Friday Night Film Club #1 – CBGB & Summer of Sam

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CBGB (2013)
Director: Randall Miller
Cast: Alan Rickman, Malin Åkerman, Johnny Galecki

CBGB, the last I heard, was somehow being transported to New Jersey where it is to be relaunched as a restaurant in Newark Airport, which is kind of like re-opening the Glasgow Apollo as a hairdressing salon in Airdrie. Well that idea isn’t that much dafter surely?

I did promise to review CBGB back in 2013 but after watching the film I found it difficult to muster up the necessary enthusiasm.

Alarm bells had began to ring when I caught Malin Åkerman promoting the movie on Craig Ferguson’s chat show where she told Craig that she was playing Blondie. Not Debbie Harry but Blondie.

Unfortunately at times CBGB resembles that show where Matthew Kennedy brought on members of the public to imitate their singing heroes. Tonight Matthew, I’m Going to be Iggy Pop/Cheetah Chrome/David Byrne etc etc. Except at least on Stars in Their Eyes the contestants did actually sing rather than lip-sync their impersonations.

Promoted with the tagline ‘50,000 Bands and One Disgusting Bathroom’, CBGB promised to be the American 24 Hour Party People but was just too mainstream and predictable – the exact opposite of acts like Television, The Ramones and Patti Smith that became synonymous with the venue.

CBGB bombed at the box office with a total U.S. theatrical gross of only $40,400 and critics were largely dismissive, Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times for example branding it ‘merely a mess of caricatures.’

If you haven’t seen the film, it might be an idea to just watch the trailer which contains the only line that I laughed at (regarding Ramones’ song titles). Or, even better, watch any of the many documentaries that examine the club and its influence.


Summer of Sam (1999)
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino

CBGB was also featured as a location in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam and it would have to be said that painstakingly detailed research into his subject matter do not feature as one of Lee’s qualities as a filmmaker. Seeing SOS gives the impression that for him punk was something that only really happened in London where Sid Vicious sang with that band The Sex Pistols.

Now I can’t claim to have been a CBGB regular in 1977 (or at any other time) but I have watched a fair amount of footage from the venue and the crowds really bore no similarity to what Lee presents here with his motley crew of extras who all look like those awful so called punks that hung around the King’s Road in the early ’80s, hoping that a tourist would slip them 50 pence so they could be photographed with them. And no Spike, you wouldn’t have seen tongue rings and septum piercings in the summer of 1977 either.

Despite the anachronisms, SOS is not the total flop that CBGB is. Lee was a breath of fresh air in the American independent cinema scene of the 1980s and since his early days he’s always been able to construct a memorable set piece scene.

SOS also tackles some explosive subject matter – a real life serial killer whose murders raise tensions across the city, including an Italian-American neighbourhood in the Bronx. All to the backdrop of the disco phenomenon and emergence of punk.

The cast is very good here too, especially John Leguizamo (Carlito’s Way & Kick-Ass 2) who plays Vinny, a disco dancing hairdresser who classes women into two categories, Madonna or Whore – his wife Dionna (Mira Sorvino) being the former while her pal Ruby (Jennifer Esposito) is the latter.

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There’s also some great music, The Who’s Baba O’Riley, Chic’s Everybody Dance and Got to Give It Up by Marvin Gaye being just three examples, but Lee never combines these tracks with his imagery with the same imagination as, say, Lee’s bete noire Quentin Tarantino, which is no crime but I do have a slight problem with some of the songs being so nail on the head obvious, like when Dionna is packing her bags and walking out on Vinny, Lee feels the need to spell things out with Thelma Houston’s version of Don’t Leave Me This Way.

And of course, he couldn’t resist including Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer either, which is heard in a cafe in the background on the radio, the DJ obviously having been given an advance copy to play as the scene is set in the middle of summer and the track wasn’t released till the middle of September on the album 77, while as a single it wasn’t released in the States till December.

Okay, I’m being a little pedantic.

More worrying is the fact that while Spike Lee has always been quick to condemn any stereotyping of black characters in cinema, not for the first time he could be accused of racism himself for his portrayal of a New York Italian community. In SOS, if your surname ends with a vowel then in probability you’ll be a special kind of stupid, the guys usually women hating bullies with a side helping of homophobia and distrust of anyone different – because he’s a punk rock freak, some of these idiots somehow get it into their heads that Ritchie (Adrien Brody) might just be the Son of Sam.

SOS is a long film and just not compelling enough to justify its length of 142 minutes. Unlike American Hustle, where David O. Russell arguably out Scorsesed Martin Scorsese, Lee’s move into similar territory only makes you wonder what the great man would have conjured up utilising the same subject matter.

If you want a better serial killer film try Zodiac and if you want a better disco movie Saturday Night Fever is for you.


Trivia: John Turturro (The Big Lebowski and Do the Right Thing) supplies the voice of Harvey, the black dog who order Sam to kill.

Best of the Year – Cinema

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Before I start on the good stuff, some words on the dud of the entire year.
In the lead up to the American Presidential election, Robert De Niro lashed out against Donald Trump, admitting in a video: ‘I’d like to punch him in the face,’ and explaining that he was very worried that about the direction his country might take under Trump.

Well done you may say although I would rather De Niro concentrated on the direction his own career has taken over the past two decades or so. From Goodfellas to Dirty Grandpa. That’s a career decline every bit as severe as McCartney going from A Day in the Life to that Frog Chorus nonsense but at least Macca had the excuse that We All Stand Together was aimed at children.

It’s not that I object to the infantile humour on display in Dirty Grandpa – I laugh every time I see Brian projectile vomiting on Family Guy and even found the inside the humping elephants scene in Grimsby pretty amusing – but this was just rather sad and the script’s unfunny grossouts really aren’t helped by some sanctimonious claptrap that the De Niro character dispenses to his uptight grandson.

