Julien Neaves, Caribbean Head Writer
A month ago Pempaleh Productions uploaded 1978 Trinidad and Tobago comedy feature Bacchanal Time on YouTube (shout out to fellow TT film reviewer Matthew Bailey for pointing it out).
The story centres on a stick fighting competition organised by a shady promoter named Pretty-Boy Reds (Edwin Ayoung aka calypsonian Crazy) and the efforts of star stickfighters Bondo (calypsonian Gregory “GB” Ballantyne) and Gopie (Kamalo Deen, who also wrote, directed and edited the film), their wives, Pretty-Boy’s incompetent henchmen, and Gopie’s relatives to reach the competition. Stick fighting/kalinda is a type of martial art for which a national competition is held during the annual Carnival festival in Trinidad and Tobago.
One of the best aspects of reviewing Caribbean films, and TT films specifically, is discovering classics like Bachannal Time. It’s like digging up a time capsule and taking a trip into history, complete with late 70s fashion, cars and music. Speaking of music, that is one of the main draws of the film. The film is a who’s who of calypsonians of the time playing characters or appearing as themselves. In the first category there was the aforementioned GB as Bondo, who has the physique of a champion stick fighter and does well with the comedic aspects of the part. Calypsonian Randolph “Count Robin” Hillaire also puts in good work as henchman Jake, one half of the rhyming duo Snake and Jake.
But my favourites were Crazy, who shows off great acting talent as the sleazy Pretty-Boy, and Winston “The Shadow” Bailey, who appears briefly as the mysterious and menacing Bossman. Bailey’s voice can also be heard singing the titular theme. In the second category Calypsonians Trinidad Rio and Calypso Rose are among those who play themselves and perform.
In terms of non-calypsonians, Deen is believable as frazzled groom and stick fighter Gopie, and Sherma Deen and Gale Hajaree are solid as Gopie’s bride Shanti and Bondo’s pregnant wife Elsa respectively. The two ladies do employ seduction and feminine wiles on their various misadventures which do make the characters feel very dated. On the positive side late veteran actor Errol “Stork” St Hill is hilarious as bumbling, bossy and woman-crazy henchman Snake. St Hill, who would be familiar to older Trini audiences for his comedic antics especially when paired with the late great Shirley “Beulah” King, gives the standout performance of the film and is the source of most of the laughs.
And Bacchanal Time is a pretty funny film. It’s whimsical, over the top, and outright silly at times, never taking itself too seriously. Heck Snake’s weapon of choice is a slingshot instead of a gun or a knife. And the set-up of the four different groups heading to the competition is simple and straightforward, making things easy to follow. The calypso soundtrack, which also features Count Robin and the Sandhurst Chanters, is quite catchy, though the background music of the title theme plays a bit too much.
The film’s madcap pace keeps things moving along nicely for the most part but it does stop to showcase some of the cultural aspects of the country. The scenes of a Hindu wedding, a Shouter Baptist service, and the above mentioned calypso performances go on just a tad too long and slow things down somewhat. I understand Deen wanted to showcase Trinidad culture as much as possible but they do detract from the narrative flow. And the stick fighting scenes in the climax could have benefited from some better choreography.
That said, I had fun with Bacchanal Time and I would recommend it for Trinis, those interested in TT music, culture and history, or anyone just looking for a light, wacky classic comedy.
Editor Jules’s Score: 7.5 out of 10
You can watch Bacchanal Time for yourself at the link below:
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville. And to stay on top of all Redmangoreviews articles you can like and follow us on Facebook here.