‘Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow’ Review: Moving Tribute To A Cult Movie Maverick – Frightfest

Cliff Twemlow is an obscure figure even by British B-movie standards, a handsome, no-nonsense former Manchester nightclub doorman who attempted to create a Hollywood of the north in the early ’80s and ’90s. Born in 1937, a fact he tried to cloud for many years, he was something of a renaissance man: He acted in soaps, he composed lucrative library music, he wrote a novel about a killer pike (“Pike can be dangerous, there’s no two ways about it”), and, after a wounding experience with a botched adaptation of his autobiographical novel Tuxedo Warrior, he decided to become a filmmaker himself.

His first production, G.B.H. (1982), was shot on video — the grainy, ugly, analog kind — and it rode on the coattails of the recent hit The Long Good Friday. Twemlow starred as a handsome, no-nonsense Manchester nightclub doorman, hired to protect a local nightclub from a protection racket after returning from a stretch in prison. Anticipating the British gangster boom of the late ’90s by a country mile, it was clumsy but strangely entertaining, with killer lines like, “NOBODY TELLS BIG NICK RAFFERTY WHEN HE’S HAD TOO MUCH TO DRINK!!!” For some reason, perhaps because the video box showed a blood-spattered Twemlow holding a hammer, G.B.H. fell foul of the British censor, and so it wound up on the now-notorious “video nasties” list of the era alongside The Toolbox Murders and Mardi Gras Massacre.

Twemlow’s story might have ended there, and in some ways it does, since almost all his other films were never quite finished, or any better, or even released. But Jake West’s respectful but often very, very funny documentary Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow — which had its world premiere this weekend at London genre event Frightfest — goes on to paint an engaging portrait of a man full of ideas and imagination whose eyes were bigger than his budget and who, with a bit more common sense and better business practice, might have taken on the world.

His early screen appearances, shot for the then-burgeoning home-ent market, don’t blow up well for the big screen, and the primitive style of G.B.H suggests we’re in for an irreverent sketch-portrait of an eccentric outsider artist, a kind of ’80s amalgamation of Ed Wood and Tommy Wiseau. Twemlow, though, is a more complex character than either, a smart and charismatic man who went from fancying himself as the new James Bond, like every man his age, to wanting to be the Dino de Laurentiis of Eccles.

That Twemlow was not successful is pretty evident, and the cast of talking heads assembled by West deliver proof of that failure with a stream of priceless, precision-honed anecdotes. The tone, though, is always droll and affectionate, like the eye-witness recollection of a car chase that ended in a very convincing crash — convincing because it actually was a crash (“It wasn’t a stunt, it was an accident”). Then there’s talk of the film shoot in Grenada that was shut down by Ronald Reagan’s military intervention, and the next one, on Ibiza, where Twemlow threw a wild party on the very first night. By the end, it’s no surprise that Twemlow was still filming pick-ups for 1983’s Target Eve Island so long after principal photography that his leading lady forgot her character was Russian. And we can sympathize with Oliver Tobias, hired for 1991’s Firestar: First Contact in the mistaken belief that he was Oliver Reed.

The end, when it comes, is very rapid, and it’s sobering to think that it was all over for Twemlow at the age of just 55. And though there are some suggestions that he often wrestled with the black dog, something reflected in the increasingly bleak trajectories of his onscreen characters, the image that shines though is of a man who never took his frustrations out on his friends during any of his thwarted attempts to express himself, someone who was well loved and admired for all his flaws.

Twemlow never made a masterpiece, but this sweet, moving film will convince you that in a funny way he did. Many, in fact, all in his head, and this film is the closest we’ll ever get to seeing them.

Title: Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow
Festival: Frightfest
Director: Jake West
Running time: 2hr 4 min
Sales agent: Severin


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