Misconceived from its first scene through to its last, Dirty Grandpa as entertainment, rated somewhere between being forced to watch the boxset of the complete Mrs Brown’s Boys and sitting through a Westboro Baptist Church lecture about God hating fags. Maybe a Golden Raspberry would remind the greatest actor of his generation to consider putting his reputation before potential paychecks.

*

2016 was far from a vintage year for films set in Scotland although some Scots did excel in the world of cinema and played a part in four of my favourites over the last twelve months. Kate Dickie put in a pitch perfect performance in one of the year’s most unsettling films, The Witch, while the ever reliable Tilda Swinton shone in her brief appearances as Thora and Thessaly Thacker (yes, you read that correctly) in the seventeenth Coen Brothers movie, the dazzling Hail, Caesar!

Karen Gillan didn’t impress quite so much in In a Valley of Violence but director David McKenzie (Young Adam, Hallam Foe) deserves to receive some attention from the Academy for his latest offering, Hell or High Water but probably won’t this time around. I expect Jeff Bridges to be more fortunate and earn a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars although Mahershala Ali is a stick on to win that category for his performance in Moonlight. Put your money on it.

Okay, the top ten.

10. Deadpool: A surprisingly entertaining watch for me, albeit I did enter the cinema with far from high expectations. Yeah, it goes out of its way to show how clever its creators are but hey, that’s preferable to most of the lowest common denominator formulaic rubbish that regularly hits cinema complexes. Ryan Reynolds is perfect for the self-referential superhero (of sorts) and lines like his one about David Beckham and good looks had me chuckling loudly.

9. 10 Cloverfield Lane: A far more interesting film than Cloverfield with John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in very good form.

8. In a Valley of Violence: Although not a spaghetti western, this does have a definite pasta-ish feel and John Travolta puts in possibly his best performance since Pulp Fiction. And if there was an Oscar for best animal actor, then Jumpy as Abbie would be taking home the gong.

7. Hail, Caesar!: Fans of the Coen Brothers will lap this up, in fact, fans of cinema should lap this up, especially for the exquisite pastiches of 1950s Hollywood on display: a Noël Coward drawing room drama starring a singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich); Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid in a lavish Busby Berkeley style aquatic production; a very entertaining song and dance number from the kind of musical that usually starred Gene Kelly called No Dames, where a bunch of sailors mourn the fact that they won’t see a woman for eight months after they report back for their next voyage (but after seeing their superbly choreographed routine I think they’ll be fine) and a Biblical epic Hail, Caesar! that stars George Clooney. A swell way to spend 100 minutes of your time.

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6. De Palma: Watching this documentary in the GFT a few months ago reminded me of just how many great films Brian De Palma has directed over the years such as Carrie, Scarface and The Untouchables. I’m now even tempted to give Bonfire of the Vanities another chance.

5. The Witch: Watching The Witch, or The VVitch as it is styled, got me thinking of the way that even all this time later there are still parts of the world where religion reigns totally; where men are thrown off buildings for being gay, where women are forced to marry men who rape them and, even in one case I read about early last year, a Iraqi teenager was publicly beheaded for listening to Western music. The Witch is a harrowing watch but also a very worthwhile one.

4. Sweet Bean was never going to cause any stampedes in the queuing areas of cinema chains but this Japanese film about an elderly lady finding fulfilment in a job making the filling for pancakes was one of the most satisfying watches of 2016. My review here.

3. Hell or High Water: A neo-Western heist thriller by David MacKenzie, a director who has always chosen the music for his movies wisely. For The Last Great Wilderness he persuaded The Pastels to provide the soundtrack, for Young Adam he turned to David Byrne while this time around its Nick Cave, along with Warren Ellis, who supply the score.

2. The Hateful Eight: Released in America last Christmas but Britain had to wait until January to see the eighth film by Quentin Tarantino hence its appearance in this list. My review here.

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1. The Neon Demon:

Warning: Spoilers

A surprise number one I would imagine, having been booed at its Cannes premiere. It also failed to get anywhere near the Rotten Tomatoes top hundred films of the year and polarized critics yet managed to unite many conservatives and liberals, pissing them off equally, mainly due to a lesbian character indulging in some necrophilia and the most grotesque scene involving an eyeball since Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali gave the world Un Chien Andalou.

According to Rolling Stone, ‘The Neon Demon is a special kind of awful’ while the Telegraph’s Tim Robey called it ‘the most offensive film of the year.’

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who is best known for Drive, the 2011 film where Ryan Gosling drives fast and says little, The Neon Demon is hyper-stylized and drenched in startling, super-saturated blues and reds with every frame obviously being shot with the utmost care by someone with an artist’s eye for composition.

Just as impressive is the brooding electronic score by Cliff Martinez, that recalls Giorgio Moroder and Tangerine Dream’s soundtracks back in the 1980s.

Set in the superficial world of fashion where a bigwig designer can declare without contradiction: ‘Beauty isn’t everything; it’s the only thing’ and where young models talk about getting plastic surgery on their ears so they can wear ponytails in the same way they would discuss what they’re having for dinner (which, incidentally, probably consists of a stick of celery and a few grains of boiled rice).

At the centre of the film is Jesse, played by Elle Fanning (Super 8), just turned sixteen and beginning a career in modelling.

Agency heads and high end photographers uniformly adore her and the more she is fêted the more Jesse lets the flattery go to her pretty little head. Her looks, though, attract just as much jealousy as praise – rather than an exploitation film this is a film about exploitation. Mainly of Jesse.

The plot isn’t the best quality of the film and elements of it might even have David Lynch scratching his head. Like Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, The Neon Demon plays out as much like a dream – or, more precisely, a nightmare – than a realistic drama.

