Peter Young and the Column of Words

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 8th March 2011.

A throwaway line during a movie review in the UK has inspired the production of a low budget film in Australia. During a review of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief on BBC Radio Five Live last year, respected film reviewer Mark Kermode made fun of the film, criticising it as a knock-off of the Harry Potter franchise. It was so derivative that, according to Kermode, it may as well have been called “Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins.”

Kermode, along with radio host Simon Mayo, command a loyal and sizeable UK audience via their two hour movie review and interview show every Friday, which is also available to the rest of the world via podcast. Naturally, this witty title took the imagination of listeners everywhere and following many texts and emails to the show, a few fan produced posters for the proposed film appeared online.

Late last year, Australian writer and director Jeremy Dylan announced that he would be putting his own money on the line to actually produce the film and in January, the world premiere of the low budget satire Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins was held at the Dendy cinema in Newtown.

Starring Andrew Griscti as the title character, the film follows the adventures of Benjamin, “a nerdy, skiffle-loving redhead from Cockfosters” who finds out that he is a wizard and is soon whisked off to an island in Australia to be trained in magic by mentor Pentangle and Bavarian filmmaker Werner Herzog. Sound familiar?

Whilst the film is a broad satire of the Harry Potter franchise and the Percy Jackson not-quite-successful-enough-to-be-a-franchise movie, it is also packed with in-jokes from the radio show. Sniddlegrass loves skiffle because Mark Kermode plays bass in the skiffle / rockabilly quartet The Dodge Brothers. The character of Werner Herzog is based on the real eccentric German filmmaker of the same name (Rescue Dawn, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu the Vampyre) who famously was shot by an unknown assailant with an air rifle during an interview with Kermode, brushing it off and continuing the interview with the comment, “it was not a significant bullet.”

Of course, the low budget nature of the film means that the cast is composed of unknown actors, with the exception of famous actor, writer and comedian Stephen Fry (Gosford Park, Alice in Wonderland, V for Vendetta) who somehow was convinced by the director to narrate the story.

Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins is currently available via digital download for the reasonable price of $10. It will also soon be out on DVD. Other screenings worldwide are being demanded by supporters and fans.

The film itself is worth a chuckle or two. Despite being restricted by its tiny budget, it is hard not to smile throughout the seventy minute running time. I would definitely recommend that you familiarise yourself with the banter of Kermode and Mayo’s radio show before you see the movie. There are plenty of hilarious clips of Kermode’s famous rants online.

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Published in: on March 15, 2011 at 07:03  Leave a Comment  
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