So there I was, up to my neck in Mothercare (aged mother with dementia has moved in), snatching a few moments to glance at Twitter, and I noticed the question posed by @BritishSubcult – What is your favourite subculture related film?
The answers came thick and fast on Twitter – Quadrophenia, This is England, Northern Soul. And I thought about what I would say. Not Quadrophenia – Quadrophenia doesn’t reflect my experience of the 60s and in any event it wasn’t made till 1979. Although Sting’s leather coat is not bad. This is England (2006) is about 1986 and Northern Soul (2014) is about 1974. They did not describe my life.
There were some moddy films made during the 60s and in 2003 the NFT (as it then was) had a season of 60s mod cinema, Cool World. The season did not include Blow Up, Girl on a Motorcycle, Morgan-a Suitable Case for Treatment, or Georgy Girl – films that are often said to represent mods in the 60s, but for me concern people who are too posh, too rich.
In a 2003 article in the Guardian Will Hodgkinson describes the films on show in the NFT season, Beat Girl with Adam Faith, All Night Long (1960) directed by Basil Dearden and Dolly Birds! (1966). I went to see a lot of them. They were all interesting , but one of the films stood out for me – Bronco Bullfrog, a 1969 film directed by Barney Platts-Mills.
I had never seen the film although I had heard the name. The title Bronco Bullfrog didn’t attract me, it didn’t sound like the sort of film that would interest me. But when I saw it that evening in Screen 2 at NFT on the Southbank, I was taken back straight away to my life in 1965. The film isn’t really about mods, the ‘hero’ rides a motor cycle, it might almost be a Honda 50, and his clothes are not exactly sharp, but what the film depicts is that aimless, yearning, bored time of your life when you’re 15, living on a council estate in the 60s, bound by all the rules that were hangovers from the 50s. Will Hodgkinson said ‘What Bronco Bullfrog underlines is the way in which 1960s working-class life was a million miles away from the dandies and dolly birds of The Scotch of St James. With an overriding mood of boredom, the boys and girls are almost totally incapable of talking to one another, and all their parents worry about is keeping up appearances.’ Exactly.
An article in the Guardian in 2010 by Xan Brooks called Bronco Bullfrog ‘the film the UK forgot.’ And that may be true. But I put it down as my favourite subculture film.
I have to add a personal, although remote, connection that I have to the film, in that the director is the son of John Platts-Mills QC who was head of Cloisters chambers, where I did my first six months pupillage when I became a barrister.
Thanks to Chris Wallace for the pictures of scooters in Witham.