DVD REVIEW: Diary of a Bad Lad ****
MADE for less than £4,000, Diary of a Bad Lad is one of the oddest films I’ve ever seen.
There’s no emotional focus, the action veers all over the place and the dialogue is clunky – yet taking your eyes off it is impossible.
The plot follows a suspended college film lecturer and a motley collection of his students as they try to make a film about Blackburn’s underworld crime scene.
Barry Lick, the moral-stripped teacher in question, provides a voice-over to the action, which takes the form of a documentary.
After much persuasion, local gangster Tommy Morghen allows Lick and his students to follow him around in his working life of security organiser, debt collector and general right-hand man to Blackburn’s answer to Ronnie Kray, Ray Topham.
Between them, Morghen and Topham also run tidy little sidelines in pornography, drug trafficking and prostitution and Lick is keen to involve as much of those as possible in his film.
Inevitably, Lick’s ambitions for his film clash with the ambitions of the gangsters with ruinous consequences for all concerned.
It’s impossible to like Lick, whose insistence on keeping the camera running in the most shockingly inappropriate circumstances stuns even the students who are used to his unorthodox teaching methods (he’s suspended from his job on full pay but we are never told what he has done wrong).
He obviously likes something about the people he’s filming and the association has something in it for all the students – soundman Birtie likes the drugs and the women, cameraman Michael is promised money to make a horror film by Topham and crew member Roxy appears keen to get involved in pornography, though this strand of the story is never fully explained.
The most memorable scene in the film centres around a couple who are in rent arrears to the gangsters and who are persuaded to make a home-made sex film to help offset some of the debt.
Their efforts are hilarious but ultimately successful – we learn later that the wife has gone to Amsterdam for unspecified, but obvious, reasons.
On the down side, some of the scenes are overly long and the apparently improvised dialogue doesn’t always appear natural.
But for what they spent on it, this is a mesmerising movie, full of tension and pathos, which proves you don’t have to spend a fortune to make a truly memorable, original film.
Diary of a Bad Lad is released on DVD on Monday, June 28. Go to badladthemovie.com