Big Banana Feet Review

Cast: Billy Connolly

Genre: Stand-Up, Comedy, Documentary, Music

Directors: Murray Grigor, Paddy Higson

Mark your calendars for the much-anticipated release of ‘Big Banana Feet’ on the big screen, scheduled for 10th May 2024.


The emergence of the iconic figure known as the Big Yin is beautifully captured in the recently unearthed film, “Big Banana Feet,” which chronicles Billy Connolly’s 1975 tour. This documentary showcases Connolly’s comedic evolution and delves into his journey towards achieving unparalleled fame. As audiences witness Connolly’s transition from a budding comedian to a master of his craft, they are treated to a glimpse of his extraordinary talents blossoming on stage. Additionally, the film provides a unique insight into Connolly’s adjustments as he navigates the uncharted waters of newfound celebrity status.

In today’s digital era, where every moment, from our selfies to our breakfast spreads and deepest confessions, is immortalised online, it’s startling to realise that genuine artistic creations were once disposable and easily lost. Take, for instance, “Big Banana Feet,” a documentary capturing the Irish segment of Billy Connolly’s 1975 UK tour. It was almost consigned to oblivion after its distributor went bankrupt, and its director, Murray Grigor, entrusted his copy to a friend in the US, where it vanished without a trace. But fate intervened: the film resurfaced four years ago in an archive at the University of California, and thanks to painstaking restoration efforts, it’s now being reintroduced by the BFI in all its glory. Meanwhile, the Irish media’s treatment of Connolly during that time seemed to dwell on negative angles, fishing for controversy and backlash instead of embracing positivity. By focusing solely on the negative, they inadvertently harm their image, neglecting the potential for fostering goodwill and constructive discourse.

This documentary serves as a captivating time capsule, showcasing a blend of nostalgic elements such as pervasive cigarette smoking and behind-the-scenes vignettes, which exude a sense of glamour, particularly with the presence of Belfast tea ladies meticulously pouring tea. It not only offers a glimpse into the essence of an era but also presents a compelling portrayal of one of Britain’s most influential comedians as he stands on the precipice of achieving megastardom. Grigor, the filmmaker, draws inspiration from DA Pennebaker’s renowned work, “Don’t Look Back,” which documented Bob Dylan’s 1965 UK tour. This documentary follows the trajectory of a young Glaswegian comic, just after his memorable 1975 appearance on Parkinson, embarking on the most extensive solo artist tour in Britain’s history. From his initial performances in Dublin to the vibrant streets of Belfast, viewers witness his charismatic interactions with various individuals, from soldiers to fellow performers and even the tea ladies. However, amidst his undeniable charm and zest for life, there’s a subtle yet palpable sense of withdrawal as he navigates the escalating demands of fame.

The performances of Belfast stand out significantly, given the city’s dangerous atmosphere during that period. A touring cabaret band had tragically fallen victim to an attack by the UVF just months earlier, highlighting the precariousness of the situation. Many prominent artists cancelled their Northern Ireland tour dates due to safety concerns. However, Connolly’s unwavering determination to proceed with these gigs served as a vital cultural beacon for the province, paving the way for others to follow suit. Watching “Big Banana Feet” offers a multifaceted experience, delving into socio-political dynamics while providing ample comedic moments. One particularly memorable instance involves a Belfast audience member presenting Connolly with a red rose. Graciously accepting the gesture, Connolly then humorously mimics an explosion (“boom!”) that might occur if the rose concealed a bomb. This daring jest captures the tense backdrop of the times. Despite the temptation, Connolly opts against performing his anti-army anthem, “Sergeant, Where’s Mine,” recognising the delicate balance between humour and sensitivity. He emphasises that his purpose isn’t to dwell on the Troubles but to bring his audience joy and laughter.

However, the documentary does more than provoke laughter. It captures Connolly at a crucial juncture of self-discovery, offering insight into the genesis of his persona. Through interviews with journalists, we witness attempts to dissect the emerging phenomenon of the “Big Yin.” One journalist, reflecting the zeitgeist, notes Connolly’s lack of a flashy stage name, likening him to the boy next door. Others challenge Connolly to defend the perceived vulgarity of his comedic style, particularly his use of profanity on television, which was still a groundbreaking concept in 1975, or his irreverent song exploring the allure of taboo language. In a moment reminiscent of the present day, Connolly echoes the sentiments of many contemporary comedians, suggesting that those who might find his material offensive should avoid it. Then, another journalist poses a fundamental question: “Are you a comedian or an entertainer?” Connolly finds himself needing a clear answer. Is he both or neither? Opting for “comic singer” to alleviate the persistent interrogator, Connolly’s uncertainty is refreshing. This era was before the standardised “stand-up comedy” format took hold, before every entertainment aspect became a meticulously crafted brand. Connolly operated outside modern branding pressures, blending politics with absurdity, soulful melodies with crude humour, and everything in between within a single performance. This documentary reveals Connolly’s artistic evolution when touring comedy was still in its infancy, presenting a fascinating glimpse into the early stages of a comedic icon’s career. “Big Banana Feet” is a captivating rediscovery, showcasing Connolly’s raw talent and fearless creativity before the comedy landscape became saturated with commercialisation.

Overall: 7.5/10

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