less as Johnny Depp and more as Dave Clark.

Whatever happened to loyalty?

What an emotional night it was at the English National Opera. The company's outgoing music director Paul Daniel, was conducting Berg's opera Lulu, pictured. At the end of the performance Mr Daniel came on stage to take a bow. All of a sudden, there was an outburst of booing.

Looking up at the box from where the jeers were emanating, Mr Daniel was startled to see his own marketing director, Ian McKay, leading the catcalls. It emerged this week that Mr McKay was unhappy with an interview Mr Daniel had given criticising certain aspects of the running of ENO.

Only in the cosseted world of a subsidised national arts company could someone boo one's colleague in front of an audience and keep one's job. But at least it keeps the arts controversial.

Perhaps the head of the RSC will sit with the school parties, yawn and nudge his neighbours and whisper: "Isn't Shakespeare boring!" Maybe the director of the Royal Ballet will yell "Stop prancing about" to a principal dancer. Doing a McKay could bring a whole new frisson to live performance.

¿ Record companies are so afraid of piracy that they go to extraordinary lengths to protect new CDs by major artists. The new Coldplay album was hand delivered to homes of critics to try to prevent it from finding its way on to the internet. But is record company paranoia becoming excessive? This week a brand new CD from EMI landed on my desk with the copy controlled seal that indicated it was high security and would disable the computer of anyone trying to make copies.

Was it a new album from Franz Ferdinand, Bob Dylan or Radiohead? Not exactly. It was a selection of comedy tracks from Charlie Drake. Paranoid? EMI? Of course not. Around the country, perhaps around the globe, there are people clutching iPods waiting for "Hello My Darlings" and other classic tracks from the Drake oeuvre. In the clubs they talk of little else. Be vigilant, EMI. The pirates could pounce on Drake at any moment.

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