A group of stuntment (played by the Dave Clark Five) live together in a London loft. They wake to a new day and perform wacky ablutions, quirkily edited to the opening credits and the song “Catch Us If You Can” (the UK title of this film). Seemingly, this announces that we are in knock-off territory inspired by the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night—even the US retitle, Having a Wild Weekend, seems obliquely related to that film.
Well, don’t get too comfortable. This is the feature debut of John Boorman, one of the singular voices in English cinema, and writer Peter Nicholls, who would shortly come up with A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. Like their future work, this alleged paean to youthful energy is already compromised by melancholy and emotional dissonance amid such gestures of frantic bonkers-ness as car chases and costume parties.
The guys are working on commercials for the meat industry (the tagline is “Meat for Go!”), which exploits mod youth and style before it plans to turn the campaign in a new direction: “Gracious Living”. Pert and perky model Dinah (Barbara Ferris) has her image plastered all over the country. Abruptly, she and stuntman Steve (Clark) run away in search of an island she’s thinking of buying off the coast of Devon.
Their odyssey will lead through a group of desultory hardcore hippies who squat in abandoned ruins and talk about pot and hash (leading to a frighteningly surreal development), and a bored upper-class couple (Robin Bailey, Yootha Joyce) in a sniping, pathos-ridden tango based on “collecting”. They are called Guy and Nan, and their knotty relationship pre-figures the less well-off couple in Joe Egg. “Hardly anyone can bear reality,” declares Guy before they rush off to a costume party in Bath.
These characters could have been one-dimensional types, but they’re not, and they make this the rare cinematic middle act that feels stronger than its book-ends. Like many characters in the film, Guy and Nan turn out more complicated than you’d think was required by the basic concept of marketing a rock band. (Meanwhile, the other members of DC5 are barely there.)
Everywhere Steve and Dinah go, they take themselves with them. Their contrasting attitudes are succinctly summed up in their one argument. “Why do you want to get there? Why can’t you enjoy the journey?” asks Dinah, who likes everything they see and everyone they meet, to which the permanently disgruntled Steve answers, “You give up too easily.” By now, we can guess that their anticipated arrival at the fabled island will only bode disillusion. Boorman has begun his cinematic career of subverting Arthurian quests.
As their proceedings are followed by the ad company, which incorporates their “abduction” into a publicity stunt, the film exposes how youth, energy, freedom and rebellion are pre-sold concepts to be scored by the pop music of the day. “Whatever you do, they turn it against you,” says Steve bitterly, when he hears that the whole country is following their “crime” with interest (shades of Fahrenheit 451). The advertising guru (David De Keyser) asserts, “Advertising is not a game that you play by the rules. Advertising is total war, and you must play it with any weapons that come to hand.”
In other words, this ain’t escapism. It’s about the impossibility of escapism. It’s almost as though you’re supposed to come out the theatre resolved not to buy the soundtrack. This surprisingly sober lark, which throws up more facets as one turns it over in the mind, is now available on demand from Warner Archive.