Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
Barney Platts-Mills (born 1944) entered the film industry as an assistant editor. In 1966,
he set up his own production company, at first making documentaries. Bronco Bullfrog,
shot in 35mm black and white, was his first dramatic feature, made in East London with an
amateur cast. A loosely woven storyline centres on Del (Del Walker), a teenager at odds with
his parents. The film is more a character study, observing Del as a relationship with 15-year-old
Irene (Ann Gooding) develops. Meanwhile, Jo, nicknamed 'Bronco Bullfrog' (Sam Shepherd), is back
from Borstal, tempting Del towards a life of petty crime.
Independent British cinema of the 1960s and 1970s tends to be neglected nowadays. At a time when American investment was retreating, local production tended to be dominated by James Bond, softcore sex comedies, Hammer films and less reputable low-budget horrors. There is also a strand of low-budget socially realistic work from that time, such as Mike Leigh's debut feature Bleak Moments and Ken Loach's early work. Bronco Bullfrog is very much in the same vein as Loach's film, in its use of documentary techniques in a work of fiction, a commitment to showing life as it is, and to observe his characters without judging them. What is remarkable is how little the film has dated. Nowadays, Del, Irene and Jo would be on the Internet and be using mobile phones, but that superficial detail apart, the film could take place now virtually unchanged.
The price of independence can be a lack of output. Although he has made films for television and written screenplays, he has only made two further features: Private Road in 1970 and the brave but fatally flawed Scots Gaelic-language Film on Four Hero in 1982, which I caught on its one and only TV showing. However, at the time of writing (July 2008) a new film is in post-production.
Self-distributed by the director, the all-regions DVD of Bronco Bullfrog has a 4:3 DVD transfer. (I'm not sure which ratio this film played in on the big screen. 1.66:1 is quite likely, though the picture isn't unduly cropped when zoomed to 16:9 on a widescreen set.) The DVD is transferred from a National Film Archive copy: it begins with that organisation's logo and the original BBFC 'AA' certificate. (The film now rates a 12.) However, the copy reviewed was NTSC format, mastered from a PAL source, making for a picture that is unduly soft and prone to ghosting. The soundtrack is mono, as you might expect. Subtitles are available in English and French. Also on the disc is a trailer for Private Road and the 29-minute 1969 documentary Everyone's An Actor, Shakespeare Said.
Bronco Bullfrog is available at www.platts-mills.com. Also available are DVDs of Private Road and Hero, Faber's book of the screenplays of all three films and a reproduction of the original poster for Bronco Bullfrog.