Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Section 3: G.B.H.

Welcome to Section 3, home to the near Nasties that the police just couldn't keep their hands off of. This episode I have for something for you that captures the age of the video revolution, being as it is low budget, almost unheard and actually shot on video for video... Lets delve into the murky world of the Mancunian underground with the bad ass bouncer with Cliff Twemlow's GBH....

Night clubs across Manchester are being raided by heavies working for the local crime boss Keller and being extorted for protection. When club owner Murray realises his club may be next he calls for the services of an old ally, a man who's just about to be released from prison after helping him before. That man is Donovan, the legendary bouncer known as The Mancunian.
As Donovan begins to work he quickly comes face to face with the heavies sent to threaten the club
and so a battle begins for control of the scene and a few old scores will be settled.

GBH is a rather distinct film in several regards. It's one of the very few films on the list that really typifies the video revolution. The relatively cheap cost of recording and distributing on video meant that film making suddenly became something that almost anyone could do with the a comparatively modest budget. Of course at the time there was an explosion of shot on video productions, many went nowhere and even the most successful were minor hits in the grand scheme. Occasionally some true cult gems emerged, and GBH was in my opinion one of the best.

Now when I say the best I don't mean in practical terms. The acting is very shaky for the most part, the editing, rather amateur, the general construction of the movie is done by people that clearly are working with not just a limited budget but struggling with limited resources in experience with the technology. So what is it that makes this at least an interesting film. Well it starts with the utter enthusiasm that this seems to buzz with. This is one of those films that clearly comes from people who genuinely seem to want to make movies, and this enthusiasm is quite infectious. The main character Donovan is a well meaning man, clearly a man of violence but one of noble intent. There is a strange handling of the character in some respects in that the film occasionally slips into near homo-eroticism but then Donovan is also clearly a ladies man. This duality of character is quite interesting, certainly Donovan is a clearly macho man, slick with the ladies but also a sensitive man with a close bond to his male comrades, even those who are his enemies. This is really a minor point though, the character is a good man regardless of sexuality and his willingness to resort to violent means to ensure rough justice.
This is the heart of the film, Donovan's integrity against the scum and thugery of his enemy Keller. It may be possible that the identification that can be made with a character like Donovan was something that the DPP felt was problematic. He's a character who is ambiguous in his methods and quite alluring as an anti hero, certainly he's not as clear cut as the desirable hero in terms of morality. To some extent he's a misogynist, he's also not averse to being a thug but his moral compass is true if somewhat rougeish. In some respects he's very much like the wild west hero, trapped in a violent society and forced to play the game of the lawless, though for the good guys. Indeed the film itself seems directly inspired by westerns with the nightclubs replacing saloons, and even with there being a violent shoot out that could almost be lifted directly from any number of westerns. There are hero's, villains, the woman who can potentially salvage the hero's soul, and an unspoken bond even between enemy’s and even a butch and sundance style going out in a blaze of glory ending, the similarities are uncanny, though the violence in the film are probably more reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns than anything else. It does also cross over with the more notable crime drama's but then both genre share common ground, choosing to humanise what would in normal society (what ever that may mean) be recognised as being amoral or at least dubious.
GBH also both suffers and is lifted by it's localisation. This is clearly a film for British audiences, how well it would cross over to foreign audiences is questionable and most likely would be unsuccessful. This isn't because the characterisation is shoddy or the story unrecognisable but the specifically British urban feel is something that even many British audiences would struggle to get over. The fact that it particularly Mancunian in tone can itself be an obstacle though this for me was part of it's charm and there a hard core of Twemlow fans who very fondly embrace the specific regionalising of not only this but of Twemlows other films. The overarching feel of this film is one of utter enthusiasm for the project and the characters are played with what seems to be a great deal of gusto. It's often apparent that there is an awkwardness to the performances and the lines and action can not only be very cliché but ham to a significant degree but it all seems so very forgiveable because despite all of this it trundles along at a decent pace and doesn't waste much time trying to be anything pretentious.

It's this honesty that really makes GBH what it is. While it's still a fantasy of the rough diamond good guys standing up to the injustice of the bad guys it plays in an honest and sincere manner that frankly leaves many major movies in the dust and I suspect this is in part what appeals to fans of this film.

It's the heart that the film has rather than it's technical accomplishment that rings through and this shows through in the key characters, in particular in Donovan who comes over as a true working class hero.
When it comes down to it GBH seems to be a labour of love by all involved in making it, though it will always languish in obscurity because it's technical shortfalls alongside it's amateurish overtones will be too much for many viewers to get over. Which is a shame because what likes underneath is a rather fun story with a decent central character and story that, if you can be charitable enough to forgive the multitude of rough edges, is actually quite engaging and fun. It's all a little done maybe but what with the Manchester background and recognisable landscapes this should actually a be a rather endearing film to at least a British audience, at least those who appreciate wild west/crime drama kinds of films. Even for those who can't bring themselves to enjoy the film the one thing that should be very apparent is that this is a rather strong example of how the video revolution presented unparalleled opportunities to film makers. Where the final product may stand separate from the mainstream, there were at least chances to make independent films on a nearly non existent budget, for better or for worse. It's a small taste of a more level playing field in the film world, something that has been sadly lacking for the most part and something that given new media opportunities we are beginning to see again, much to the angst of major studios.

As way of a parting comment it bears mentioning for the unwitting that this is not the GBH you will generally find by Googling it. The one you are most likely to find will be Alan Bleasdales drama staring amongst others, Michael Palin. If you can get to see Twemlows rather rare title, by whatever means you can, I think it's a worthwhile watch that you may either love for its charms, or loathe for its aesthetic.

No comments:

Post a Comment