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Introduction
Brassed Off! actually came out before The Full Monty (the former in 1996, the latter in 1997) even though I saw the second film first, which is based around a similar situation and also has a brass band playing in the opening minutes of the movie. I actually thought I had the wrong video at the time but it soon became apparent that I was indeed watching the stripper movie not the flugel-blowing one (that's a kind of trumpet, actually).

The main difference between these two films is that The Full Monty starts off in a pretty depressive state and comes up trumps on a relatively high note, whereas Brassed Off! is honestly going in the other direction. This is not to say that you wouldn't want to watch this DVD at the risk of dying of terminal depression, but it is a genuine and heartfelt portrayal of the end of this (or any other) era where the fading embers of a once proud working-class society slowly drifts away into history.

Brassed Off!
To pigeon-hole this movie within any one genre does this film much disservice as you can't even call it a combination of comedy, romance and drama. It is something that isn't easily classifiable since you go through a whole range of emotions here at once, more often you are laughing when you think you should be showing sympathy for the characters and vice versa. But this isn't something to feel guilty about. In real life you're not always capable of expressing how you truly feel although it doesn't actually mean that you still don't care in a particular way. The uncertainty of life makes us react in differently to how polite society deems that we should react in public - this is what causes unrest within a person and this movie tends to make you feel the same way, which is ultimately a good thing here.

Brassed Off! portrays the last days of a brass band formed by the local workers of each and every community in Britain as they compete for the yearly championship trophy. Obviously you would think that this movie exhibits everything to do with the typical British ideal of “pomp & ceremony”, but it simply represents the centuries-old creation of a tight-knit society that both respects their past and looks forward to the future. Regardless of the political issues involved herein (which are given a token summary at best), any industry may become redundant for economical, environmental or other such reasons - the effect that this has on a community as a whole is quite devastating if not totally destructive.

This movie is one of ultimate humour and sadness (within the same scene even) which probably seems like the worst mixture of elements since vegemite and corn flakes. However, it does represent how strong one must be to keep on living despite the seemingly insurmountable hardships that one must face when your way of life has all but gone. Honestly, our kids probably have it far too easy relying upon the dole to survive compared with the situation of a whole township disappearing within the blink of an eye if there is no more money to sustain its population. The concept of the welfare system is a rather controversial one where it is sometimes seen to dampen the will to work for a reasonable wage. But industry and commerce are fickle things indeed in which one decision can turn about the fate of thousands without any hope of recourse for someone who simply wants to live a life in relative comfort.

Brassed Off!
The music that plays throughout this movie is of course of the brass band variety, it is no different to what we hear when Queen Elizabeth rolls by in her horse-drawn carriage. But the tone of this movie most certainly paints a different picture of these traditional tunes from the land of Hope and Glory. This is British filmmaking at its most poignant and finest of its craft, something that Hollywood could probably have produced itself but would have ultimately fallen into the unavoidable referencing of American flag-waving that comes with being such a patriot in that country. Truly, Brassed Off! has the same impact each time it is viewed which makes it an enduring classic that will hopefully be better remembered in years to come than the more operatic productions such as Gone With The Wind (personally speaking).

From my research through IMDb about all the films based on brass bands there are apparently only three of these ever having been made, but I digress that there must be more of them around. At least with this film you will get to learn about every instrument that exists in the category of brass other than the ones starting with a -T- (the euphonium is another one). Oh, and the characters from Brassed Off! are about soon-to-be out-of-work coal-miners whereas the ones in The Full Monty involve a bunch of already unemployed steel-workers...just thought I'd point that out here.

Movie
In 1992, Northern England was in the middle of a crisis as the many townships that had once thrived through the existence of the coal-mines are now facing extinction in the name of progress. Grimley is one such place. It has a colliery brass band headed by the passionate conductor and general motivator Danny (Pete Postlethwaite, Dragonheart, The Usual Suspects). It is made up of local workers, some of them who find themselves facing an uncertain future as the lifeblood that flows within this band slowly dwindles. An unexpected visitor named Gloria arrives (Tara Fitzgerald, Sirens) who used to live within this district and she somewhat boosts the spirits of the band again, including that of her former flame Andy (Ewan McGregor, Star Wars Prequels, Trainspotting). No one is quite sure what to make of this so not everyone shares in the general enthusiasm as her arrival seems too coincidental given the timing.

Nonetheless, the yearly brass band competition is upon them and Danny is more fired up than ever to win this prestigious event, although his desire ultimately blinds him to the current plight faced by the townfolk. Danny's son Phil (Stephen Tompkinson) and his family are in serious debt but Phil will not let his father down at such a critical juncture just when the band has won one of the major finals. Inevitably, their pit has finally closed down on a vote by the workers to take redundancy packages and the township will soon become another statistic in the economic landscape of England. Danny suffers a minor stroke and this symbolises the band's fate for the remaining members. Somehow, when hope is all but gone, they still find a way to band together as it were to fulfil Danny's dream of winning the National Title, although their last hurrah means little to Danny if the band are left with nothing in return.

