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Smalltime (1996)


Main image of Smalltime (1996)
DirectorShane Meadows
Production Companiesbfi Production Board
 Big Arty
ProducerShane Meadows
ScreenplayShane Meadows
MusicGavin Clarke

Mat Hand (Malc); Dena Smiles (Kate); Gena Kawecka (Ruby); Dominic Dillon (Mad Terrance); Shane Meadows (Jumbo)

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A tale of petty crime in the suburbs of Nottingham. Malcolm's girlfriend, Kate, wants a better life, but Malcolm feels trapped in his old ways by his domineering friend Jumbo.

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In his impressive debut feature, Shane Meadows stars as Jumbo, leader of a ragtag band of small time crooks, specialising in dog food heists and the sale of Eastern Bloc trainers, empty suitcases and non-existent musical instruments. "This ain't f***ing London, this isn't even Nottingham, man. This is Sneinton," proclaims Jumbo, highlighting the provincial focus of Meadows' work.

In a film of this length, it perhaps isn't surprising that characters appear undeveloped, and the charity shop wigs and costumes don't help matters. But Meadows has much affection for his characters, as is evident in the often brilliant comic dialogue. Discussing a domestic accident, Lenny says 'She was microwaving a chicken and it blew up, and she got a wishbone right in her eye.' What Ruby calls her 'suit' is actually a shell suit. Although the joke is usually on the characters, the humour is not vindictive.

Working with a tiny £5,000 budget, Meadows incorporates a variety of shooting styles. The energetic handheld camera work of the robbery scene contrasts with wide, static shots, which almost give Sneinton a feeling of French New Wave cool.

Meadows makes ironic reference to the failed heist of Quentin Tarantino's essay in cool, Reservoir Dogs (US, 1991), in the framing of Jumbo's run from the police. He also adopts Tarantino's iconic image of the gangsters against a brick wall, used here to show Bets, Jumbo and Willy in the prison yard.

Another reference point is an earlier filmmaker concerned with the marginalized common man - Vittorio De Sica. As the gang return, empty handed, from the car boot sale, (having, incidentally, attempted to steal a child's bike), the long walk back home, through unglamorous streets, evokes the journey taken by father and son in the Italian neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette, Italy, 1949).

Jonny Bugg

*This film is available on BFI DVD.

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Video Clips
1. The car boot sale (3:06)
2. Making plans (3:12)
3. The robbery (2:50)
Production stills
Meadows, Shane (1973-)
The BFI Production Board: The Features
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