Thu, 23 December 2010 Little Crackers

Over the past couple of years the satellite broadcaster Sky has been venturing into commissioning original television programmes, which is generally a good thing as I’m always happy to see screenwriters getting work. Even though Sky is part of the Murdoch MegaCorp, it can have its benefits (as long as you avoid the news channels).

This holiday season Sky has been airing a series of short films by male and female comedians called Little Crackers. Most of them are autobiographical, or at least represent the essence of the comedian (and the comedians usually appear in the short as a character). I’ve seen five of them so far and they are terrifically entertaining and well worth watching.

Kathy meets the Clash

This is an image from the little cracker by actress Kathy Bates, which details the time she met the band, The Clash, when she was just about to finish school and start a career. The story really captures the awkwardness of teenagers and the affection between the two mates who happen upon The Clash as the musicians take a break from their tour bus. It’s a charming and funny story. Bates also appears in it as a headphone-wearing nun, and in those few moments really captures something that might only be recognisable to those who have endured a convent education.

Stephen Fry’s story is about his time in a British boarding school, and is narrated by Fry (who also plays the headmaster). It’s a brilliant little story about friendship and an addiction to sweets, and shows the coping mechanisms young people employ to endure difficult situations.

Bill Bailey’s story is the first one I’ve seen that centres around the the comedian as an adult, and it’s a surreal and odd story about a man obsessed with gadgets, but not so touched by the spirit of Christmas. In several moments this short film manages to capture a creepy, dark sensibility of which I approve. This might not be popular with some people, but I liked it. Plus, it features the voice talent of Rich Vulture (from The Mighty Boosh), which is always a bonus.

Jo Brand’s short film is a perfect example of the angst of a teenager who is forced to move location and deal with the disappearance of her beloved cat. It’s also a story of the friendship between teenagers and how parents’ behaviour can appear bizarre to those entering adulthood. Brand also narrates the story at times, and there’s a depth of humour and warmth for all the characters in the story.

Eunice and Victoria

Finally, the last short film I’ve seen so far is Victoria Wood’s ‘Giddy Kipper’, which is introduced by Woods, but she doesn’t appear in it. Woods wrote and directed the film. I’ve left this one for last because it’s by far the best I’ve seen out of an outstanding collection of short films.

It’s set during Christmas 1961 in rural England, and is about a little girl Eunice who lives with her father. Eunice’s mother might be dead, she might have run away, but she’s certainly no longer in the family home. Eunice is a quirky girl who has a sense of humour and a way of coping that doesn’t endear her to her peers or their mothers.

The short doesn’t feature a lot of dialogue, and has one surreal moment of song and dance that completely captures a change in spirit in Eunice. That, is no mean feat of filmmaking. It’s also the most poignant short I’ve seen so far, while being amusing and generous in spirit. This is a hard combination to pull off and Woods does it with great compassion.

Victoria Woods is one of Britain’s most talented comedians, screenwriters and (now I discover) directors and I hope we continue to see work from her for a long time.

Finally, I’d like to make some general observation about the shorts. All the child actors display excellent ability. It’s wonderful to watch that level of talent in people so young. I’m pleased that there are so many stories from women: seven short films to five from men. This is downright refreshing and unusual. Also, thus far all the stories by women have focused on the ambitions or internal state of the girls, and there hasn’t been a whiff of a romance plot in any of the tales. Thank goodness I say.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the short films throughout the holiday, and well done to Sky for creating such an enjoyable series of stories!

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