Monday, 27 July 2015

Brats (1930)

A great example of Laurel and Hardy at the height of their powers, Brats takes a single idea, some slapstick, destruction, word play and mixes the lot into some great laugh aloud moments. The film also has some interesting symbolism relating to both the characters and to how parents see their children, as the juniors are literally small versions of the seniors.

Being a short film there is not much in the way of plot, simply a premise. Stan and Olly have been left in charge of their respective sons for the evening, sons that look exactly like miniature versions of their fathers and have a similarly antagonistic relationship. All the grownups have to do is keep the little ones out of trouble - what could possibly go wrong?

The answer is, of course, plenty, but what makes Brats more than a series of gags is the insight it gives us into the relationship between Stan and Olly. In the absence of their partners, the duo form a parental duo, with Olly as the stern father figure and Stan as the more easygoing mother.

Brats is also a perfect example of Laurel and Hardy's approach to talkie comedy, taking a more deliberate and measured pace compared to the frantic style of their silent work. Many of the gags are telegraphed in advance, and the build up to the laughs comes not from an unexpected surprise but from looking at the skate at the top of the stairs, or the snooker cue in front of a glass cabinet and realising, it is just a question of when things are going to go wrong.

Fans will recognise many favourite motifs that recur throughout the duo's films, such as Olly's withering glances to camera (and plaintive cry, not for the first time of "why don't you do something to help me?"). There are also some surprisingly agile slapstick moves from Hardy, as well as Stan's surreal mangling of the English language ("You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead”).

Director James Parrot uses some cinematic tricks such oversized props and clever editing to create the illusion of the children and adults interacting. To me this shows that the films of Laurel and Hardy can be considered groundbreaking, not just for the comedy, but also for the way they, and the directors they worked with were willing to go beyond their theatrical roots and exploit the medium of cinema.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (2015)

The 1980s were a boom time for horror franchises, but one stood apart from the Freddy and the Jason pack, with a unique sense of maturity, darkness and perversity. Leviathan is a Kickstarter funded labour of love documentary that aims to explore the roots of Hellraiser, and its sequel Hellbound, and how writer/director Clive Barker came from fringe theatre in Liverpool to the big screen in Hollywood.

Although hampered by limited resources to being, cinematically at least, little more than a series of talking heads, the story Leviathan tells is more than fascinating enough to sustain interest for fans of the films. Director Kevin McDonagh has managed to round up many of Barker's theatre collaborators, many of whom ended up involved in the films, such as Hellbound writer Peter Atkins, and most famously, Doug Bradley, who played Pinhead. Their stories of life on the road with the Dog Company theatre troupe help provide some insight into the journey from stage to page to big screen. However, they also leave no doubt that despite the collaborative and collective nature of the organisation, Barker was the prime mover.

Eventually though, it dawns on you that his is the one voice missing, presumably as he was unable or unwilling to talk. Obviously, this skewed the overall viewpoint, and was one of three factors that, by the end of the film, left me feeling as though the story was still incomplete.

The second was, although there is no shortage of people saying that the film is great and Clive Barker is a genius, this was not followed up with anywhere near enough real discussion of why the film and the characters associated with it were so original and iconic. There also no questions as to what sort of wider cultural impact did the film have, or any of the themes explored in Hellraiser.

Thirdly, despite the title, the version of Leviathan that I saw stopped abruptly just as the story got to the sequel, Hellbound, with that film getting little more than a cursory mention. Perhaps both of these complaints will be remedied on the DVD, with a longer version or bonus features. In the meantime, Leviathan is worth a look for horror fans, especially those interested in the early years of Clive Barker, even though the end product is ultimately a little frustrating for not going beyond the surface of the story.