Review: Slapstick Festival 2012

29 01 2012

Barry Cryer summed up Bristol’s Slapstick Festival today while presenting a Buster Keaton short film at the Arnolfini. “It’s like a geriatric X-Factor in here,” he quipped, before taking his seat in the front row next to Ian Lavender, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie.

This was quite a line-up for one event, as each special guest introduced their favourite work of Keaton. And what a selection it was, with the silent star prompting much guffawing with his antics. Has any actor perfected falling over quite so well?

Cryer’s quip was for comic affect, but for many the proliferation of oldies, and the same oldies year after year, is the main criticism of the festival. The same names, Cryer et al, did of course return this year but their continued presence is also a ringing endorsement of a unique Bristol event.

Griff Rhys Jones presented the showcase gala at the Colston Hall on Friday evening, featuring Keaton’s The General from 1926 with a live soundtrack from The Matinee Idols. Among other delights from Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy, there was also the first appearance at the festival by Pierre Etaix.

84-year-old Etaix was a screen star of the 1960s, working with Jacques Tati among others. But due to a disastrous rights deal, his films have not been seen for more than 40 years and it is only now that his work is once again able to be appreciated.

As I write this, the genius of Etaix is being showcased and celebrated on the Sunday evening of the festival at the Watershed, as Etaix himself is in conversation with Sir Christopher Frayling before introducing his 1969 film Le Grand Amour.

It is quite a coup for the festival to have Etaix, and despite producing films several decades ago, because his work has been languishing in vaults ever since, for most this will be like watching brand new material for the first time.

The definition of slapstick is broad throughout the festival. On Thursday evening, Ian Lavender spoke about his time in Dad’s Army, and on Saturday, Terry Jones introduced a screening of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian before a question and answer session hosted by Sanjeev Bhaskar.

In the Q&A, when Jones could remember details, we learnt some fascinating titbits from behind the scenes of a film that is so well known and loved that many in the audience had t-shirts with quotes on and there was a loud cheer and applause after its most famous line uttered by Jones playing Brian’s fraught mother: “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy. Now piss off!”


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