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A controversial 'fly-on-the-wall' documentary series documenting the people who live on James Turner Street, Birmingham which, according to several tabloid newspapers, 90% of it's residents live off government funded benefits
Cocky cockney snooker player Billy Kid accepts the challenge of a grudge match from Maxwell Randall (the Green Baize Vampire), six times world champion; the loser will never play professional snooker again. Written by
Roisin Moriarty <Roisin.Moriarty@gecapital.com>
As a long time snooker fan I'd heard whispers about this film for years and it was only recently after months of searching that I finally managed to get hold of a copy. It's true that only Channel 4 in its early days could throw up something as bizarre as Billy the Kid and The Green Baize Vampire. By the same token snooker was the most popular sport in Britain in the mid-80's so making a film about it and its rivalries (players, managers, fans and everything that they stood for) was perhaps less of a risk then compared to how it might now seem.
As sports films go it's not bad but neither is it great. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about the film is that the real snooker world was throwing up its own unparalleled sporting drama at the time, be it the black ball finish in the 1985 World Championship between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis or, more to the point, the riveting rivalry between Davis and Alex Higgins who really were like chalk and cheese. One had a squeaky-clean image, the other was a lovable rogue with a penchant for vices and they both hated each other's guts. The rivalry between Maxwell and Billy or indeed the players they are based on (Dracula look-alike Ray Reardon and new kid on the block Jimmy White) could never evoke the same passions and even then Phil Daniels and Alun Armstrong, talented as they are, are slightly unconvincing here. Like most young upstarts Daniels (resembling Dexy's Kevin Rowland more than Jimmy White) reels off a few cocky taunts but he's far from the booze fuelled, authority-hating and downright rude figure that Higgins was. The whole thing feels like little more than your token pre-match jibing session and it's not helped by the fact that the humour is laboured as well. Granted, the idea of both players having completely different sets of followers and standing for completely different ideals and generations is well handled but even then a far better illustration of this would be to witness the audience reaction when Higgins and Davis crossed cues in front of 3,000 people in the 1985 Masters at the Wembley Conference Centre.
In saying all this I think it's important to appreciate how difficult an obscure project like this must have been to tackle and those who did so obviously weren't afraid of trying something different. Furthermore even though this film ends up being something of a failure it does nevertheless contain enough flashes of brilliance to convince you that there is a really unique talent behind it all and one that has done or probably could do a lot better. Despite being entirely studio bound and having a limited budget, the whole thing is shot with real class and looks wonderfully expensive. I love the dimly lit snooker halls, Maxwell's creepy pad really brings those fantasy images of Reardon to life, there are a few memorable quotes and the costume department do a good job here too. It's also worth noting that there is none of that dodgy editing, typical of sports movies, whereby a player hits a ball a mile away from the pocket and yet it miraculously manages to reach its intended target. As for the music, well, it's a little bit uninspired and at times feels like it's fleshing out a script lacking in ideas but the film does open with an excellent jaunty sax sore, evoking shades of Francis Monkman's score for The Long Good Friday, and Billy launches his comeback near the end to the strains of a catchy little piece called 'The Fame Game'. Alan Clarke was, of course, the man behind it all and while this is ultimately one of his less memorable moments it was nonetheless an interesting little venture/ indulgence.
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