Watch what you say, because it may end up as a movie title: the Curious Case of “Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins”
A year ago, I mentioned how BBC5′s Mark Kermode summoned the powers-that-maybe to take us away from the deluge of ripoff youth-wizard capers (with obligatory “_____ _____ and the ______ of ______” title construction) aiming to grab the attention of our Harry Potter-hungry populace. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief – at least they refrained from the obvious and the Thief of Lightning – exploded square into the between-Potters interregnum, anxious to capitalize on the massive market for wildly-ambitious, magic-themed action-adventure.
(Fear not – I borrowed all my hyphens from a late-‘90s issue of SPIN – amazing what new ideals are connoted by sequences like “blues inflected”, “post Oasis” and “Radiohead lite”).
When Kermode expressed his fear that we were about to experience an onslaught of fake Pottery like “Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins”, an Aussie listener named Jeremy Dylan decided he would transform this fake title into a real movie.
At the conclusion of the cheeky attempt to explain the greatness of the Mark Kermode Film Review show within Simon Mayo’s drivetime spectacular – which, as always, will be available for download around the exact time of my posts – I saw this comment from Dylan:
Go behind the scenes on Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins. Episode 1 – Rock’n’Roll Music http://bit.ly/aKWlYm
Later that day, while listening to the aforementioned Dr. K and M, Mark obliges to an emailers request to read a written narration for a Benjamin Sniddlegrass “trailer”. Rife with Quiffspeak like “the end of narrative cinema”, “losing the plot”, and others, the trailer featured a Potter proxy atop a flappy-handed penguin. I was not expecting an actual film to emerge from this amusing moment.
Cut to January 2011, and a utilization of That Popular Search Page. A curious search for info on this unlikely project resulted in a few more trailers. However, we now had an actual movie on our hands. As a fan of the skiffle, rockabilly’s rain-soaked cousin (scroll through the entire catalog of Jay St. Orts – he’s covered it somewhere, I presume), I found myself repeatedly playing the music video for “Famous”, which may be the best original song for a film since “Falling Slowly” from the Swell Season in Once. If I had an Oscar vote, Johnny Leroy and the Impulsives would be the early frontrunner – but the gorilla mask must join them onstage. So when Dylan was invited to appear on a recent eppy of Film Review, detailing the fusillade of inside jokes for we Wittertainment geeks and offering balderdash like “well Simon, there’s a cauldron in all of us…”, I decided that I had to see this movie, especially after the Good Doctor’s caveat that “this may be the most unusual film we’ll ever review on this show.” Besides, after hitting the cheekily-titled “Pay Money for the Film” on their website, I saw that they were charging ten Australian dollars. When Xtine and I were in Sydney back in early 2009, we were able to purchase tickets to see The Drones at the Metro Theatre and a night of comedy at Fringe Bar for about $18 US combined. If 50 Cent played in Melbourne, he’d have to change his name to 89 Cent (ha ha – exchange-rate humo(u)r!).
As one whose Harry Potter knowledge begins and ends with whatever spoiler is revealed within Kermode’s reviews, I was not exactly sure what awaited. After a few failures with VLC Media Player (where did the dream die?), old trusty WinAmp successfully opened the Cauldron. For those interested in viewing the final product, I suggest that you not expect a super-glossy production straight outta the assembly-line of Chris “the Bean Counter” Columbus. Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguins explores similar territory as the Potter septology, as young Ben escapes his humdrum world for the promise of wizardry (or “witter”), love…and guitar. Aided by Mr. Pentangle, he absconds his evil aunt Davidmorrissey in the “sounds like something Mike Bolton would drunkenly scream in Office Space” town of Cockfosters for the wizardry school of Fairport Island. After his arrival, he meets Scarlett, who emerges as more than merely a Magic Pixie Dream Girl. We get several references to Wittertainment, outside of the Hellos and acknowledgement of The Dodge Brothers and the Canterbury folk-rock scene of the late 1960s (Does Steeleye Span not listen?). Most notably, Steven Fry narrates the whole thing. I can sense the graphic playfulness of Zombieland, and although I doubt Dylan has seen Waydowntown, I also caught the meta of Gary Burns. For a film that barely cracked the $6,000 cost barrier – and remember, that’s $6,000 Australian dollars – you get a well-developed story, and a lot of nods to just how weird it is that people are enraptured by simply viewing the life of someone else as a construct, especially if that someone else is a wizard. Then again, my viewing experience coincided with my imbibing of relief to ease the pain from an icy-sidewalk slip-and-fall, where my head hit the concrete. My immobilized state allowed the chastisement of my continuing to watch after the end-credits (“Why are you here – are you waiting for funny outtakes?”)