Narrator/presenter: Howard Schuman.
Taped in England and the U.S. by Barraclough Carey Prods. for BBC Television. Exec producer, Daniel Wolf; producer, Paul Kerr; director/writer, Saskia Baron; The still-warm ashes of British production house/distrib Palace get a good raking over in “Who’s Crying Now?” which traces the 10-year rise and fall of the enfant terrible of the U.K. film industry with uncompromisinghonesty and refreshing lack of maudlin self-pity.
Hourlong docu is a special from the team responsible for the buffish movie magazine “Moving Pictures,” which begins a new run on British pubcaster BBC2 in early January.
Writer/director Saskia Baron does an excellent job both in accessing the main suspects and getting most of them to talk frankly about the blunders, mistimings , careening management and runaway enthusiasm that produced some of the most exciting Brit pics of the ’80s but fell victim to bottom-line economics when the recession hit at the end of the decade. Tent poles of the interviewees are co-founders Steve Woolley, former cinema usher and movie buff, and Nik Powell, former right-hand man to Richard Branson and his Virgin empire. Both talk freely (and Woolley, especially, with few regrets) about the way they challenged the system in the early days with a business built on indie vid sales (like “The Evil Dead”) that expanded into production via Neil Jordan’s “Company of Wolves.”
Theme is repeatedly hammered home that Woolley/Powell were always perceived as brash outsiders (“cultural barrow-boys,” or uneducated, streetwise traders) by the film establishment.
Even Alan Parker (no establishment figure himself) jocularly describes Powell in his early days as “a bit of a tap-dancing spiv,” or something of a hustler.
Major disasters like the out-of-control musical “Absolute Beginners” (originally conceived as a ’50s Anglo cross between “Mean Streets” and “Pennies From Heaven”) are also seen as a reflection of the runaway, gung-ho, anything-goes spirit pervading mid-’80s Thatcherite Britain.
As the Palace Group lost its focus by expanding into other areas like post-production, an abortive music channel and the like, even the relative successes “Mona Lisa” and “Scandal” weren’t enough to put the company on a sound footing.
Lack of long-term planning and adequate capitalization — two blights of British business, per David Puttnam — finally sank the group, along with its swashbuckling management style.
Major irony is that the success of “The Crying Game” (originally to have been the company’s first production, back in ’82) came just too late to rescue Palace. Though the shoestring-budget pic didn’t have a cent of U.S. money behind it, it proved a major earner for Miramax, which had distributed all their pix since “Scandal.”
As noted, interviews are generally on the frank side, with some ice-pick stuff from Michael Caton-Jones (“Scandal”), scripters Don Macpherson and Michael Thomas, plus Woolley and Powell themselves. The heroes and villains are easily identifiable.
Production and editing are sharp and aware, with good quality, letterboxed clips and minimal over-fancy graphics.