Returning to the blog after his epic Manhunt review, Walter Dunlop takes us through four days in the life of a silent movie buff…in Bristol…
I’m just back from Slapstick 2010 in Bristol and what a weekend. What a wonderful weekend.
There is absolutely nothing to match the experience of watching really good silent movies (like any genre, there’s chaff and quality in equal measure) in a full cinema with live music.
As an experience, it’s…intense. A raft of great films. Superb guests. Convivial atmosphere and friendly attendees.
The first screening, Buster Keaton’s “The Navigator” went down well, trumped by Harold Lloyd’s “Girl Shy” which took the roof off the cinema. 1200 people in kinks.
The Kenny Everett tribute panel brought the house down – an appreciative audience, Barry Cryer on spectacular form, and clips so well chosen that I’m going to dig out as many of his old Thames shows as I can find from the Dunlop archive here and glut myself on his work all over again as soon as I get a free night.
Bonzo Dog Doodah Band co-founder Neil Innes got a night to himself – and quite right too. A ninety minute documentary on the man, followed by Neil himself introducing clips from his career and singing, playing piano and occasionally indulging in some virtuoso Ukulele antics.
There was a German bloke in the seat behind me – I heard him say he’d turned up because he liked the confluence of the words “Bonzo” and “Dog” on the poster. He had no idea what he was about to see, no idea who they were.
After ninety minutes of clips and chat in which the words “anarchy”, “anarchic” and “free-for-all” were mentioned about two hundred times, I heard him say to his companion, “So – was this Innes man the leader?” Ah well, can’t win ’em all.
I met and spoke briefly to Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden, stars of 1970s comedy series The Goodies. I had a lengthy chat with Neil Innes in the bar on Saturday night. He’s been a hero of mine for years, and he proved to be every bit as nice as his reputation suggests.
I asked him about the non-appearance of The Innes Book of Records on DVD. The BBC want a fifteen grand search fee for sourcing from their own archive, and they’ll charge any company that wants to release it 600 quid per minute. Not much chance of that, then.
As I cloud-nine’d my way back to the rest of the people I was with, Matthew Sweet from The Culture Show (and occasional contributor to Doctor Who) ambled over and joined us. And didn’t leave for the rest of the night.
He’s seen ten minutes of one of the Matt Smith episodes, and says it’s stunning. “Matt actually is the closest thing to Tom Baker. He dresses eccentrically, he goes off at tangents, and he talks to himself all the time…” Hmm.
I managed to speak to Kevin Brownlow (the man who we literally have to thank for the survival of most of this stuff – without him and his partner David Gill, there wouldn’t be a great deal for us to enthuse about). David Robinson wrote the definitive book on Chaplin, and pretty much represents cinema of this vintage all over the place. Man’s a giant in his field. He talked to us for half an hour, and invited us to a festival in Italy during October. Nice man.
I was standing outside before an event, and Barry Cryer popped out (all you have to do is wait about two minutes at any event, and Barry will appear for a cigarette break. Happened every single time), so I ambled over to say hello – I said some nice things to him and he grabbed my hand, pumped it vigorously and thanked me profusely.
We then chatted for about ten minutes about comedy in general, and Humphrey Lyttleton in particular. Before he thanked me again. It should be the other way round, Barry.
While in the bar on Friday night (detecting a pattern here?) I found myself standing next to Paul McGann. That man knows his stuff, and he was more than happy to talk with us. Good man.
When Jon briefly interviewed Peter Lord (co-founder of Aardman Animations), we got to talking about Richard Williams (further up the page I mention that Neil Innes is a hero of mine – Richard Williams is the other).
If you don’t know anything about the man, have a search for his name and “The Thief and The Cobbler“. An extraordinary story. He’s now working for Aardman, and he plays cornet as a hobby – he was in the band for Thursday evening’s screening of “The Navigator”.
I mentioned how much I love that man and his work. Peter said, “d’you want to meet him? He’s just over there.” “Oh god, I couldn’t… could I?” I stammered. “Course you can!” he said, grabbed my shoulder and dragged me over to speak to my deity.
“This is Walter, a good friend from Edinburgh”, said the co-founder of Aardman, who I’d just met ten minutes before. And I found myself talking to someone so far up in my estimation that I can barely see him. I think I’m still trembling.
“A pleasure to meet you, Sir,” I stammered. “Oh for god’s sake, don’t call me Sir, call me Dick,” he said, and hugged me. If you could snapshot my life at a moment of it-doesn’t-get-better-than-this, there it is. Right there.
Not every event was perfect. A talk on Fred Karno presented by Tim Brooke-Taylor and Tony Staveacre pretty much imploded under the burden of insufficent material to illustrate it, a woolly argument as to what Karno’s influence actually was, and some terminally unfunny clips out of the stuff they did find.
There was an award ceremony where Michael Palin was presented with a special prize for his contribution to slapstick. Didn’t ring true, and Michael looked nonplussed. Still far too nice to say anything, though, but that’s him all over.
The DVD projector repeatedly jammed during the last night’s screening of The Rutles’ “All You Need Is Cash“, and one of the venues was horrendously unsuited for the purpose to which it was being put (ironically, it had originally been a silent movie theatre, but renovations and amendments had destroyed the original ambience along with any possibility of physical comfort.)
Minor gripes though. All told, a wonderful four days.
Unrelated to the festival, my travelling companion Jon was determined to find the house from Being Human. Which we did. It’s every bit as run down as you’d expect, and the area it sits in is dog rough. I didn’t realise how rough until I got back from there and found out that the night before in a pub about ten yards from there, someone had their nose bitten off in a fight. Narrow escape.
We found a newsagent up the road called “Bond News” which had a picture of Seen Canary in the window, and the words “From Totterdown With Love” and “The Men With The Golden News” emblazoned beside him…
Review by Walter Dunlop