There’s also some Lars Von Trier style surreal sadism in the mix and the kind of triangle symbolism that would give Kubrick a run for his money.

Macabre and menacing, haunting and hypnotic, The Neon Demon reminded me in some ways of my experience of seeing Under the Skin for the first time. At times I was borderline bored but as soon as I stepped out the cinema I couldn’t stop thinking about the film and almost immediately wanted to see it again.

The Neon Demon might not be the best film of the year but it is the most memorable one.


Finally it was good to see two splendid British films re-issued, namely Kes and Psychomania. The former a social realist masterpiece about a boy and a kestrel, the latter a horror tale of an English biker gang coming back from death with the aid of a frog. Sons of Anarchy it definitely wasn’t.

That series had shootings, stabbings, stranglings and general mayhem. Psychomania had bikers acting like a bunch of brattish schoolboys in a suburban mini-market. Both Kes and Psychomania featured scores by John Cameron, who, strangely enough, went on to play on the old Top of the Pops – Whole Lotta Love theme tune.

The best re-release of the year, though, has to be Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, which came out on Blu-ray for the first time in Britain during the summer. An anti-war classic and right up there with the director’s best work.

For my review of Kes, click here and for my review of Paths of Glory, click here.

Sex ‘n’ Drugs ‘n’ Archie Gemmill 2

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‘You’re an addict. So be addicted. Just be addicted to something else. Choose the ones you love. Choose your future. Choose life.’

As soon as the new trailer for T2: Trainspotting hit the internet yesterday, fans began speculating about what music Danny Boyle might potentially select for the soundtrack. Wolf Alice appear on the trailer with their not terribly inspiring Silk which will presumably crop up somewhere in the movie but apart from that the contents of the soundtrack remain seriously hush-hush.

There must be many other bands out there desperately hoping that one of their songs might be chosen for what is inevitably going to be the most hyped British film for years with its potentially big selling accompanying soundtrack album.

So what music will be accompanying Renton and pals on their latest drug – or maybe even non drug – fuelled escapades?

Well, I reckon the gang might like the rough and ready rock’n’roll swagger of The Libertines, a band not yet in existence when Trainspotting was launched in cinemas across the world and Boyle has already utilised one of their tracks, Don’t Look Back Into The Sun, in Steve Jobs, so they must surely be in with a decent enough shout of an appearance.

Produced by Mick Jones (and Boyle is a massive Clash fan) this is the first single from their eponymous second album, Can’t Stand Me Now:


What about The Fratellis’ Chelsea Dagger? Maybe, although possibly a bit on the populist side and just too obvious. Franz Ferdinand with Take Me Out? Again maybe just too obvious. Drag Queen by The Strokes? Some new Iggy from Post Pop Depression? Howsabout Blur and Go Out? Or, as Boyle obviously knows the high failure rate of sequels, a self-mocking Bad Cover Version by Pulp for the opening credits?

Maybe more probable than that latter suggestion would be a bit of Glasvegas. Begbie might prefer the radger Go Square Go but I’m going with It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry:


The film script apparently is only loosely based on Porno, Irvine Welsh’s literary follow-up from 2002, which was an entertaining enough read though never anywhere near as riveting as Trainspotting. His latest book, The Blade Artist, doesn’t give much away on what might happen in T2. Renton is referred to and appears in flashback, while Spud has a few words with Begbie at a funeral. Begbie, incidentally, is obsessed with Chinese Democracy (the Guns N’ Roses album that is) but I think it’s safe to say that’s unlikely to appear here. Please tell me it isn’t?

Back in 1996, I lived a few minutes up the road from the Volcano, the club where Mark Renton picks up a younger than she looks Diane.* Around this time I also used to occasionally drink in Crosslands on Queen Margaret Drive, usually up in the balcony where Begbie would randomly throw his dimpled beer glass into the crowd below.

Back then, my internet access was limited to a couple of visits per week to the Java Cafe on Gibson Street and the term blogging didn’t exist but if in 1995 I was contributing an article to an online-journal community on what music might make its way onto the upcoming Trainspotting movie, then I would think my predictions would have been easier.

In fact, you could likely have printed off a line-up for one of the main stages at a mid-’90s Glastonbury and ticked off a whole bunch of acts that might be contenders. Being shot in the era of Britpop and dance music, it was no surprise to see the inclusion of Blur, Pulp and Elastica as well as Leftfield and Underworld.

It also made perfect sense for there to be some Iggy as Tommy is given the ultimatum: ‘It’s me or Iggy Pop, time to decide’ when his girlfriend discovers he has tickets for the great man’s show at the Barrowlands – and she doesn’t, which turns out to be a vital turning point in the plot.

Lou Reed and Brian Eno, like Iggy, were likely the type of acts that the guys would’ve enjoyed as youngsters back in the ’70s so that made sense too. Likewise, from a slightly later era, Primal Scream and New Order, who you could easily imagine Rents enjoying well beyond the mid-’90s. Both acts might conceivably find a way onto the new film so here’s Primal Scream with Bernard Sumner helping out on guitar with the Neu! inspired Shoot Speed/Kill Light from 2000’s XTRMNTR.


One advantage in compiling a soundtrack in 2016 for Boyle is that this time around I doubt he’ll require the likes of Sleeper to provide a facsimile copy of Blondie due to budget restraints – I’m assuming that was the case rather than Danny Boyle believing that Sleeper could improve on Debbie and co’s version of Atomic. To be fair they didn’t do too badly and as the whole sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ Archie Gemmill montage was so engrossing I’m not sure I even noticed it was a cover version on my first viewing.

