Film 2020: The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix

For all its resolutely English title and the presence of the legendary Murray Walker providing spirited commentary on the titular Grand Prix, The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is a foreign film and a Norwegian one to boot. There it is known as Flaklypa Grand Prix and is a classic that is broadcast every Xmas. I saw it on British TV an uncountable number of years ago and loved it instantly.

The film is based on a series of books created by cartoonist and author Kjell Aukrust and, according to Wikipedia, is the most widely seen film in Norwegian history, with 5,500,000 seats sold to a population of 5,000,000. It’s made in stop-go animation, was originally intended to be a 25 minutes Xmas TV special which basically featured sketches based on Aukrust’s works, with no connecting thread, which was eventually scrapped before being revived as a full-length idea by director Ivo Caprino.

And four more films have been made based on Aukrust’s cartoons, none of which have been translated into English which, based on the evidence of this one, is a damned shame.

But if you’re talking damned shame, the real one is that the DVD of this film seems to have suffered damage since last I watched it, which has made the final eight minutes – including the race conclusion – impossible to watch. So this post is of necessity incomplete. Sure, another version of the film is currently being downloaded as I write, but it’s being suggested it will take most of the day before I can catch up.

Mind you, as we all know that the hero will win and the villain be disgraced, hving the ending on a plate is not necessarily essential. The film has had long enough to impress itself with its warmth, eccentricity and depiction of a strange and impossible place that would be similarly fascinating and frustrating to live.

The place is Pinchcliffe, described as a hill village, ‘100 miles north, a bit east and up’, in short a nowhere discoverable in space, a brigadoon where things aren’t as they are in our world. Pinchcliffe is a small village of plain wooden houses, at the base of a twin-mountain outline consisting of two uneven rocky peaks separated from foot to height but linked by a stone bridge. The silhouette of these peaks identifies Pinchcliffe over and again, and they’re apparently based on a rock outcrop where Aukrust was born.

Anyway, at the top of the higher peak lives Theodore Rimspoke, noted bicycle repairer and inventor, with his two assistants and virtual family, Sunny Duckworth and Lambert. Sunny is a cheerful go-getting optimist, Lambert a fearful pessimist. Also, Sunny is some form of blackbird and Lambert a big-nosed hedgehog. Who wears a rucksack on his back.

Now if that last detail doesn’t capture you, I should give some careful thought about whether to watch this film. We are in the land of the wilfully eccentric, powered by a hefty dose of whimsey, all wrapped up in a delightfully Heath-Robinson-esque attention to overtly complex gadgets, such as the local cameraman perched on a bicycle-driven mobile camera-post that Sjy ought to be taking a look at for covering football.

This is a world of its own with its local paper an equal to all the major newspapers of the world and its own, wonderfully archaic television station. That’s the start of the ‘story’ as Theodore and co watch the Sports news one night, featuring the new motor-racing sensation Rudolph Gore-Slimey (he’s the villain,how can you tell?) and his Boomerang Special. Gore-Slimey was a former assistant to Rimspoke who disappeared one day, evidently with Rimspoe’s plans to build a powerful motor engine…

Rimspoke is philosophical but Sonny is outraged. There is the framework of a super car, Il Tempo Gigante, in the coach house, but not the money to even buy nuts and bolts. Fortunately, the gold Rolls-Royce belonging to Sheikh Abdul ben Bonanza of Aladdin Oil has broken down in Pinchcliffe and his chauffeur Manuel Desperados, a gorilla-chimpanzee cross, is struggling to fix it. Once the Sheikh sees the plans for Il Tempo Gigante, he finances Rimspoke for the forthcoming Grand Prix to be held in Pinchcliffe.

But the night before, Gore-Slimey and his assistant sneak in to sabotage the car by sawing part way through Rimspoke’s power contraption: one key characteristic of the dialogue is the highly-technical pseudo-scientific devices discussed in profound but utterly confusing language so don’t expect a more detailed description.

The race attracts an international cast of drivers, as well as Murray Walker, all with wonderfully speed related names – the German, Herman von Schnell, the Irishman, Jimmy McQuick, the Swede, Ronnie Turnip-Anderson – and a crowd of literally dozens, stood all round the course waving Rimspoke on.

The race itself is a thing of mixed fortunes. The film’s one failure is that for distance shots, conveying the speed of the race, it resorts to Matchbox-style models of the cars that are too obviously a solid toy car as opposed to the things of improbable design that they are in close-up.

Naturally, Rimspoke has to start thirty seconds behind the field, to make up that gap in unbelievable time, and just as naturally he hits the front before the half-sawn through thingie breaks down and he loses all power and has to coast into the Pits from the back. Everybody fusses futilely but Lambert spots the sabotage and holds the thingie up, restoring power. By default, he becomes the new second driver as Rimspoke cuts through the field again, leading to one final duel with Gore-Slimey, who resorts to open trickery to try to preserve his advantage…

But I haven’t got that bit thanks to the damaged DVD. On the other hand, the download has progressed far better than it intially led me to think, so if you’d like to get yourselves tea and/or coffee whist we wait…

The film’s final few minutes bring the race to an end but the sense that all this is taking place within a bubble is re-emphasised when we cut to Rimspoke’s worksop that night. They’ve got the Cup, they’ve had the fun, but tomorrow is about returning to repairing bicycles, and the usual in-passing quarrels. Lambert gets the inside berth in the bed he shared with Sonny tonight, because of his efforts: out of the draft for once. But it’s all over and real life, or rather their ‘real life’ reasserts itself. It’s a clam and gentle moment on which to end.

Which is as it should be. The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is a slow film, in our terms, but a better word would be unhurried. It takes its time, because there is no need for rush. Things will get done, and the diversions along that way, such as the band concert with Manuel Desperados as guest drummer, are just as much a part of living as the Grand Prix of the Century’. It’s a part o things, along with the gentle but wide-ranging colours. The film is mellow but distinctie, the screen a riot of colours, but all of them natural. It’s picture is complete and perfect. Abandon being miserable all those who enter here.

I’m disappointed that there are no credits for the English voices. Walker is unmistakable, and I applaud him for his willingness to lend his voice to this, and I’m eighty percent certain that the narrator is Derrick Guyler, an opinion shared by many on-line, where it appears there are no records of the English voices.

So, not the usual Sunday morning excursion into Filmland, but we got there in the end. If you’ve never watched The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix before, make the effort, take time off, sink in, and then start a petition for English-dubbed versions of the other four…

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