DVD LET­TER­BOX

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - MICHAEL BODEY

THE dis­parate works of Alan Ben­nett, Peter Cook, Dud­ley Moore and Jonathan Miller aren’t too hard to find on DVD. Miller di­rected a fair chunk of the 1980s BBC om­nibus The Shake­speare Col­lec­tion , which pulled to­gether some of Bri­tain’s finest for the screen, in­clud­ing Lau­rence Olivier, and he pops up in doc­u­men­taries and as di­rec­tor of some no­table op­eras that are a lit­tle harder to track down.

Ben­nett is one of the great con­tem­po­rary play­wrights, with oc­ca­sional for­ays on to the screen, in­clud­ing his Talk­ing Heads mono­logues and the films The Mad­ness of King Ge­orge and, most re­cently, The His­tory Boys , gen­er­ally of a high cal­i­bre.

And Peter Cook and Dud­ley Moore are an im­por­tant comic pres­ence, Moore most par­tic­u­larly in ’ 80s film gems such as 10 and Arthur . Their best work on screen was to­gether, though, both in their television pro­gram, Not Only . . . But Also , which has been re- pack­aged for DVD as The Best of Peter Cook and Dud­ley Moore , and in the 1967 film Be­daz­zled . That film re­mains one of my favourites and, in an ob­tuse fash­ion, it serves as a marker for Hol­ly­wood’s ar­ro­gance and id­iocy. It is still in­con­ceiv­able any­one would at­tempt to re­make or im­prove on Stan­ley Do­nen’s film.

But Harold Ramis — who, let’s face it, hasn’t dis­tin­guished him­self since 1993’ s Ground­hog Day — tried it in 2000 with Bren­dan Fraser play­ing Moore’s ev­ery­man and El­iz­a­beth Hur­ley tak­ing on Cook’s Devil. Just writ­ing about it makes me retch.

Any­way, all four have dis­tinct works that are well worth find­ing on DVD.

Yet the one piece that in many ways de­fines them and pretty much all Bri­tish com­edy that fol­lowed is their col­lec­tive work, the com­edy re­vue Be­yond the Fringe . It hasn’t been avail­able on DVD un­til now. Acorn Me­dia has re­cently re­leased the one video record­ing of what was a sem­i­nal mo­ment in the rise of Bri­tish satire. It was when the silly japery of the Goons made way for a sharper, anti- au­thor­i­tar­ian bent that also in­cor­po­rated a love of the English lan­guage’s va­garies.

This is not the place to de­bate Be­yond the Fringe ’ s in­flu­ence on com­edy, though, or rank the com­pany against the other com­edy ti­tans emerg­ing in Eng­land be­fore and af­ter, the Goons and the Monty Python troupe.

But it is worth cel­e­brat­ing a DVD of what was the show’s farewell 1964 per­for­mance from the West End.

Even so, this ver­sion does raise the ques­tion of what au­dio and video qual­ity is per­mis­si­ble be­fore view­ers take of­fence. I think in this in­stance, given the show’s vaunted rep­u­ta­tion, any­thing is watch­able.

Cer­tainly, this one isn’t great qual­ity. You can’t blame the dis­trib­u­tor; the source ma­te­rial, what must be 40- year- old tapes, has not trav­elled well.

The black- and- white vi­sion jumps and fades and the con­trast varies. Vis­ually, the one thing go­ing for it is the fact Cook, Moore, Miller and Ben­nett were spar­ing with props and sets. The sound­track oc­ca­sion­ally drops out, too, but not to a frus­trat­ing de­gree.

Nev­er­the­less, for me at least, af­ter read­ing so much about Be­yond the Fringe , it’s quite a de­light to see at last the show’s sense of time, place and style. Even bet­ter, the jokes re­main funny.

* * * DISC WATCH: The Clas­sic Aus­tralian Col­lec­tion ( vol­ume one) ( Road­show, M, $ 119.99) THIS box set is a beauty, with 14 films in­clud­ing Strictly Ball­room , The Ad­ven­tures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert , Gal­lipoli , Shine and The Cas­tle . Re­place The Dish with vol­ume two’s Babe and it would be per­fect.

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