Big Banana Feet (1977) – Documentary Review

Big Banana Feet Billy Connolly

By Sarah Morgan

Is there a better stand-up comedian anywhere than Billy Connolly?

There have certainly been several before and since who have had the ability to hold large audiences in the palm of their hands, making them guffaw with the odd word or gesture, while a witty one-liner or surreal story has them rolling in the aisles.

Big Banana Feet Billy ConnollyBut few have managed it for quite so long or as regularly as the Big Yin. What a shame, then, that many of us will not get to see him perform live; he announced his retirement from the stage in 2018. However, lots of his performances have been captured on film – I’d recommend to anyone yet to appreciate his skill and humour to check out his edition of ITV’s An Audience With, recorded in 1985, to see him at the very peak of his comedic powers.

“No airs and graces”

Big Banana Feet may not appeal to newcomers, but longstanding fans will find it fascinating. It isn’t a straightforward recording of the comedian doing stand-up, but rather a documentary about his 1975 tour to Ireland; think DA Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan film Dont Look Back or his David Bowie project Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and you’re closer to the mark.

Obviously, the mid-1970s were a difficult time in the country, with the Troubles in full swing. Connolly and his entourage nevertheless risked their lives to bring smiles to the faces of audiences, first in Dublin and then in Belfast. One journalist during a press reception actually asks him how he feels about travelling to the latter following attacks on a showband; he looks visibly nervous at the prospect, but determined to do it anyway. As he points out, “my records sell well there”.

It’s moments like this, as well as the mundane backstage set-ups at his gigs, that bring home how bleak life, even in showbusiness, could be during the 1970s. There are no airs and graces here, and although he travels by private plane, it’s clear that being on the road (or in the air) is far from glamorous.

Big Banana Feet Billy Connolly

“Groundbreaking and daring”

The segments we get to see of the shows are, perhaps surprisingly, not that funny; the material hasn’t aged well, so you don’t always get an impression of how groundbreaking and daring Connolly was. However, he comes across as being thoroughly decent, and is unfailingly polite, managing to charm the tea lady and remaining pleasant in the face of some occasionally odd questions from journalists. So while the laughs are sparse, an idea of the man behind them is writ large.

Extras include a conversation between director Murray Grigor and Connolly’s then-tour manager, Billy Johnson, recorded at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, where the newly restored documentary, which had long been thought lost, was premiered.

However, I particularly enjoyed Clydescope, a half-hour tour along the Clyde with Connolly as your guide, and with animation designed by his friend, the late lamented artist and writer John Byrne. It’s an anarchic, silly, yet informative offering, and in those respects, is not unlike the star himself.

Special Features:
  • Newly restored by the BFI and presented on Blu-ray and DVD
  • Murray Grigor and Billy Johnson in Conversation (2024, 18 mins): the director of Big Banana Feet and the road manager on Connolly’s tour of Ireland, Billy Johnson, are interviewed after the film’s premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival
  • Clydescope (1974, 31 mins): a panorama of the Clyde, from Biggar to Brodick, with Billy Connolly as your guide
  • BLAST (1975, 24 mins): made for the Arts Council of Great Britain, Murray Grigor’s award-winning short film explores Vorticism, a radical art movement of the early 20th century
  • Restoration demo (2023, 2 min): a before and after look at the restoration of Big Banana Feet
  • Rerelease trailer (2024)
  • First pressing only: Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by Claire Buchanan, David Archibald, Murray Grigor and Douglas Weir; a review of the film from 1977, notes on the special features and credits. Presented in a slipcase.
Big Banana Feet dual format edition is released by the BFI

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