Brassed Off!
But even with all the doom and gloom there are still some genuine belly-laughs to be had throughout as well. Tthe situations that arise and classic one-liners being uttered here are an absolute riot. It still goes to prove that the best medicine is laughter even when the odds are firmly stacked against your favour.

Some of the poster images that have been utilised to promote this film overseas has the female lead presented in such a way that she either looks like she's done up for a night out in London or that it isn't the same woman at all. This is a big problem in my view since this movie is about the dilemma faced by the blue-collar working-class people which usually does not have the equivalent of international cat-walk conventions in their local township. It kind of gives off the wrong impression for this movie as a result.

Video
The film-to-video transfer, presented in 1.78:1, is quite superb, however the source film-negatives elements contain some pretty visible cut-cues in places. Although dull in comparison with other DVDs, it's brilliantly realised.

The colours are adequately saturated yet dreary in their presentation and the clown suit in particular typically shines the brightest amongst the overcast skies of England. Black levels are very deep with no hint of low-level noise to ruin the picture and shadow detail is equally strong even in the near dark environment of the few coal-mining sequences. Grain is apparent in a few scenes although this is hardly apparent to the naked eye, it still does exhibit an overall "documentary feel" to the image.

Film artefacts come and go without hardly a moments notice but a few marks pop up occasionally which aren't of the usual variety of nicks and scratches. Focus is quite sharp with a complete lack of any digital “blockiness”. There are a few instances though of grill-aliasing problems that may prove a little distracting depending on the TV that you are watching the movie with, but these are usually few and far between to be of any major concern.

Audio
This is the original stereo mix in Dolby Digital 2.0 which is more than satisfactory for this type of film - it may not be flagged as a proper Pro-Logic surround encoding, but my amplifier definitely played it like one. The brass music exhibits a very strong presence throughout, both when the band performs it as well as within the backing score for the characters in their domestic situations. Even though a 5.1 remix isn't available it's probably for the best that this soundtrack hasn't been tampered with at all.

Brassed Off!
The dialogue is at a sufficient level of volume here although many non-Briton's will no doubt have some difficulty with the accent that is uttered throughout, unfortunately there are no subtitles whatsoever to resolve any doubts about what is being said here. The music of course is what the movie is famous for (amongst other things) and this mix certainly does not disappoint when melting even the hardest hearts of stone (except maybe the teenage rap-star wannabe's out there).

It would have been nice to have a 5.1 soundtrack as well but this would of course have spoilt us terribly. I'm sure that what was mixed here at the time of production was as much as the producers originally intended for and any modifications would surely have made things worse in general. There are many subtleties that are derived from this soundtrack which would be a shame to have go missing if a 5.1 remix had been in the works, so for now this Pro-Logic mix (apparently) in DD 2.0 is perfectly acceptable.

Extras
Again, it's a shame that we don't get more than we want but it's probably better for the movie's sake. Under the special features banner there is an equal amount of text and video to peruse through which at first provides some obvious bits of information, however it does provide a little history behind the coal-mine closures and how this is represented in the movie itself.

Firstly, there's the production notes text screens which delve into the filmmaker's desire to tell the story, the actors' musical training for their parts and the involvement of the real-life community that made this film a reality. Next is the synopsis of the film's scripting based on the events around the "pits" as they were called then. The biographies & interviews with cast & crew contain equal parts written interviews and video discussions from the actors. The behind the scenes footage is made up of raw video edits from the filming of two different locations for the movie, but sadly the theatrical trailer is missing.

Brassed Off!
Overall
Magna Pacific has released this movie as a lower-priced DVD title like some of their previous offerings such as Two Hands, Point Break and Four Weddings And A Funeral. Their first products brought into the R4 market were less than satisfactory to the average DVD consumer, but now their limited catalogue includes fully-featured (and full priced) DVDs like Rabbit Proof Fence as well as the very welcome budget range that does not skimp on the quality of presentation even then.

I'm glad I picked up this title for a third the price of regular DVDs available, although this particular movie is just darn good value anyway that it wouldn't have mattered if it were sold at the RRP. This R4 version though is missing a few little extras from the R2 edition like the additional photo gallery.

At around $10 in some stores you can't go wrong with this classic of British cinema. Buy it now if you want to be moved and entertained simultaneously, but if you find yourself reaching for the tissues by the end of it you can always lift your spirits back up by throwing in The Full Monty later on if so desired.


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