Saturday, October 17, 2015

G.B.H (1982)

Cliff Twemlow has been described both as 'the Orson Welles of Manchester' and 'the Ed Wood of Manchester'.  Both comparisons are, up to a point, valid.  Orson Welles was a flamboyant showman, multi-tasking his way through films, but often having his visions compromised by piecemeal financing and studio interference, often resorting to shooting parts of his projects 'on the fly', in between more profitable paid jobs.  Ed Wood, by contrast, was a far less talented, but similarly multi-tasking film maker who, in spite of his lack of talent loved the idea of film-making so much that he was prepared to make movies on tiny budgets under the most difficult of circumstances.  Cliff Twemlow falls somewhere between the two: a larger than life character with a creative vision and a determination to make movies, despite a chronic lack of resources: whilst lacking the cinematic genius of Welles, he was certainly far more talented than Wood, although, like the Plan 9 director, his films sometimes seem to border on insanity.  A nightclub bouncer, successful composer of library music, published novelist and TV extra (amongst other things), for ten years or so, from 1982 until his untimely death in 1993, Twemlow produced, wrote and starred (sometimes under the name 'Mike Sullivan') in a series of low budget films, mainly filmed in and around Manchester, encompassing a range of genres including crime thrillers, horror and science fiction.

GBH was the first of these films.  Not to be confused with the later Channel Four TV series, GBH was inspired by the recent success of the low budget London gangster thriller The Long Good Friday, starring Bob Hoskins.  Set against the background of Manchester's club scene, the film stars Cliff as Mike Donovan aka 'The Mancunian', nightclub bouncer extraordinaire, who, newly released from prison, is called in by a former associate to protect his club from London gangster Keller's attempt at a 'hostile takeover'.  Keller has already forcibly taken over several other clubs with his gang of heavies and will apparently stop at nothing in his quest to control Manchester's nightclubs.  Consequently, Donovan and sidekick Chris defend their club against all comers in a series of bloody confrontations, car chases and bar brawls, before Donovan eventually takes the fight to Keller in a final, bloody, shoot-out.  In between the action, Donovan also finds time both for romance and some male bonding with Chris.  Shot on video and aimed squarely at a post pub direct to video audience, GBH packs a lot into a running time of a shade under seventy five minutes.  Filmed entirely on location (often, I'm guessing, without permission in the case of many of the street scenes), it makes excellent use of Manchester as a backdrop.

In terms of quality, it has to be borne in mind that GBH was one of the earliest UK films to be shot entirely on video, for the rental market, (Twemlow was something of a visionary, in this regard, recognising that home video was going to be a major market for movies and that a gap in the market existed for original films in the medium).   Consequently, some of the exterior scenes suffer from looking over lit - a common problem with early video technology, it is notable that many TV productions of the era still used film for location shooting - and the editing sometimes seems choppy and crude.  Overall, the film has the feel of an episode of a television crime show, albeit a very violent one, which isn't surprising: not only is it shot on video, but the director, David Kent-Watson, had a background in TV production.  In the main, Kent-Watson handles the film well, with generally well set up shots and steady pacing, achieving a suitably 'glossy' look for the club scenes and a contrasting 'grittier' feel for the Manchester exteriors. Undoubtedly, though, the highlights of the film are the fight sequences, brutally staged, bloody and reasonably realistic.  None of which should be surprising, bearing in mind Twemlow's background as a bouncer and the fact that many of the participating heavies were played by bouncer and gym associates of the star.  Less successful is a pedestrian car chase in which Donovan's  Ford Cortina outpaces both a Lotus and a late sixties Thunderbird, and a lengthy exterior action sequence toward the end, which suffers from some confusing editing. 

The whole thing is helped along by some surprisingly decent acting performances.  Jerry Harris (a stand up comedian by trade) is actually pretty menacing as Keller, whilst Anthony Schaeffer (who did the voice overs for Ted Rogers' gameshow, 3-2-1) and Brett Sinclair, both give likeable and assured performances as Donovan's club owning associate Murray Parks and sidekick Chris, respectively.  The key performance, of course, is that of Twemlow himself as Donovan.  Whilst it has to be said that Cliff Twemlow was no De Niro or Pacino and unlikely ever to win any awards for his acting, he does have considerable screen presence and charisma, and succeeds in making Donovan a likeable and sympathetic character.  Indeed, in terms of performances, not to mention production values, direction, dialogue, music (provided by Cliff, naturally) and cinematography, GBH stands head and shoulders above many better budgeted exploitation movies of the seventies and eighties that I've sat through, (a lot of the low budget fare distributed by Crown International during that era come to mind), and is a damn sight more entertaining.  Certainly, everybody involved seemed to be enjoying themselves.