Anyway, money shouldn’t be much of a problem securing any songs that Danny Boyle wants this time round. If he needs to pay big bucks to use any of his main man David Bowie’s work? No problemo.

I was going to choose some Bowie myself here to end on but decided to offer up something Bowie related and much less predictable instead as I thought about if Danny Boyle made the admittedly unlikely decision to go down the Tarantino route of ‘borrowing’ music from other films.

If he was on the lookout for a kind of Brian Eno/Deep Blue Day moment then he couldn’t do much better than Stomu Yamash’ta’s Eric Satie-esque Wind Words. This track has an impeccable lineage in film soundtracks, used firstly to devastating effect in Bowie’s best film,The Man Who Fell to Earth and then in 1982’s Tempest, directed by the godfather of independent cinema, John Cassavettes.

Chances of it making it on to the soundtrack though? Negligible.

From Yamash’ta’s 1973 album Freedom is Frightening, this is Wind Words:


* The Volcano being previously known as Cinders, where Alan Horne of Postcard Records once ran a weekly reggae night. Strange but true.

For more on my thoughts on Trainspotting, click here.

Teenage Superstars – An Interview with Grant McPhee

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Regular followers of this blog will know that Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream, the highly acclaimed documentary on Scotland’s post-punk scene, was one of my favourite films of 2015.

Directed by Grant McPhee and featuring a host of Scottish indie stalwarts, Big Gold Dream premiered last summer at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it picked up the Audience Award, ahead of twelve other nominees including Asif Kapadia’s Amy and Bill Pohlad’s underrated Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy.

Combining generous helpings of carefully chosen archival material with articulate talking heads such as Bob Last, Douglas McIntyre and Davy Henderson, Big Gold Dream also reflected the fact that being in a post-punk act in the late 1970s and early ’80s in Scotland didn’t automatically mean you had to be a moody young man walking around dreich Glasgow or Edinburgh streets with a well thumbed Dostoyevsky paperback tucked away in your raincoat pocket. No, the documentary had a number of very funny moments – Ian Stoddart, Hilary Morrison and Alan Rankine made me laugh more than many Hollywood comedies have managed in recent years.

Sequels don’t have a great track record in cinema but now, hot on the heels of Big Gold Dream, a follow-up Teenage Superstars is nearing completion and if the finished documentary is as well crafted, thought provoking and amusing as its predecessor, then fans of independent music are in for a treat.

 
The fact that Grant McPhee has spent around ten years completing both films might give you the impression that he must be something of a slacker or, alternatively, a complete perfectionist – but bear in mind, in addition to making them, he’s also worked as digital imaging technician on films such as Under the Skin and the international hit TV series Game of Thrones as well as directing his own independent drama films.

I spoke to Grant last week to find out more and I’ve accompanied the interview with some videos of tracks he chose that he feels represent the new film – unfortunately, due to a lack of space, I’ve had to leave out a number of his other suggestions such as The Shop Assistants, The Vaselines, BMX Bandits and Primal Scream.


What can we look forward to in Teenage Superstars?

Like Big Gold Dream there will be a lot of joining up of the dots. Most of the bands covered are better known to a wider audience but how interconnected they are is probably less well known, and probably very surprising; especially the Bellshill bands who are a very large focus of the film. There was a point where BMX Bandits, Soup Dragons and a pre-Teenage Fanclub Boy Hairdressers shared most of their line-ups simultaneously. This is really the story of those bands and the wider Glasgow scene which followed pretty much straight on from where Big Gold Dream ends. It starts with The Pastels and the vacuum in the Glasgow music scene left by Postcard imploding.

Did you always plan to make two films?

No, it was originally to be one film called The Sound of Young Scotland which was to be about Postcard and Fire Engines only. It actually does exist – to an extent in a 2010 film, but it doesn’t really make sense for it ever to be released now.

Why the decision to double up?

Two reasons. The main one being that a fuller story was beginning to emerge that went far beyond our initial Postcard only story. It became apparent that when we were speaking to some of the stars of the first film there was a direct continuation to a bigger story which warranted a film in itself. For BGD, when speaking to people such as Eugene (Kelly) and Norman (Blake) we realised it made sense to speak to them about both films at the same time rather than coming back at a later date.

Oh right, so to an extent both films were really shot at the same time?

Well, when the idea for TS came along and the scope became wider, rather than risk BGD being eaten up by itself again we just made the decision to make two films. Saying that, BGD was a two hour film that at a very, very late stage had 30 minutes taken out. Those 30 minutes now form a good part of TS. Like I said, it’s complicated haha. But we now start off with The Bluebells, Pastels and Strawberry Switchblade. It’s not fair to say it’s the Glasgow story but some parts of BGD are re-told from a West Coast perspective.

What stage are you at with Teenage Superstars and when would you envisage it first being premiered?

Teenage Superstars is very nearly complete. Things may change but we have some really exciting offers for premieres. At the moment we can’t say too much but we will be able to make some announcements towards the end of the year. The film is almost there but what takes up so much of our time is dealing with archive clearances – music and video and we need to finalise them first. We decided very early on that if we were to do the films properly we needed to use the best music and archive available – it just would not work any other way. I can’t imagine anything worse than using a series of ‘soundalikes’ or those cheap Beatles films without actual Beatles music.

That kinda thing really should be banned!

We also purposely decided to not allow the film-making to take precedence. Both films are very simple in terms of how they are made and told so we felt it would only take away from the story to try anything complicated. And to not have proper archive would just take away from the excitement. So collecting our archive is a long and expensive process which is going to take up a large part of the next few months. But we do have some exciting and unique footage found in people’s lofts and basements.


How would you pitch the film to a distributor or sales agent?

