Bronco Bullfrog (1969)
|Anne Gooding, Del Walker and Sam Shepherd|
"I don't know what I want."
Where do you start to review a film like Bronco Bullfrog? It's a film that sought to turn film making on its head - amateur actors, playing out scenes that reflected the livesfe they knew, filmed on the streets that inspired the drama - so let's turn the review on its head and start, not at the beginning, but at the end.
Bronco Bullfrog concludes with a scene of the three main characters running through the streets. It's like a gritty pastiche of the so-called 'Swinging Sixties': when we imagine sixties cinema we think of montages of people running through the streets, the girl inevitably in a short skirt, music playing, an expression of the carefree nature of their lives and their youthful sense of rebellion. Yet this is no expression of a sense of liberation. It's an escape scene. Running away from violence, youthfully innocent stupidity and the grim reality of the streets they lived on.
This closing scene tells you so much about what the film is trying to say. It's a challenge to conventional cinema, starring local amateur actors who had been drawn into Joan Littlewood's East End theatre workshops as a way of getting off the streets and finding a way of filling a void in their lives. They are the generation that grew up in an East London heavily scarred by the Blitz, a wound that hadn't healed, instead it had been cut open again and crudely stitched together by post-war town planners whose poorly funded attempts to create a fresh new environment had simply emphasised the wounds. If you like, we might dare to call this the bastard little-brother of Hue & Cry.
The simple story tells of Del (Del Walker) and his 15 year old girlfriend Irene (Anne Gooding) ...
... as they flirt with the notion of freedom. The sixties promise of liberation seems a world away for apprentice welder Del and his schoolgirl girlfriend. What hope do they have? Too young for the pub, nowhere to go in the evening, life hardly offers them prospects. The story of their attempted attempt to the countryside - the image of urban kids revelling in the sights and sounds of the countryside - is hardly new, but it is genuinely relevant.
Whilst the poor standard of acting and the basic storyline make it easy to ignore the film as a failed experiment, here at 'Rank & File' we like to look further. The film is a time capsule, honestly representing London in a period of flux. It's an antidote to the notion of 'swinging London'. This is as far away from the King's Road or Carnaby Street as it's possible to get. The message is that, for every David Bailey, there's a Del who doesn't have a talent to exploit and to be celebrated as a sign of integration of the working classes into London's elite.
Of particular importance are the fashions on display in the film. Nowadays, it seems that late 1960s youths are represented on screen by hippies - all long-hair and flares. But Del and his mates are nothing like that. They have grown out skinheads, some still cut short in the suedehead style, others starting to veer towards the lank, centre-parted look that grew so popular in the seventies. They wear cardigans, straight leg jeans, skinny-lapelled suit jackets and boots ...
... or skinny suits, maybe a touch of flair in the legs, plain-top slip on shoes ...
... or in the case of 'Bronco' (Sam Shepherd), heavily patterned shirts with matching tie:
His outfits reflect his position as a would-be criminal: he's the lad whose been in borstal and has no intention of giving up on a life of crime. As such, he has spare cash and dresses 'better' than the rest of the lads.
The reality of their world is further captured on the DVD release of the film which includes a short documentary about the actors and their work at the theatre workshop. It gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives that inspired Bronco Bullfrog. So, if you are looking for high-quality acting and a complex storyline filled with Hitchcockian plot-twists, this will not be to your tastes. But if you want to get a genuine taste of East London at the end of the 1960s, this isn't a bad place to start: