If it were all made up, it would be perfect and funny. Sara Sugarman’s Vinyl, which gets a gala red-carpet world premiere at the Lobero on Friday at 7 p.m., compellingly tells the tale of a reunited punk rock band now middle-aged that drunkenly records a song they surprisingly love, finds they are too old to get it released even on their old label, and then decide to put together a fake band of 20-somethings who, naturally enough, score a big pop hit with it. Told mostly from the point-of-view of raffish-but-sweet Johnnie Jones (played by Phil Daniels who also starred in Quaprophenia and was in the Brit rock band The Cross), the film takes cunning slices at the music biz, but gets by pure ebullient spirit, the whole cast and crew feel like they were enjoying themselves inordinately making a film in which where sex and drugs have become Viagra and rock and roll is all a big, merry swindle.
But that’s because they were, and the joke is that it’s all mainly true. Sugarman, whose big previous hit was the Lindsay Lohan film Confessions of a Teen Drama Queen, got called in to meet the screenwriter Jim Cooper who was fascinated by the true events that prompted the film. “I think he was working on Space Chimps at the time, but I heard he was writing something about the great rock and roll swindle, that had to do with the band known as the Alarm,” she said. “I got called in at first because I was British, I guess, and had kind of punky hair.”
Turned out Sugarman had way more street cred than that. “Mike Peters from the Alarm was my boyfriend back then,” she laughed, still enjoying a joke that united her early and current lives across 5,000 miles of cultural chasm. She got the writing job, and when the powers-that-be lost interest in the project decided not to give up. “I asked Mike if I could run with it, and he said, `Sure,’” said Sugarman.
The rest was hard work but tons of fun as she called in a little help from her friends filming in her home town, where everybody pitched in, “It was all about, ‘Hey, I’ve got a shovel, I’ve got a pitchfork.’” More importantly Sugarman had connections to spare in both rock and film, having left home at 14 for London where she became friends with Joe Strummer back when White Riot was percolating through his little band called the Clash, and the Alarm was known charmingly as The Toilets. (She used Toilets songs in the film.) From neighborhoods full of Teddy Boys (“They used to beat up the punks but politely ignored me,” said Sugarman), she graduated to movies and television first in England on the long-running adult soap opera Grange Hill, then school here at the AFI, work for Disney now life as an independent film director involved in a movie that is palpably a labor of love.
Of course, she is thrilled to be at the splashy SBIFF screening with Vinyl and though Sugarman who is working on another small film set in Wales has her fingers crossed to sell the film, she seems happy with what she and her old friends have done. “It was a great thing to have everybody involved,” she said. “It was a lovely thing.”
Vinyl screens on Friday, January 27, at the Lobero Theater and again on Sunday, January 29, 8 a.m. at the Metro 4 and Friday, February 3, 2 p.m. at the Metro 4.