We’re in a lucky position where both films are at such a late stage where they are beyond a proof-of-concept so we don’t have to explain to anyone too much what it would be like, we can just show them the finished film. BGD did better than we ever could have imagined and with that as a track record it makes TS much easier to pitch. The downside is that because of a lack of initial track record they had to be made on our own which was very tricky. At a basic level it’s just a story about great music, regardless of where it came from or when. So really the pitch is if you love this music you will love the films.

Any theories on why Scotland has managed to consistently produce so many talented independent bands over the years?

I think there are a combination of reasons. One is Fast having a strong and driven personality who happened to be around at the right time to nurture some very talented people. Those people having an element of success inspired others to believe they could do something similar. And generations of others have been inspired to either try the exact opposite or something similar to those who came before.

Where do you end Teenage Superstars and – if it takes in the 1990s – do you include the reactivated Postcard?

TS really ends at the beginning of a new era and the end of the film is the end of Postcard 2 and the emergence of Britpop. But like BGD it ends on a positive note, or more positive than that sounds.

And will there be a third film bringing the story up to date?

There is a skeleton for a third film. The honest answer is that both current films have been so all consuming and personally incredibly expensive that a third film would really have to be commissioned by somebody for it to get beyond where it currently is, so it’s likely to remain unfinished. It covers or would have covered Belle and Sebastian, V-Twin, 1990s, Franz Ferdinand etc. There’s so much left to do it likely won’t be released.

What was your technique when shooting the documentaries, carefully plan everything or go with the flow?

Pretty much go with the flow. There was little opportunity for technique due to time. The main objective at the start was making contact with everyone involved and forming relationships and essentially getting voices down onto tape, to document in the purest sense. Obviously the early years were asking questions to extract just information, then as a story emerged – and more contacts were made there would be a refinement of the questions. A big part of the entire process was building up trust with the cast. It’s a lot to ask someone who doesn’t know you to tell you their story and allow you to tell that story to someone else in your own way. Overall we didn’t have any ulterior motives other than attempting to make a great film, and without any previous experience it was difficult to convince everyone of that.

Well, judging by the interviewees, you didn’t do a bad job on that score.

After BGD was released it became a lot easier, mainly that we could show that the first film had serious prospects so this next one could be similar. We were very careful with how we handled the material and various personalities which we took great lengths to achieve and hopefully that would show. But absolutely over and above everything we had an amazing community built around the film. So many people were so open to helping us create the story and we’ve managed to get contacts, information, photos, posters and advice to get the films where they are. That’s really what a lot of time was spent on. Mike O’Connor in particular seems to have an amazing online community of Scottish Indie music by running FB pages for most of the bands involved and his help has been a fantastic resource.

Having that support must have given you some extra motivation to keep at it during the inevitable times when the going got tough?

Actually, it’s by no means an exaggeration to say that without all the music fans support, the films would never have been completed. Of course that also helped the film as expectations started to mount and we had to produce something that could live up to it.


You’ve been filming for a long time now, I would guess that process has speeded up as you’ve gone along?

In the early days things moved very slowly, equipment and time were expensive so we had to save up for a while to do each interview – and that was frustrating. Even a dozen interviews could take a couple of years. Towards the end we managed to cram many interviews into a single day to keep costs down, it wasn’t ideal but it was the only way we could finish the film. Erik (Sandberg) and Innes (Reekie) coming on board was essential with their knowledge and enthusiasm and again the films would not have been made without them. Angela Slaven, our editor was the backbone to the film. We just handed her the material and she managed to make it into a film. Without her it would be very different. Wendy Griffin, the producer elevated the film to places and contacts we just could not achieve on our own, and in terms of finding a place for TS, winning the EIFF audience award has been a significant help. So for the film, a major part was finding the correct behind-the-scenes people for the film and waiting until they were available as their contributions would make or break it. And we had a great team.

Since you’re obviously such a massive fan of the music you cover, it must have been enjoyable talking to your subjects.

That was pretty easy as I was genuinely enthusiastic about finding out about them. My day job is as a technician on larger, mostly American movies so I’m pretty comfortable being around famous actors so I was never starstruck; though to me someone like Norman Blake is a far bigger star than Brad Pitt – and far more interesting.

Definitely!

Angela just cut around my mumbling and tangential questioning and we just had fun speaking to people about records. Other than having to be your own producer and arrange the interviews it was by far the most enjoyable part, along with the editing. Everything after was something close to nightmarish and involved little sleep for two years, haha. But really any process was born out of a massive enthusiasm in the subjects so in that respect this was the simplest part. I just told our subjects that we wanted to make a good film and explained that I didn’t really know what I was doing so asking for their help to achieve this seemed like a good move.

Any plans for a Big Gold Dream TV screening yet or news of a DVD release or VOD?

Yes and yes and more. There is a network TV screening later in the year, and we will have a DVD, streaming and other things available. Our B-Side, The Glasgow School is one extra but we also have 70 odd hours of interviews that have not been seen.

How do you think current Scottish independent music stands up against the Sound of Young Scotland era acts?

It may seem contentious but I think Postcard was the best and worst thing that has happened to Scottish music. Because Postcard had more of a focus on Scottish based bands, unlike FAST it quickly became regarded as a Scottish label whereas Fast were a record label based in Scotland. This, combined with the great music associated with Postcard quickly set Glasgow as a focus for music and aspiring local musicians. The legacy that’s built around Postcard has been so great that it’s very difficult to escape it’s shadow, and the irony is that’s what Postcard was all about. But there are great acts around and some very talented people.

You also direct your own drama films, how is that going at the moment?

Very different to the documentaries. The documentaries are fairly conventional so the dramas allow me to be a little more experimental. There’s one coming out later in the year called Night Kaleidoscope, which has had some good previews and I’m hoping to do another one early next year. I’ve been working with Dave Balfe, who used to run Zoo Records, who’s now a fantastic screenwriter. We’re working on a couple of drama scripts at the moment, one a horror and one a little closer to Zoo history (but purely drama).

