More Than Meets The Mogwai

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

BRONCO BULLFROG reviewed


Ushering in the ‘Suedehead’ subculture in the UK shortly after Mods became out-of-date in the early 1970s, Bronco Bullfrog is the consummate depiction of that lifestyle, in a curious case of art influencing life. With strong working-class accents and dalliances into lives of crime, Bronco’s young men and women are stiff, noble souls attempting to carve out their own niche against oppressive parents and authoritative forces. They’re modern-day western outlaws with a better sense of style and carefully maintained haircuts.

Del Quant (Del Walker) is a 17-years-old welder’s apprentice and small-time criminal disillusioned with the way his life’s turned out so far. Amongst his mates is legendary figure Bronco Bullfrog (Sam Shepherd), a fugitive that lends a hand to Del when his chips are down. When Del’s dad wins a competition that includes a bicycle, a channel of freedom is opened up. He soon meets likeminded soul Irene (Anne Gooding), and the two are soon inseparable, much to the chagrin of Irene’s parents, which includes a dad currently behind bars. The two rob a railway car (those traces of outlaws once again), and run away together, as parental forces attempt to locate them.

Although familiar with film from being an apprentice editor on pictures made by Stanley Kubrick and John Schlesinger, first time features director Barney Platts-Mills was undisciplined in the way of dealing with actors and constructing a screenplay. It’s a small victory, then, that Platts-Mills was able to distill such naturalistic performances from a cabal of amateur actors; the lives of these East London youths seem to be preserved for all time up on the screen, with lyrical scenes adding up to make a sometimes dispiriting, always stirring existence – just like real life.

Cinematheque programmer Kier-La Janisse selected the film for her Big Smash! Music Scene series, out of admiration for Platts-Mills (it’s also one of her favourite unsung gems), but also due to its odd choice in soundtrack composer: Brit Rock group Audience:
“Winnipeg’s one of the only places where Audience actually has an audience”, says Janisse. “You can actually buy the soundtrack now, but there wasn’t enough material to make a full album, so the rest are just tracks from Audience’s debut.”

The film equivalent to the all-or-nothing music of The Jam, it’s no surprise that their leader, Paul Weller, is a vocal admirer of Bullfrog. In fact, their “I Got By In Time” describes the mindset of these idealist ruffians better than anyone: “We Were Young, We Were Full of Ideals, We Were Gonna Pull This Whole World”.
A better code of honour for the Suedehead, or more apt one for the youths of Bronco Bullfrog, I know not.
An NTSC DVD, along with other merchandise including a reprint of the 1970 poster (as pictured above), can be ordered from the Official Website of BRONCO BULLFROG's director, Barney Platts-Mills.

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