Oxide Ghosts: The Brass Eye Tapes

FACT 16/10/17

Putting on an event relating to a cult comedy show is like shooting fish in a barrel. Fans of exquisitely written series from The Simpsons to Peep Show are willing to go to anything which allows them to express their appreciation and take rare leave from their crisp-strewn sofa to share reference points with like-minded souls. That isn’t to say, however, that such events cannot be done well and reflect their source material with the love and creativity they deserve.

Brass Eye is rightly attributed to the man Michael Cumming self-reflexively refers to as the “one-off man mental” Chris Morris, making anything which harks back to this televisual perfection all the more difficult to create without appearing a tactless cash-in. Luckily, OXIDE GHOSTS: THE BRASS EYE TAPES was made by the same hands which helped Morris realise the original series back in the mid 90s. Cumming’s fingerprints are also on Brit Com classics Rock Profile, Snuff Box and Toast Of London.

Here at FACT we are in the privileged position to hear from the director and see footage which otherwise would have been left on the cutting room floor (or more precisely, on VHS tapes in a locked box). Anticipation fills the air as people sporting ‘Nonce Sense’ T-shirts and other referential apparel take their seats in a sold-out Screen 1.

Knowing laughs ring out as a barrage of familiar Brass Eye quotations emanate from a screen showing distorted clips from the original series, before Cumming is introduced by friend and collaborator Matt Berry in a recorded message. Our host pays his respects to some of his Liverpudlian heroes, “growing up just up the A6 in the Lake District, this was a city where dreams were made,” and tells us a little about the background of his film.

It’s somewhat of a relief to learn that Oxide Ghosts has been given the Chris Morris seal of approval and in the Q&A afterwards, Cumming himself admits to feeling nervous when awaiting  the enigmatic maverick’s verdict. The film itself is thoroughly reverential to Morris, using oblique terminology to relay some of the daring scenarios the star of Brass Eye got himself into in order to secure footage. There’s notorious gangster Reggie Kray endorsing a bogus animal charity called AAAAAS, Morris wearing a nappy and space hopper for a hat asking real life drug dealers for Clarky Cat and feeling DJ Bruno Brooks’ ire as he vents his spleen on Right To Reply.

The film retains Brass Eye’s desert dry demeanour, presenting previously unseen material almost as evidence which fleshes out the story behind famous scenes while also charmingly cutting in deleted takes of the seemingly unshakeable Morris corpsing. For all of Brass Eye’s acerbic observational humour which ripped apart media tropes of the time, it’s the outlandish use of language and the perfectly ridiculous writing which set the tone of British Comedy’s golden age.

The film will not be released generally, with Cumming instead preferring to keep screenings to special occasions like tonight. He sees this as an antidote to the throwaway culture the internet has bestowed on us and wants the film to force people out to cinemas and experience events rather than watch distracted on smartphone screens or the odd scene extracted and plopped onto YouTube. Everything about the evening makes you appreciate how much consideration went into Brass Eye, the journey that the team went on in making the series and how we’re unlikely to see anything of its kind again. No matter how much we need it.

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