Oom pah pah
Film Reviews: Brassed Off Mark Herman (15) Loaded Anna Campion (18) The Last Supper Cynthia Roberts (nc) The Glimmer Man John Gray (18)
Thursday 31 October 1996
Don't worry, it's not that grim oop north - writer / director Mark Herman has made one of the most involving and enjoyable British films in years. It's set in 1994: while the workers of Grimley Colliery struggle against the decision to close the pit, they have reached the semi-finals of the National Brass Band competition, and will play the Albert Hall if they make the finals. Up turns Tara Fitzgerald, a suspiciously good flugelhorn player, who renews teen passions with young hornblower Ewan McGregor. Will the colliery survive? Can music possibly matter if it doesn't?
The cast are uniformly charming, in a story that snakes confidently through deadpan comedy and gruffly passionate sentiment. But the outstanding performer is Pete Postlethwaite, as bandleader Danny. Where he could have played the part for cheap sentiment he is genuinely moving, and when he's on the conductor's podium in full purple-braided regalia - elbows flying, smiling serenely, giving little ecstatic shakes of the head - it's impossible to mould your features into anything other than a very wide grin of delight.
Nowadays, the brass-band combination of trombones, euphoniums and the like is most often used satirically, to accompany screen images of fat people doing amusing things. It's one of the many virtues, therefore, of this lovely film that it rehabilitates the brass band as a source of pleasure - thanks to beautiful playing by the real-life Grimethorpe Colliery Band, and to the arrangements by Trevor Jones and Geoff Alexander, who provide a thrilling version of the 1812 Overture for the deliciously feel- good yet provocative finale.
Loaded is a wannabe-millennial LSD-fuelled morality tale of love and angst among students. A bunch of said students spend a weekend in a remote English country house to make an experimental horror video. Neil (Oliver Milburn) is an introverted type who secretly videoed his sessions of psychoanalysis, and watches them repeatedly because he fancies his shrink. But he's also infatuated with Rose (Catherine McCormack), a tease who snogs biker Lionel (Matthew Eggleton) by the swimming pool.
What starts out as a jolly satire on studenty pretensions - the video's director, Lance (Danny Cunningham), injects hand-waving, lank-fringed pomp into lines such as "I think we should be looking at the human condition, yeah?" - soon commits artistic suicide by buying into studenty pretension itself. Loaded lurches into druggy odyssey (computer graphics pictorialize acid trips) and then slapstick tragedy. Anna Campion (sister of Jane) produces arresting images but, sadly, Loaded strains after universality so hard it forgets to be anything in particular. The young cast do a fine, fresh job, however, so it's never less than watchable, and often mordantly amusing.
The Last Supper, meanwhile, is the epitome of a bad trip. Based on a play by Hillar Liitoja, it is the story of Chris, an ex-dancer and actor who is dying of Aids, and spends a last evening with his lover Val reminiscing, eating smoked salmon and ratatouille, and then arranging his own euthanasia to the strains of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. The camera never leaves Chris's sick-room and, from the interminably long opening shot where he wakes up, drinks a glass of water, and drops the glass, it's depressingly clear that the film is shot in "real time". Yes, if you really have no ideas, you can always run back to Aristotle's classical unities.
The script is, mostly, crushingly banal. Only Daniel MacIvor's clever, measured performance as the doctor contains any edgy glint to cut through the emotive mush. The rest is chat and jerky camera-spinning. The part of Chris is played by Ken McDougall, who was actually dying of Aids at the time of shooting. It is extraordinary to see director Cynthia Roberts prattling on in the press notes about how pleased she was, because this gave her film greater authenticity. Now, I am sure McDougall was a great performer and a good man, and this home movie will no doubt be a treasured record for his family and friends. But that doesn't stop The Last Supper being, despite its fine intentions, dismayingly glib and manipulative.
By now, dear reader, you have travelled from brass to muck. I speak of The Glimmer Man, the new actioner starring Steven Seagal. The erstwhile karate hero now tries to conceal a massive paunch under baggy black smocks. (The best soundtrack for his first appearance would be a sarcastically parping brass arrangement of Beethoven's Funeral March.) The Glimmer Man jumps on the theological-schlock bandwagon of last year's Seven by having a serial killer who crucifies his victims. It also stars Brian Cox and In Living Color star Keenen Ivory Williams, who both seem battered into submission. Quite the most witless and insulting piece of bilge this year
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