Film Review

An Accidental Studio

todayMay 16, 2024 36

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of Monty Python HIstory, George Harrison History, Independent British Film History

One of the most important films in my cinematic life is 1981’s Time Bandits.  I was ten years old and I felt like this movie was made specifically for me.  It was Terry Gilliam’s second directorial film and little did I know at the time how this film would connect so many important aspects of my life.  I saw it several times in the theater and was charmed by the combination of the Monty Python humor, Terry Gilliam’s own visual style and humor, and the way it spoke to me about wishing the toys and history that you read could come to life. It was only later that I learned how this film was part of the incredible Handmade Films owned and co-operated by the greatest Beatle George Harrison (in my humble opinion.)  An Accidental Studio is the remarkable story of how George Harrison got involved in the movie business and helped foster a very specific time in British film history.

Directed by a trio (Bill Jones, Kim Leggatt, and Ben Timlett) two of which were also behind the Monty Python documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth- The Lawyer’s Cut, and they do an excellent job gathering all the folks involved in the history of Handmade Films to tell us the story. For those unfamiliar, the origins of Handmade Films began when the Python troupe was trying to get The Life of Brian financed when they lost funding.  Luckily, Eric Idle was friends with George Harrison and even more lucky, Harrison was willing to fund it. He just wanted to see the movie because he was such a fan of the troupe and he thought it would be funny.  That approach is what is particularly wonderful about Handmade Films, the fact that an artist was heading the studio and was willing to defend the rights of artists to make what their vision was and would put his money where his mouth was.

After making money from The Life of Brian, George and company, now including money man Dennis O’Brian (who initially is a hero then becomes the villain of the piece) and Ray Cooper (a fantastic drummer as well as a man with a keen eye for films) also release the Bob Hoskins career launching The Long Good Friday.  They then re-invested the funds to make what would become the film that helped truly solidify Handmade Films as a studio, the aforementioned masterpiece Time Bandits. They continued this approach of re-investing into new films going from just a couple of releases a year to up to five or six. Unfortunately, some of these were massive failures, including the diabolically bad Shanghai Surprise.

Of course, all good things must come to an end is a cliche because it is accurate and this was true with Handmade Films as well.  However, along the way they helped support a new generation of British filmmakers who would go on to change the cinematic landscape.  These included Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa, The Missionary, A Private Function, and the two films by Bruce Robinson Withnail and I and How to Get Ahead in Advertising, which gave the world Richard E. Grant.

All of this history is presented marvelously with interviews from the folks who were there.  Most importantly, we see interviews with George Harrison.  As I grew older, I have seen many of these Handmade Films and I am amazed that this studio lasted as long as it did, but I am so glad that it existed.  Finally, I learned that the lyrics to “Dream Away”, the song by George Harrison at the end of Time Bandits (which we used as our theme song for Sleep In Cinema) was actually a passive aggressive ode to how Terry Gilliam irritated him with his filmmaking approach.  Now, I need to go and watch it again.

Available to stream on the Criterion Channel as well as a whole bunch of Handmade films.

Written by: Gareth Jones

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