Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance


Making films about major artists and musicians is all about access: not just having enough quality time with them but also a matter of them being prepared to open up the family album, search the attic or spend a little time looking through forgotten boxes of memorabilia.

Elvis Costello was particularly keen to help in the BBC Four documentary I directed, Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance.

Pump It Up: The thrill of Elvis Costello's arrival on the punk scene

His father Ross McManus sadly passed away during the time we were preparing the production and this led to him discovering a great deal of material he hadn’t seen before.

Not least some very evocative photographs of his dad playing the trumpet in bebop jazz groups that he led in Liverpool and Birkenhead in the late 1940s and early 50s, as well as scrapbooks full of gig flyers and programme notes that Elvis was happy to share with us.

Elvis had also recently found a show-stopping piece of film of his father with the Joe Loss Orchestra, the leading British dance band of the 1950s and 60s.

Elvis first showed it to me in a New York restaurant. I had seen footage of Ross on YouTube, in black and white, but this was in screaming colour: Elvis’s dad was dancing away to a cover of the early 60s hit If Had A Hammer.

Ross McManus was a versatile performer who had a talent for singing

Moments like that are unforgettable – when you come across a piece of archive that you know is going to provide a film with one of its highs.

Later, Elvis' archivist, who looks after the Elvis archive and official website, produced some footage of Elvis and the Attractions on tour in 1978.

Four young musicians clearly on the rampage, taunting the audience in classic punk fashion and driven by the energy of a band who know they are making it big in the USA.

Material like this tells a story in a way that words cannot, and we were lucky that it came our way.

Telling the story of a person’s life requires the best archive possible – and with Elvis Costello, we were more than well served.

Not least as he engaged so unreservedly with making the best documentary possible.

Mark Kidel is the director of Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance.

Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance is a documentary with two versions. The 60 minute version is on Friday, 8 November at 9pm and the feature-length version is on Saturday, 9 November at 11.45pm, both on BBC Four. For further programme times please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

More on Elvis Costello: Mystery Dance
BBC Four: Interview with Mark Kidel
Huffington Post: Elvis Costello: Making the First-Ever Documentary Portrait
The Arts Desk: Mystery Dance: On filming Elvis Costello

More on Elvis Costello
BBC Radio 6 Music: The First Time With... Matt Everitt speaks to Elvis Costello
BBC Glastonbury 2013: Elvis Costello Glastonbury highlights 
BBC Radio 4: Desert Island Discs: Castaway Archive: Elvis Costello

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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