WITH the sad passing of Olivia Newton-John last week, the general line was “there was more to her than just Grease, you know”. Well, if that’s the case, where should a fan of cult films craving a little alt-NPO on screen turn to for satisfaction? Well, you could do a lot worse than Toomorrow to begin with.
A full-fledged British sci-fi musical – a genre that has traditionally held very few columns in the history of film reference books – from 1970 was the creation of Harry Saltzman (one-half, alongside the best-known Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, from the production team that brought James Bond to the big screen) and TV man Don Kirshner (the puppeteer behind The Archies) and was directed by the cult British visionary Val Guest (whose film credits include everything from Quatermass to The Boys In Blue with Cannon and Bullet).
A gaudy attempt by Kirshner to do a UK version of his own creation The Monkees – which is quite ironic, really, given that The Monkees were an American reaction to the Beatles – it really is a bit of a mess, but it’s worth it the pain for the sight of a very fresh-faced Olivia singing her heart out long before John Travolta could force her to wear leather trews.
The story is simple and suitably psychedelic. A gang of fay students subsidize their education by forming an innocuous pop group called Toomorrow. So far, so Cliff Richard, but things get decidedly weird when sonic vibrations from an instrument called a “tonalizer,” which sounds great but is essentially a homemade synthesizer, inspires an alien being to abduct the band so that it happens to his fellow Alphoids who are facing extinction unless they get “hip sounds” in their ears, sharp.
Olivia plays the sweet singer of the band and she is, as you would expect, fantastic. The tunes she’s given to perform are as limp as a week-old lettuce, but she gives it her all, and although her English accent wobbles a lot, her commitment and general good vibes are a real highlight throughout. .
At its cheap and cheerful operating core, it’s of course a load of rubbish, but very “groovy” rubbish, and a whole lot of fun too, if flimsy sci-fi music floats your cinematic boat.
A troubled production that spanned more than two years – Olivia and the band were kept on a fine tenure during the long periods of inactivity, apparently – Toomorrow didn’t impress nor did Krishner, who vowed never to leave the film to be shown during his lifetime, nor Guest, who obtained a court injunction guaranteeing that he would sit on a shelf until he was fully paid for his contribution.
Krishner’s death in 2011 allowed the world to properly savor the delights of film for the first time. Whether he likes it or not is another matter, and I’m sure Olivia Newton-John has backtracked whenever the film has been mentioned, but that doesn’t stop Toomorrow from being a cult classic in its own right and a film as far removed from Grease as it is possible to imagine.