GBH's mix of bloody action, corny humour (Donovan throws out a host of one-liners during the course of the film) and Manchester locations proved popular, particularly in the North West, so it was inevitable that further films made by Twemlow and his crew would follow.  Showing admirable ambition, their next project was a James Bond-style spy thriller featuring exotic Caribbean locations.  Unfortunately, the filming of Target Eve Island was interrupted by the US invasion of Grenada.  Undeterred, Twemlow adapted the script to include the invasion and eventually completed the film.  Unfortunately, like most of his post-GBH output, Target Eve Island is very difficult to see, so I only have a promo reel posted on You Tube as a basis for my assessment, which gives the impression of a solidly made, action packed, if somewhat clich├ęd, spy movie, firmly aimed, once again, at a young direct-to-video audience.  Likewise, the trailer for the horror movie Moonstalker looks impressive for a low budget film.  Typically for one of his films, Twemlow's script for Moonstalker is 'ripped from the headlines', using the so called 'Beast of Exmoor' as a basis for its plot.  The Eye of Satan looks to be a truly magnificent horror/gangster crossover, which I'd dearly love to see in its entirety, whilst Firestar First Contact is, on the basis of its trailer, an Alien-inspired space opera with surprisingly good production values.  Interestingly, there are also a couple of very elaborate promos for Twemlow movies that never got made posted on You Tube.  Both The Blind Side of God and Tokyo Sunrise look very intriguing and it's a pity that financing for them never materialised.  (Although the central plot device of Blind Side of God was eventually incorporated into the GBH sequel, GBH2: Lethal Impact).  It is testimony to the professionalism of Twemlow and his associates that several of their later films even feature 'name' actors, including Fiona Fullerton, Oliver Tobias, Charles Grey and Terrance Hardiman, in supporting roles.

As you've doubtless gathered, I've become something of a fan of Cliff Twemlow.  I find it impossible not to respect and admire a man who, at the age forty five, decided to go into independent film production in order to realise his ambitions as a screenwriter and actor.  Not just go into film production, but actually produce not just one, but a whole string of features.  Sadly, like many low budget films, the later movies frequently suffered from distribution problems, (some barely being released at all), which makes them hard to locate today.  Nevertheless, many of the people who worked on Cliff's films went on to work in mainstream TV and cinema - Moonstalker cinematographer Peter Tatersall, for instance, has gone on to be Director of Photography on films like Con Air, Phantom Menace and Die Another Day, whilst John St Ryan, who made his acting debut as 'Big Nick' Rafferty in GBH, later had a lengthy stint as Charlie Whelan in Coronation Street (in which Twemlow had once appeared as an extra). If nothing else, Cliff Twemlow should be given credit for his contribution to the British film and TV industries for giving these people a break and providing them with some form of apprenticeship via his films.

When I read director Michael Caton-Jones' recent lament that film making in the UK had become the preserve of the middle class, restricting the kinds of films made and narrowing their potential subject matter, I couldn't help but think of the likes of Cliff Twemlow.  Caton-Jones' main complaint was that unless a film maker wanted to make things like Jane Austen adaptations or romantic comedies, then finance was unlikely to be forthcoming - films set on council estates wouldn't get green lit.  Yet that didn't stop proudly working class Twemlow - he simply ignored the film making establishment and went ahead and made his movies regardless, employing his own skills, ingenuity, local contacts and friends to overcome the obstacles that low budgets inevitably bring.  Really, we should be celebrating Cliff Twemlow - the British film industry badly needs more people like him.  Sure, his films are often badly flawed and sometimes ludicrous, but they knew their audience and delivered in terms of action.  Most importantly, they actually got made, at a time when British exploitation cinema had virtually ceased to exist.

If you want to find out more about Cliff Twemlow and read about his films in greater detail, then I can wholeheartedly recommend The Lost World of Cliff Twemlow by CP Lee and Andy Willis, which is still available via Amazon.  oF his films, only GBH seems to be easily available at the moment, with several versions of varying quality currently posted on You Tube.



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