In late 1987 I was absolutely taken with the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of Always on My Mind. The band were already well established in pop, and the upbeat cover of the Elvis song sounded fantastic. To top it all off, it had an absolutely bizarre video clip with lots of weird moments, including the guys in the front seat of a car while in the back seat they had an oddly behaved and strange looking passenger.
This was my first encounter with It Couldn’t Happen Here. The passenger was actor Joss Ackland and, if you were lucky and the the clip was allowed to play out fully, he would eventually get out of the car and exclaim, rather oddly, “You went away. It should make me feel better. But I don’t know how I’m going to get through…” the last sentence echoing lyrics from What Have I Done to Deserve This?
The clip had clearly been pulled from a cut of the film which wouldn’t be out until the middle of the following year, so whether it was a rough cut or a finished cut of the movie, it’s hard to say. But certainly a large amount of the Always on My Mind video is present in the final version of It Couldn’t Happen Here which itself is like one long, rather weird, Pet Shop Boys video clip from the 1980s.
In many ways, the movie is both simple and difficult to describe. As mentioned, it feels like a long video clip (that’s the simple part), but at the same time it’s super surreal, in terms of dialogue, sight gags, and the situations presented to us. Honestly, some of it is just deeply odd and never explained. I’ve heard Neil Tennant from the band describe it in Beatles terms as being more Magical Mystery Tour than A Hard Day’s Night. I think if you can understand that analogy, you will get what the film’s like.
The opening to the film, where Tennant and musical collaborator Chris Lowe are separately doing their own thing in a dreary seaside town, while Tennant and Lowe, as schoolboys, are simultaneously getting around in the same location (Tennant actually passes a schoolgroup which includes “himself” at one stage), might give you a feel for the surreal, almost dreamlike nature of the film’s visuals.
Personally, I don’t mind It Couldn’t Happen Here. It has a vibe that I enjoy. Occasional narration from Tennant – often tied into actual song lyrics – adds to the surreal nature of the piece. It’s certainly very art-y, albeit art that’s straddling a mainstream pop group’s output and genuinely out there stuff.
Due to there being so little going on in in terms of character development or real explanations of what’s going on and why, I think you’d have to be a fan of the band to really enjoy this. If you like the music, it becomes the kind of film you might want to stick on every five years and have a quirky time in front of the box. If you don’t like the music, this film might become almost unpalatable to you.