Bronco Bullfrog Review

Reputedly made for a budget of only £17,000, Bronco Bullfrog was a low-key black and white feature populated by what was essentially an amateur cast and filmed by a similarly inexperienced crew. Yet whilst this may not suggest the most enticing of prospects, such events do in fact conspire to produce some genuinely distinctive results. Though made at the tail-end of the sixties and ostensibly a “teen movie” in its subject matter, Bronco Bullfrog eschews the forced stylisations of such contemporaries as Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. In their place we have something which is more insular and authentic, predicated more on the experiences of its cast and writer-director Barney Platts-Mills. Indeed, we may very well have the missing link between the Free Cinema movement and the early films of Shane Meadows; it’s the truth of the situation which counts, no matter how rough the edges.

In other words, this is a film which is concerned with capturing a mood and an environment. Everything fits into an overriding documentary veneer, although such a term is perhaps inappropriate. There’s no attempt to don a particular style as it were, but rather a genuine flavour of realism. The rough edges are primarily the result of the non-professional cast, but at the same time they’re also essential. They allow the natural rhythms of scenes to surface and as such the inherent realities. Bronco Bullfrog lets us experience something of what it is to be young, working class and bored. We get a sense of the ennui and the motivations which drive these kids into petty criminality and “doing fellas”. Platts-Mills simply hangs out with his characters, at work and at play if you like, and lets them do their own talking.

For there’s no narrative as such, the only real story being that of the relationship which forms between central protagonist Del (Del Walker) and the fifteen-year old Irene (Anne Gooding). Yet there’s no real arc or development here; rather it merely forms a loose fitting framework upon which everything can be brought together. Moreover, this proves to be exactly the right way of going about things inasmuch as it prevents any false notes being imposed on proceedings. It’s instructive to consider Paul Anderson’s Shopping from 1994, another look at British youth culture. The intention behind the film was presumably some kind of exposé or at least and understanding of ram-raiders and the social impetus behind their crimes, yet all we were really offered was comic book villains, flimsily sketched out characters and a resultant disregard for realism. Yet no such problems occur with Bronco Bullfrog simply because it isn’t trying to be an action movie or appeal to as wide an audience as possible; you’d be tempted to call the film inauspicious if it wasn’t so effective.

Furthermore, Platts-Mills’ own stance is important in this insofar as it remains utterly objective. He’s not judging these kids, and neither is he celebrating them. You get the impression that they’ve excited his curiosity somewhat and as a result he simply wants to spend a little time in their company and work out what makes them tick. Indeed, he’s not made a cold film – there’s some wonderfully unexpected humour at times, such as the old dear sneaking into the cinema – yet at the same time he’s also not afraid to have his leads portrayed as uncharismatic. Del and his mates just are and this is what makes them so interesting; it’s as though we just chanced upon them by accident. Admittedly there are a few one-note creations, especially when it comes to the adults, but then these are peripheral characters and hardly form an essential part. What’s key to Bronco Bullfrog is the kids at its centre, and for the 80 or so minutes they make for raw, involving and refreshingly honest cinema.

The Disc

Released by Platts-Mills himself via his website (please see the link below), it’s safe to say that we’re getting Bronco Bullfrog in a fairly definitive edition. The print has been taken from the National Film and Television Archive and as such the film appears in particularly fine condition. The original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is preserved and whilst there is moderate damage, it’s never to any kind of distracting and perhaps unsurprising given the Bronco Bullfrog’s low budget and inauspicious filming circumstances. Certainly, the clarity and contrast are as good as could be expected and this is the important thing. The only real worry is the fact that this is an NTSC disc and appears to have been taken from a PAL source. As such there’s moderate ghosting, though again this never proves to be too problematic. (It is worth noting, however, that a PAL edition is being lined up for future release.)

As for the soundtrack, here we find the original mono recording present in DD2.0 form. For the most part it’s perfectly fine – there are problems with audibility at times, though again this would appear to have been inherent in the original production and not a fault with the disc. Furthermore, this edition improves on Platts-Mills previous release inasmuch as it now provides the welcome addition of optional subtitles in English and French.

Most impressive, however, is the fact that the disc also includes a particularly noteworthy extra in the 1968 documentary Everyone’s an Actor Shakespeare Said. Produced by the BFI, this 29-minute piece shows us a number of Bronco Bullfrog’s members as they spend time at small theatre group run by Joan Littlewood. Interestingly we see them much as they are in the main feature itself, so much so that this short could be read as a prequel. In-between improvising on stage we see them hanging out in the streets getting up to mischief or offering candid interviews; intriguingly Littlewood is giving the bare minimal of screen time – as with Bronco Bullfrog it’s all about the kids.

Also present on the disc are a trailer for Platts-Mills second feature, The Private Road, and a link to his website. It’s also worth pointing out that optional English and French subtitles are also available for Everyone’s an Actor Shakespeare Said.

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