[5 October 2006]
At first glance, this appears to be one of a series of tough documentaries chronicling the rogue’s gallery of British criminals of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. But upon closer examination, the DVD cover also proudly claims that it was filmed in “GangsterVision”.
Now, I’ve heard of VistaVision, Cinemascope, Todd-AO, 3D, Techniscope, Francoscope, Panavision, and even Smellovision. But “GangsterVision”? Well having experienced it firsthand, I have to report that “Gangstervision” is merely a label for a series of tabloid TV—docudramatic techniques seemingly designed to make the viewing experience about as enjoyable as the Ludovico treatment in A Clockwork Orange.
There are “dramatic” recreations all photographed on cheap video processed with a “film look” filter which insures that the image will look even cheaper on video. The same five shots of zooms into and out of a prison gate are repeated ad nauseum, and the worst of the worst, words. Words that appear all over the screen. All of the time. While you are trying to concentrate on some bad narration or a voiceover interview, you are also bombarded by a ticker tape of information running at the bottom of the screen while a note like, “BROADMOOR was for the Criminally INSANE” appears to the left and then in broad center a huge pulpy title appears, “RAGE”. Every interview and recreation is shot from an odd angle, either under the chin or showing only the subject’s left eye. Which is also out of focus. I started to feel as though subliminal messages were being sent to me to kill someone with “Brute Force” or maybe buy more videos from www.gangstervideos.co.uk. If you’ve ever seen the “training film” Warren Beatty is made to watch in The Parallax View you have a good idea how this works.
The real shame is that Roy’s story is riveting stuff and would’ve made a great honest documentary or at least an amazing ‘70s crime picture with Oliver Reed as Shaw. There is a line of absurd black comedy through the whole tale which is similar to Goodfellas in the “truth is stranger than fiction” manner. What unfolds is the story of some bloke who was a bare knuckle boxer in the ‘50s, but without a license. After beating opponent after opponent to a bloody pulp, he’s sent to Maidstone prison following the botched robbery of a Bagel shop! While there he becomes the only man to ever LITERALLY break out of his jail cell by smashing through it with “Brute Force!” He also begins his life-long obsession with ridding the joint of “Grasses”. The word “GRASSES” even appears onscreen in large pulpy letters, again.
For those not up on their British underworld slang, “grasses” has nothing to do with green thumbs or “high times”, but refers to soon-to-be-dead men who snitch to the police. “I hate grasses. Kill’em I would. With no mercy, I’d kill’em again and again,” he says or something to this effect. You see, I can’t be sure that I understood anything at all. The Roy Shaw of today tells his life story with so much mumbling that it’s hard to make any sense of what he says. In fact it’s hard to make any sense of the program at all. Now this may be due to various things: The terrible tabloid TV style, the quite sorrowful electroshock therapy Shaw received at a mental clinic in the ‘60s (“BROADMOOR!”) which left him with much loss of memory (thus rendering this entire production absurd), the fact that he actually mumbles, that he speaks in a localized slang, and finally to the Fisher Price microphone that was apparently used to record the interviews.
The height of incomprehension occurs when a small still, photo appears in the bottom left corner – a photo of some convict who looks like Harry Shearer from Spinal Tap. This guy is named Charles Bronson of all things and has patched into the program via prison phone link to tell us a tale or two about his old friend Roy Shaw. The fact that what he says sounds like this: “What gree be Shawed him right. Shaw’d knew it. He’d come a copper too. Mite man he was,” leaves much to the imagination.
In between the incomprehensible voiceovers, we get all kinds of Hannibal Lector stare downs from the (I assume) former criminal. This is placed in “scary” slow motion over and over and is often intercut with him standing in his best Sunday suit punching at the camera like a lunatic making all kinds of bestial noises, albeit mumbled bestial noises.
The DVD also advertises that it includes “THREE of Roy’s most famous, most SAVAGE fights!” These are indeed included and would’ve been nice to see. Unfortunately they appear with all the clarity of a dirty car windshield smeared with Vaseline.
What’s more illuminating are the DVD extras which feature such exalted events as Tony Lambrianou’s funeral and an interview with Charles Bronson, again. The link among all of these videos seems to be criminal Dave Courtney and there appears to be a “rat Pack” thing going on as Courtney talks about Joe Pyle who talks about the Richardsons who know a thing or two about Charles Bronson who talks about crazy Roy Shaw who appears to tell a tale about Tony Lambrianou who appears to be dead. These former figures of the London underworld are now very active self promoters in selling their books, videos, coffee mugs, and t shirts. It appears that Roy has written his own book as well, available on his website, www.royprettyboyshaw.com. In the introduction he states that he will present “…gratuitous violence beyond your worst nightmare.”
At Gangster Videos site, the producers are also selling another title, Beyond the Grave in which the Kray brothers give a new interview which is amazing since they are also dead. This is pulp at it’s most charmingly dishonest. The producers proudly claim that their footage is exclusive and that they “Shoot to Thrill”. Enjoy.