Forgotten Favourites: Junglophilia

© Jackal Films

© Jackal Films

From time to time here at The Velvet Onion, we like to look back at projects which, for one reason or another, may have been missed by fans of the Booshniverse.  One such project is an early collaboration between Alice Lowe and Jacqueline Wright entitled Junglophilia.

In a rare moment of serendipity, our plans to feature Junglophilia on these very pages comes at a time when Alice & Jacqueline need YOUR help!
The duo would like to turn this short into a full feature, and if they get enough views and votes over at the Open Film website, they could win a competition to fund the project!  To help out, all you need to do is visit the website, watch the film and, if you enjoy it, register FREE and give it a 5-star vote!

Click here to do exactly that!

And continue reading to see why our editor, DidymusBrush, thinks Junglophilia deserves the chance to become a feature…

This Is Spinal Tap has a lot to answer for.  Twenty-five years after it first sneaked onto cinema screens, there have been countless attempts at recapturing its magic.  Some have succeeded, some have failed, but the former are the ones which truly understood what makes the film work to this day.  It’s characters may be ridiculous, its plotting at times whimsical to say the least, and everyone on screen may occasionally hate one-another, yet through it all, real emotions run through the characters.  You’re not so much watching a group of comedians playing rock stars, but a bunch of rock stars just doing what they do – indeed, when the film was first released many people genuinely thought Spinal Tap were a real band, and that the film was a genuine documentary.

In today’s comedy landscape, where humour tends to fall into the hyper-real lesson-learning mocking of contemporary culture, or the flights of surrealist fancy that we on these pages tend to cover, its hard to suggest anyone who could produce the next …Spinal Tap.  Few comedians are able to take elements of both extremes and straddle the divide as a sort of humour bridge or toll booth.  Amongst those who can is Alice Lowe.

© Jackal Films

© Jackal Films

Rarely is this more apparent than in Junglophilia – a ten minute short detailing the exploits of early 80s pop star Valhalla (Lowe), who is interviewed just prior to her early morning set at the first ever WOMAD Festival back in 1982.  Valhalla is an unusual creature, possibly trying a little too hard to be individual. She has a penchant for zoos, satsumas and the healing properties of her own hands.  The singer is ably supported by a somewhat put upon personal assistant, Michi (Barunka O’Shaughnessy) whose devotion to her employer is hidden away in side glances, seemingly never able to express her love.

Factor into that Valhalla’s luvvlyjubbly wideboy manager Snake (Jordan Long, reminding me somewhat of former Boosh tour security chief Danny O’Leary), who seemingly has a lower tolerance for her eccentricities than Michi does, and you’ve got a pitch perfect comedy dynamic I’d love to see explored in more depth.  In fact, given the scope for a lengthier trek into the world of Valhalla, I’m reminded of the short film Ant Muzak, in which Adam And The Ants (featuring Steve Oram and Tom Meeten as Marco & Terry-Lee) went late night shopping, and how it’d be wonderful if Alice Lowe could call on her friends in Booshdom and beyond to recreate other famous pop-stars of their time – either in interaction with Valhalla or as talking heads littered throughout a bigger feature.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Eighties pop stars, its worth noting the obvious inspirations for Valhalla.  Kate Bush is often cited, and one only has to look at the slightly bonkers dreamscape of another Lowe/Wright short, Earth Birth, to see how much the duo admire her!  However, a far more accurate comparison has to be made with post-punk goddess Toyah Willcox, who fronted her seminal self-titled band through five studio albums and several sell out tours between 1978 and 1983, before going solo ever since.

© Finn Constello

© Finn Constello

Many may only know of Toyah through her numerous tv appearances (everything from Songs of Praise to The Good Sex Guide!), including a stop-over in reality tv behemoth I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Others may only know of her via her early film roles in the likes of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee or The Who’s mods & rockers inspired Quadrophenia.  Alice Lowe, however, is clearly a genuine fan of Toyah’s musical endeavours – which continue to this very day.  With eighteen full studio albums, two live albums and countless ‘Best Of ‘ compilations under her belt, in the last two years alone Toyah has released three studio albums as a solo artist and as part of collaborative experimental projects The Humans and This Fragile Moment, as well as leading the cast of Steve Steinman’s touring rock musical Vampires Rock! Clearly, then, a force to be reckoned with, and a fascinating subject for which to base a character on.

In conversation with Alice some time ago, upon first viewing Junglophilia, she revealed to me, a fellow Toyah admirer, that her favourite lyric of the singers was the line: ‘Like Sherwood Forest or an African scene…’ – which, fact fans, comes from an obscure album track entitled Marionette.  Clearly, then, Alice knows her stuff – and it shows in every aspect of Val Halla’s presentation.  The costumes hark back to the video for hit single Thunder In The Mountains. The vocal delivery is fueled by hallmarks of Toyah’s early material – one moment crooning, the next delivering a falsetto before sharpening her tone into a snarl… even stopping to include a spoken word segment in a Bowie-esque mockney… its all present and correct, and this attention to detail only serves to make the comedy even more believable, as the affectionate parody is so well researched you can almost believe its the real thing.

© Jackal Films

© Jackal Films

It’s now more than six years since I, along with a large chunk of our readers, first saw Alice Lowe in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and I’ve watched her career with interest ever since.  Whilst co-stars Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade have had phenomenal success in recent years, Alice and Marenghi himself, Matthew Holness, seem to have been content with smaller victories.  Yet all this time, be it in guest appearances in other shows, as part of the sketch show Beehive, and in the numerous projects that Lowe has spearheaded, there has been a genuine desire to make people laugh, and to savour the chance to do something a little out-of-sync with whatever the executives in boardrooms tell us we should find funny (step forward most of BBC3’s comedy line-up!).

With Lifespam, there was a bona fide chance for a wider audience to see what Lowe and her cohorts had to offer… a chance for the likes of Tom Meeten, Steve Oram and Simon Farnaby to become names that, if not quite at household status, where at least better known to that certain type of comedy fan who knows exactly who Matt Berry or Julian Barratt are because they’ve seen ’em on the telly.  Sadly, the BBC elected to “broadcast” the pilot with little fanfare in a graveyard Sunday night slot, then decline a commission because it wasn’t about teenagers and/or chavs having predictable, dullard misadventures.

Perhaps, just perhaps, given the chance to make a film of the calibre of Junglophilia and other Jackal Films projects, these talented artists may finally get the recognition they deserve, and above all else – a chance to make us laugh that little bit longer.

Junglophilia is viewable at the Open Film website.  Register for free to vote for Alice & Jacqueline to win the chance to develop a full feature version right here.

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