And finally, what’s your own favourite music documentary?

I think All You Need is Love is fantastic, some amazing ’70s performances by folk like Jerry Lee Lewis.

Thanks for taking the time to talk and good luck with the film!

For more on Teenage Superstars here’s the Facebook page and here’s the link for Big Gold Dream.

Fans of Twitter should click here.

That Sinking Feeling

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Writer/Director: Bill Forsyth

Cast: Robert Buchanan, Billy Greenlees, John Hughes, Gordon Sinclair

Running time: 93 mins

Original UK Release: 29th August 1979

A neglected city dominated by high-rise flats and blackened tenements. Graffitied brick walls stand half-demolished with rubble strewn around them. The majority of the young people living here seem to be unemployed and crime is commonplace. This is an environment so grim that the closest some of these alienated teenagers get to fun is sitting in an abandoned car in some waste ground and discussing the best way to kill yourself or clustering together in a bedroom to sing Holidays in the Sun by The Sex Pistols.

When one of these young men asks his pals what their hometown is famous for, he receives three different answers.

‘Drunks?’, ‘Muggers?’ and ‘Multiple social deprivation?’

Okay I’m being deliberately misleading here, just as Bill Forsyth was when he included a title card during the film’s opening credits with the following disclaimer: ‘The action of this film takes place in a fictitious town called GLASGOW. Any resemblance to a real town called GLASGOW is purely coincidental.’

The film, in case you don’t know, is an absurdist comedy with a whimsical heart.

That Sinking Feeling BFI

While myself and some pals were living down south in 1981, there was a robbery at the hotel where we worked. The police interviewed us collectively. You can imagine the line of questioning, mainly did we have alibis for the night before? For once none of us had went out on the randan, instead we’d stayed in to watch That Sinking Feeling, which was being shown on TV for the first time. We told the cops this and they hadn’t heard of the film, so asked us to describe the plot, which we quickly ran through for their benefit.

Initially they thought we were winding them up. ‘You watched a film about some young Scottish thieves who carry out a robbery?’

Even taking the burglary out of the equation, this, it would have to be admitted, was a pretty big coincidence. Back then films set in Glasgow with local casts were non existent. That’s obviously changed. Think Small Faces, Red Road, Orphans, The Angels’ Share (another heist comedy featuring a group of young losers), Ratcatcher and even Under the Skin with a lead performance from one of the world’s most recognizable stars but three and a half decades ago, the only thing more unlikely than a film set in Glasgow was probably a film set in some place like Cumbernauld.

The main production company involved in making the movie was even named Minor Miracle Film Cooperative.

Parallels could even be drawn to the local independent music labels that were springing up at the time such as Fast and Postcard. That Sinking Feeling – the Falling and Laughing of Scottish cinema?

Well, not exactly, although like, say, Orange Juice, who railed against the macho Glaswegian rock acts of the era, That Sinking Feeling struck many as a reaction to the Peter McDougall style of social realist Play for Todays.

Nowadays anybody with the determination can have a go at making a microbudget guerilla film but back then, making a feature length movie required a helluva lot more enthusiasm, planning and financial risk than putting out a few hundred singles on your own DIY label – albeit Forsyth’s film was a real shoestring (and independent) operation, the director funding it largely by contacting local businesses and trade unions and asking for donations. Described in the 1979 Edinburgh International Film Festival programme notes as ‘Scotland’s first no-budget feature film’, its £2000 cost even earned it a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the cheapest feature then released theatrically in Britain.

It did certainly point the way for others, its comparative success making similar celluloid ventures suddenly seem more achievable.

Forsyth’s pal Charlie Gormley made Living Apart Together (1982) and Heavenly Pursuits (1985), while that same year Michael Hoffman’s Restless Natives and Cary Parker’s The Girl in the Picture were both Forsyth influenced films set in Scotland.

I didn’t get the chance to watch That Sinking Feeling again for many, many years after that TV debut.

At one point the film was released in a version with a re-recorded audio track (with different actors!) to make it easier for American audiences to understand. Generic mid-80s tracks were also added added to replace the film’s incidental music. I’ve never seen this version and have no intention of ever seeking it out. Unless maybe for a laugh.

Then, I did manage to see the film in a cinema for the first time, when in 2008, Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian selected it to be screened one night at the Glasgow Film Theatre as part of the Monorail Film Club, the film being followed by a very entertaining Q&A with Robert Buchanan who played criminal (non) mastermind, Ronnie, a hapless and helpless figure that, like most of the cast, looks like he’s just stepped out from 1972.

Remarkably I remembered pretty much every scene in the entire film although my mind somehow swapped two of the characters around – I was sure that John Gordon Sinclair had played the part of the character that cross-dresses in order to lure the night watchman away from his duties.

I’ve just watched Forsyth’s debut again, this time on Blu-ray, and would definitely recommend it. It’s out on the BFI Flipside series with some early shorts and documentaries with a Forsyth connection.

Bill Forsyth went on to make the much loved Gregory’s Girl before Local Hero established him as the kind of director that Hollywood took a keen interest in.

Being Human, which starred Robin Williams was an awful film and 1999’s Gregory’s 2 Girls was even worse and must be a contender for any top ten rotten sequels out there – and from what I’ve heard, it was far from the fun shoot of That Sinking Feeling.

 
While writing this it just occurred to me after all this time that the alibi mentioned earlier of watching the film on TV should maybe have been further investigated. After all, we could have watched the film at some place like the GFT on its release, remembered the plot and relayed it to the cops convincingly enough.

