When financing fell through a week before shooting was to begin on Monty Python’s Life of Brian in 1978, the Pythons went to a famous friend in dire straits. While you may believe you have good friends, do you have one that would mortgage their house for you? Luckily for the Pythons, their famous friend was a huge fan of their work and happened to be in the most iconic band in music history. Former Beatle George Harrison happily bankrolled the production, and inadvertently set himself on a path to sustaining the British film industry in the 1980s. In An Accidental Studio we see the rise and fall of HandMade Films through the key figures that lived through it. The resulting documentary is a fascinating and emotional window into the movie business.
Through a mixture of archival footage, movie clips and new interviews, the film provides a detailed look at the company. Harrison never intended to be running a production company; he just enjoyed being able to help out his friends to make art he wanted to see. Some of the most enjoyable moments of the documentary are the archival interviews with Harrison discussing the company in plain terms with Python member Michael Palin. The early days in the movie business were a lot of fun. Director and Python member Terry Gilliam happily shares stories of the production of his classic film Time Bandits, along with Palin and other members of the cast and crew. This was a film that never would have been possible without a studio that had the trust in the creative vision that Harrison had with his friends. And, although he was not a fan of the violence, the decision to distribute The Long Good Friday helped bring about one of the most essential pieces of British gangster cinema, and made actor Bob Hoskins a star worldwide. This successive series of hits helped put this fluke of a studio on the map as an essential force in British cinema.
With success comes the expectation for further success. Harrison would have been happy to help produce a couple of films a year, but mismatched business partners needed to “feed the beast” and ramp up production to become a powerhouse studio. Musician and former Head of Production at HandMade, Ray Cooper, describes some of the tumultuous moments with Harrison’s business partner Denis O’Brien that led to flops such as Water and Shanghai Surprise. From the sounds of it, the world narrowly avoided losing the cult classic Withnail & I in the beloved form it has today. Director Bruce Robinson and star Richard E. Grant regale the audience with engaging stories from the film’s production to the bungled release by a misguided executive. It is honestly quite heartbreaking to see Harrison, who is so lovely and pure in his desire to help creatives, have his company driven into the ground by typical Hollywood nonsense. The trajectory is like a car crash from which you cannot look away.
An Accidental Studio is a loving, comprehensive overview of a company that burned bright for a short while before flaming out. The filmmakers get some really interesting stories from their subjects without painting everything in the most flattering light. Subjects are unafraid to bluntly discuss when films did not work either financially or creatively. For anyone who enjoys behind the scenes details of moviemaking, this is pure geek heaven. All of the clips used will get you excited to check out the more acclaimed films from the studio, or even possibly the interesting failures. This is a documentary that brings about great joy and moments of heartache, but it never ceases to be mesmerizing as it pays respect to the legacy of a monumental studio and great man.
An Accidental Studio comes to Blu-Ray with a very pleasing 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. The movie uses a mixture of newly filmed interviews with archival interviews and footage from the films the studio made, which results in various levels of quality. As far as the quality of the disc itself goes, it is impeccable. There is an excellent amount of detail in all of the appropriate places, and skin tones look natural throughout. There are no pesky compression artifacts or unwanted digital noise in the image. Black levels are solid, while colors are appropriately vivid, such as during clips of the tropical picture Water. The movie clips appear to be pulled from the best available sources at the time of production. Archival clips show their age, but that is not fault of the transfer itself. The new interviews look crisp and detailed. The film looks as nice as you would hope a modern documentary would look in high definition.
This Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that is excellent. With this being an interview-style documentary, dialogue is of the utmost importance, and it comes through crystal clear in the front center channel. In instances where there is narration over movie clips, sounds are balanced well so that no information gets lost in the process. Even during older interviews with the low-talking George Harrison or Bob Hoskins, sporting an incredibly thick accent, dialogue is easily discernible. If you do need any assistance on that front, English SDH subtitles are provided. None of the movie clips get particularly lively, but all of them sound appropriately rendered within the mix. This audio track more than gets the job done.
- Premiere Q&A: A 34-minute Q&A with Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and Ray Cooper, hosted by Sanjeev Bhaskar. If there was going to be a lone special feature on this, I’m glad it was this one. The Pythons and Cooper provide some interesting additional anecdotes including memories of Harrison, behind the scenes squabbles and more. This is such a fun addition.
An Accidental Studio provides a detailed account of the rise and fall of one of the most interesting British studios in the late twentieth century. Fans of George Harrison, Monty Python, cult films from the 80s and 90s, or just those who are fascinated by the process of making a film, will love this. RLJE Films has provided a Blu-Ray with an amazing A/V presentation and a really fun special feature. This is a documentary that takes you on a journey of different emotions, but will leave you feeling overjoyed in the end. Highly Recommended
An Accidental Studio will be available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital on July 28, 2020.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: RLJE Films has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.