Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow (2023) Review – Fantastic Fest
Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow is the second documentary Severin brought to Fantastic Fest This year. This one aimed at an even more niche audience than Enter the Clones of Bruce. Even among fans of cult cinema, few have heard of Cliff Twemlow and if they have it’s most likely because of his first film G.B.H. or Grievous Bodily Harm.
A hyperviolent gangster film billed as being “More Brutal Than The Long Good Friday” that gained notoriety as one of the few British films to make the UK’s video nasties list. But even before that, he had a connection to the film industry and violent films. He was a composer of background music and songs to be used in productions. One of these “ ‘Cause I’m A Man” turned up in the original Dawn of the Dead.
Director Jake West (Razor Blade Smile, Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape) goes back to the beginning and his rather familiar story of being a skinny kid who took up weights and boxing. From there though it gets interesting as he became a bouncer, and wrote a novel about it, Tuxedo Warrior. That was filmed with him in it, but the story reset in Africa with a plot involving diamond smuggling.
That was the start of his obsession with making his own films starting with an attempt to film his second novel The Pike, not to be confused with the unreleased Canadian film Psycho Pike, which ended in disaster when the killer fish failed to work. Undaunted he seized upon the growing popularity of VHS and became determined to turn Manchester into the new Hollywood, something he persisted with until his death from a massive heart attack in 1993.
West fills Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow with interviews with many of the people associated with his films. And they are a colourful lot, Twemlow recruited his buddies from the gym, fellow bouncers and martial artists along with models and dancers for his film. And the anecdotes about the filming of G.B.H., a gangster film set in the Manchester club scene, are quite amusing.
But it’s the stories surrounding his second film Target: Eve Island that are truly wild. From having much of the film’s money vanish while they were on location in Barbados to falling afoul of Grenada’s government and then the US invasion occurring while they were there. Or trying to make the UK look like the Caribbean for pickup shots once they got back.
Unfortunately, the struggle to get the film finished becomes a running theme in Twemlow’s life as he pitched projects that never got off the ground, and of the ones that did more than one was never properly finished because the funding ran out. And as the film goes on you can sense the frustration of some of those interviewed at their efforts ending up unseen. There’s also a sense of sadness at the toll it took on not just Twemlow’s finances but his mental and physical health as well. It’s an unfortunate, but all too common, end to the story.
Despite that, Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow is primarily an upbeat film, focusing on the man’s drive, the enthusiasm he had for making movies and recollections of what a charismatic, intelligent man he was and how good he was to those around him. Even his ex-wife, who divorced him due to his womanizing, finds it hard to talk badly about him.
Despite running just over two hours, Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow never drags. There are more than enough film clips, animations and behind the scenes stories about everything from doing special effects on a not so special budget to Cliff hiring Oliver Tobias thinking he had gotten Oliver Reed, to keep it interesting.
Mancunian Man: The Legendary Life of Cliff Twemlow had its North American premiere at this Year’s Fantastic Fest. No release plans have been announced, but from what I’ve read Severin is planning to release at least two of his films, G.B.H. and Eye of Satan. I would expect this will be released when they are, hopefully by itself as well as in a set.