Strangely enough too, when filming his heist at a local plumbing supplies warehouse, Forsyth was trusted with the keys, with no presence of anybody from the firm keeping an eye on him while he completed his footage over the course of a weekend. So, as Forsyth discusses with Mark Kermode on the film’s commentary track, his cast and crew could have used the filmmaking idea as an elaborate ploy to steal the sinks, which if sold, could have probably financed the film.

For more on the BFI re-release of That Sinking Feeling click here.

Goodbye, Robin Hardy

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This year there will be no Wickerman Festival. Without Robin Hardy, who directed cult classic The Wicker Man towards the end of 1972,  there would never have been a festival in the first place.

The Wicker Man was not a success on release but this magical and intriguing film has grown in stature ever since to the point where, in addition to the festival named in its honour, there’s been a novelization by Hardy and Anthony Shaffer (who wrote the screenplay), a Hollywood remake starring Nicolas Cage (which I haven’t seen and have no real intention of ever seeing), a number of books on the making of the movie, fanzines, conferences and conventions, film location tours, a stage version and a number of documentaries. Even the recent animated video of Radiohead’s Burn the Witch paid homage to the film that has been described as ‘the Citizen Kane of horror movies’.

The genre of horror experienced a golden age in Britain in the 1970s. Obviously there was Hammer, while studios catering for a similar audience such as Amicus and Tigon thrived too; a post-Hammer ‘new wave of horror’ emerged in the middle of the decade with directors like Norman J. Warren and Pete Walker and there was also the big budget international hit, The Omen. The highpoint of horror in that decade though was The Wicker Man, a film that found no favour with distributors until it was brutally cut in length and relegated to a slot as the support film in a double feature with Don’t Look Now, back when your local picture house provided paying punters with a bit of value.

At times, when I began watching The Wicker Man myself for the first time as part of the BBC’s Moviedrome strand during the ’80s, I didn’t really know whether I liked it or not. Probably because it was utterly unique. I seem to remember it initially striking me as a macabre comedy with bizarre musical interludes such as the bawdy bar song, The Landlord’s Daughter, in praise of Willow (Britt Ekland) and May Pole, which resembled a surreal take on children’s TV of the period – Magpie meets The Incredible String Band.

By the time of Willow’s Song, though, I knew one thing: I wasn’t going to be switching it off until the final credits had rolled – and not just because of a naked Britt Ekland (well a naked Britt and her body double I should say) although I’ll happily admit that I would’ve been in Willow’s bedroom myself quicker than you could say Usain Bolt after that peculiar invitation.

In the unlikely case of you not knowing anything about the plot, Sergeant Howie, played by Edward Woodward, is a pious and pompous Christian with a particularly closed mind who is sent to the pagan community of Summerisle to investigate the alleged disappearance of a twelve year old schoolgirl called Rowan Morrison.

One of the unusual though great things about the film is that it is possible to dislike the priggish hero, a man so repressed he cannot even utter the word sex and who’s offended at every turn by the behaviour of the Bacchanalian islanders. Then there’s that unconventional ending, one of the most memorable scenes of any British film, horror or otherwise, which Robin Hardy shot magnificently.

Hardy really worked wonders on The Wicker Man, to the extent of making Dumfries and Galloway in November resemble May Day and the days leading up to it – at times there was snow on the hills and, while outside, extras had to chew ice cubes so their breath wouldn’t be shown on camera while actors had directional heaters aimed at their waists while they delivered their lines. It’s remarkable that Hardy coaxed so many fine performances from the stars of the film.

‘Hardy was a natural at directing actors,’ Edward Woodward recalled in Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man. ‘He wasn’t easy to work with but I mean that as a compliment. He didn’t let you get away with something just because you’d flash him a charming look, he made you do things differently.’

By coincidence, as someone who is attempting to actively avoid watching any of Euro 2016, I looked out my four disc Final Cut DVD yesterday and watched a couple of the documentaries spread across its four discs, intending to watch the so-called Director’s Cut while Germany faced Italy last night.

Before I got to chance to do so, it sadly emerged that Robin Hardy had died the day before.

~

In addition to his crucial role in The Wicker Man, Hardy also directed a number of other films including the similarly themed The Wicker Tree (2011), which was an adaptation of his novel Cowboys for Christ.

Robin Hardy had planned to make a third Wicker Man film as a tribute to his great friend Christopher Lee, who died himself last year. It really is a pity that Hardy didn’t get the chance to complete his trilogy.

Robin Hardy. 2 October 1929 – 1 July 2016.

This Summer & That Summer!

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That Summer 1979 - quad poster

That Summer! (1979)

Director: Harley Cokeliss

Cast: Ray Winstone, Tony London, Emily Moore, Julie Shipley, Jon Morrison, Andrew Byatt & Ewan Stewart

AA Certificate on release.

Running time: 94 minutes

Into June? Check. Factor 50 required even in Scotland ? Check. Two antihistamine tablets a day? Check. Yep, summer’s here and the time is ripe for reviewing almost forgotten British film That Summer!, which one blogger has suggested might just have the best accompanying soundtrack album ever.

Billed on promotional material as ‘The Summer you’ll never forget’, most folk who saw it on its release promptly began forgetting the film the moment they stepped out of the cinema, not that many people actually did see it in their local pre-multiplex screens although I was one of the rare ones who did. In fact, I saw its premiere in Torquay, the town where it’s mostly set. Long story.

It’s rarely been shown on TV and is unavailable on DVD, officially at any rate, although it does sometimes appear on YouTube. At one point it was even assumed that it had been destroyed until director Harley Cokeliss revealed he’d kept a print which, after restoration, was able to be screened as part of a Ray Winstone retrospective at the Bradford International Film Festival in 2012.

This was one of a spate of youth oriented British films of the period such as Quadrophenia, Breaking Glass and Babylon and some even mistakenly assumed it was a loose sequel to Scum, as in the first few scenes Ray Winstone’s character is on the verge of leaving borstal.

In his biography Winstone, Nigel Goodall calls it ‘a kind of punky coming-of-age flick set by the seaside’ although, despite featuring the best known track by Richard Hell and the Voidoids, clearly none of these characters belonged to the Blank Generation, the bland generation maybe – I can easily imagine the two girls from Leeds who find jobs as chambermaids in the Imperial Hotel, dancing round their handbags together to some bad disco in the 400 Club.

So, the plot. Well, after his spell inside, young Londoner, Steve Brodie, returns home to a grim, concrete estate but decides to get out pronto, hoping to take part in some long distance swimming events off the shores of Devon and Cornwall. He hitches to Torquay and lands a job as a potman in the Pickwick – which is a real boozer and one where I enjoyed some underage pints back in the day.

Also making their way to the so-called English Riviera are the two girls – Carole (Emily Moore) and Angie (Julie Shipley) – who are escaping from their lives as factory wage slaves, as well as Jimmy (Tony London) who desperately wants a break from working in his old man’s butcher’s shop and gets it by hiring out floats and pedalos on the beach.

Added into the equation are a trio of obnoxious, devious and downright nasty Glaswegian neds led by Tam (Jon Morrison). Upon spotting Brodie playing pinball in an amusement arcade, they immediately start picking on him and what would you know, a shot shows the back of Tam’s silk bomber jacket with GOVAN SWIMMING CLUB emblazoned on it, so it looks like he’s going to be taking part in the same ’round the harbour’ race as Brodie.

That Summer stills

I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you much more, there will be conflict surrounding the race and there will obviously be romance too.

The plot of That Summer could never be described as unpredictable and most of the characters lean towards stereotypes – the Northern gals are astonished by how grand it is down south as if this is the era of Gracie Fields and George Formby, while the Scots barely exist outside of some utterly negative caricatures.

The script really could have benefited from just a little subtlety.

On the plus side, Torbay is an inspired choice of setting and, for me at least, there is a certain nostalgic thrill seeing settings like Oddicombe Beach, Torquay Harbour and even Babbacombe Model Village onscreen.

That Summer 2 stills

The cast does contain some very fine actors. I doubt Martin Scorcese cast Winstone in The Departed for his portrayal of Brodie, though he does make the most of a limited role. Strangely enough, at the following year’s BAFTA Awards, Winstone earned an nomination for Best Newcomer, despite the fact that 1979 also saw him star in Scum, surely a far better performance on every count but then again, one year the Oscar for Best Film went to Forrest Fucking Gump rather than Pulp Fiction.

Jon Morrison also does well enough even if he’s nowhere near the startling form he showed in the Peter McDougall penned Prix Italia winning Just Another Saturday, a Play for Today from 1975 considered so controversial at the time that certain scenes were not allowed to be filmed in Glasgow.

Andy Byatt (George) and Ewan (Stu) both went on to bigger and better things. Byatt had a part in Radio On, another 1979 film with a great soundtrack, although he’s best known for acting alongside Harvey Keitel in another Peter McDougall BBC Scotland drama, 1988’s Down Where the Buffalo Go; Stewart was later superbly menacing in the Edinburgh set druggie drama, Looking After Jo Jo.

Some years later Tony London went on to play Steve Jones in Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy while Emily Moore and Julie Shipley are hampered by their cliched dialogue and neither seems to have acted for a long time now.

Released by Arista, the soundtrack album was a collection of sixteen punk and new wave gems with one of the tracks, New Life by Glasgow band Zones, written especially for the movie. There’s The Only Ones with Another Girl, Another Planet; Mink DeVille with Spanish Stroll and Wreckless Eric’s classic Whole Wide World for starters. There’s also (I’m taking a deep breath here) Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Ramones, Patti Smith Group, Boomtown Rats, Undertones, Eddie & the Hot Rods and Nick Lowe with the album compiler wisely ignoring the dated library style music that is used mostly during swimming scenes, as well as sole slice of disco, Boogie Nights. Here is New Life:


Sadly the songs, no matter how good they are, only occasionally grab you and lift the film. We get a lazy attitude to the combination of sound and visuals that seldom enhance one another the way, say, Martin Scorcese managed to do with his Super Eight footage during the opening credits of Mean Streets with Be My Baby. Here, as the various characters make their way to the West Country we get New Life; a snatch of Rockaway Beach accompanies a shot of Brodie on the beach, and the morning after sex, we see Angie rushing into work late to the sound of The Boomtown Rats’ She’s So Modern.

That Summer was advertised at the time as being ‘AT CINEMAS THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY THIS SUMMER’ paired in a double bill along with spy movie Billion Dollar Threat. As I said earlier, it wasn’t rolled out to any great extent and few saw it, although I did manage to discover it did get at least one outing in Paisley.

Perhaps it would have fared better if it had come out just after the cinematic version of Scum when Winstone’s star was on the rise, rather than a month before it, although it didn’t really deserve that wide a release anyway at a time when far superior films like The Deer Hunter, The Warriors and The China Syndrome were all doing the rounds along with money-spinners like Moonraker.

That Summer Caledonian ad

If I was to award stars out of five, the film would get two although the various artists compilation album would get the full five.

If you liked this try: Nil By Mouth (1997) directed by Gary Oldman. A grim watch but Winstone and co-star Kathy Burke are both excellent. And Jon Morrison makes an appearance too. Frustratingly, today Winstone seems to spend more time making ads for online gambling companies than putting in the kind of performance he is capable of, such as his turn here as Raymond or as Gal Dove in Sexy Beast.

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