A Blaxploitation Double Bill (Black Caesar & Hell Up in Harlem)

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Black Caesar& Hell Up in Harlem

Directed by Larry Cohen in 1973, Black Caesar was a classic rise and fall of a gangster tale, whose structure borrowed more than a little from Little Caesar.

It proved a huge hit with Blaxploitation fans. Some NYC cinemas ran the film almost continuously all day long. Even during the freezing cold of a Big Apple winter, film-goers were prepared to queue round the block for a chance to see it when it first hit screens early 1973.

They loved the action, filmed with a high-octane pizzazz by Cohen. They loved Fred Williamson’s charisma in the lead role of Tommy Gibbs, a man who works his way up from ghetto kid to Harlem’s Gangsta Number 1. They also loved the soundtrack supplied by the Godfather of Soul Mr James Brown.

The accompanying album is uneven but tracks like The Boss and Make It Good To Yourself are among the most infuriatingly funky tracks to appear on any slice of soul cinema. Here is James Brown with one of the most sampled songs ever recorded:

Such was the box office success of Black Caesar that American International Pictures demanded a follow-up ASAP and Cohen was roped in to craft a sequel.

Hell Up in Harlem? Well, it’s a mess in places, oozing with cliches and a plot that you might imagine was made up as the filmmakers went along.

In reality it was.

The circumstances behind the making of the movie were far from ideal. Cohen had to film it while he was also making It’s Alive! for Warner Bros.
Not only that but Fred Williamson could only participate at weekends as he was shooting That Man Bolt for Universal on Monday through to Fridays.
A logistical nightmare. Many of the same crew were employed on both films and sometimes, presumably when Williamson’s body double was being utilised, shooting on both projects took place on the same day.

It’s little wonder that the movie makes little sense at times. There are some batshit crazy moments and inconsistencies. Be warned: your suspension of disbelief must be extraordinary if you are to enjoy the film without questioning its plot.

Just take the accelerated character arc of Tommy’s father, Papa Gibbs. In record breaking time he moves from an ageing, benign and law-abiding citizen to badass crime boss, ditching his shirt and tie along the way and embracing some peacock pimp chic threads.

Despite having avoided his own boy for years on end, the suddenly judgmental old hypocrite takes a sadistic glee in banning his son’s ex-Helen from ever seeing her children again, claiming she’s a bad mother.

And I should explain, I literally mean a bad mother and not the kind of bad mother James Brown sings about in The Boss.

Another problem was the soundtrack.

Unbeknown to the AIP bosses, James Brown had messed up the lengths of music required despite being given a print of the picture and exact timings for each of the scenes where his input was required. A music editor had to be brought on board to help Cohen cut and edit each and every music cue until they could fit with the scene. Not an easy task.

AIP were unaware of this and happily hired Brown to score another of their movies, Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off.

Again the Godfather of Soul messed up his timings but didn’t have Cohen to cover up his mistake this time around.

AIP were so pissed off that they refused to use him again and considered legal action against him. Despite this, Brown created another spec score but although Larry Cohen rated it, AIP still wouldn’t use it. These tracks ended up on The Payback, a #1 on the soul charts and his only album to be certified gold.

Luckily, since the success of Isaac Hayes’ influential score for Shaft, followed by Curtis Mayfield’s amazing job on Super Fly, just about every major soul artist was all too keen to jump on board the blaxploitation bandwagon.

Edwin Starr was invited to supply a score. And Edwin certainly delivered. Presumably with the correct timings.

Sampled by Ice-T on 1988’s High Rollers, this is Easin’ In:

For more on Larry Cohen: http://www.larrycohenfilmmaker.com/

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Permissive (Seedy Sex & Suicide in Post-Psych London)

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Permissive_Quad__Poster

Firstly, a quiz question.

Which member of a highly successful Scottish act played a leading role in British film Permissive in 1970?

Clue: The band he is synonymous with are represented in the current Rip It Up exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Further clue: The same bands’ biggest hit reached the top ten in Britain and America.

Answer: Alan Gorrie of The Average White Band.

*

The permissive society is one of those terms you hear very rarely these days. In the 1970s, though, many a moralist was scandalised by the idea of the filth being peddled by the likes of pop stars and the gutter press.

Watching this depressing drama, you may wonder if the Daily Mail readers and Mary Whitehouse types had a point.

Made at the height of the groupie phenomenon, when Bebe Buell, Sable Starr and Pamela Des Barres were names known to every rock fan, despite them having never played a note, Permissive is an unusual example of the then fashionable youth culture movie.

Directed by British based Canadian Lindsay Shonteff, Permissive tells the story of Suzy (Maggie Stride), a mousy and innocent provincial gal who arrives in a very grey London. Here she hooks up with her pal Fiona (Gay Singleton), although Fiona is about to hit the road with hairy arsed rockers Forever More, whose singer (and bassist) Lee is played by Gorrie. Fiona being Lee’s ‘old lady’.

Maggie Stride - Permissive

Not allowed to join them, Suzy wanders the streets with homeless hippy busker Pogo, a highly irritating religious obsessive. ‘God is uptight, man,’ he declares during an unofficial sermon from the pulpit of a near empty church, before giving his none too original thoughts on war and inequality. Thankfully he is quickly arrested and then killed off almost arbitrarily in a car accident. The good Lord giveth and the good lord taketh away.

After his death, Suzy takes her first steps in the highly competitive groupie scene. She ditches her duffel coat and starts to wear more fashionable glad rags like a bright maxi-dress and bippity-bopitty hat. She also embraces her inner bitch and slowly wins acceptance into the Forever More clique.

Shot very naturalistically on a budget of around £20,000, Permissive is pessimistic as hell and isn’t much of a fun watch in any way. It does, though, present what I would guess is a pretty authentic portrait of a time when the sixties dream was disappearing fast even though many might have refused to admit it.

Suzy Superscrew was one title touted for the film and if any dirty old man had headed along to his local fleapit picture house on the basis of that sensationalist name then they would have left disappointed. Any sex here is dull. ‘Two minutes and 52 seconds of squelching’ to borrow a phrase later used by Johnny Rotten. The bands exploit females and the females – who happily backstab each other to protect their position in the groupie pecking order – are only too keen to give them what they want.

Why they should do so I have little idea, Forever More are far from the rock royalty of the day. Rather than the champagne, cocaine and private jet lifestyle of a Led Zep, this is more a pint of bitter in a dimpled glass, a badly rolled joint and trips across the country in a cramped Ford Transit van.

Alan Gorrie - Permissive

The film’s music has its fans although I’m not really one of them. In addition to Forever More, cult acid-folk band Comus (who Stuart Maconie recently raved about on his Freakshow, and who were once given a residency at David Bowie’s Beckenham Arts Lab) provide a pretty good opening title theme and some other incidental music. There’s also a very forgettable act Titus Groan, who appear briefly onstage too.

Here I should point out that Forever More were a real band. Post-psych longhairs they were a very average white band specialising in very interminably long bluesy numbers. They recorded a couple of albums, Yours and Words on Black Plastic, for RCA which I have no desire to ever seek out.

Alan Gorrie definitely made a good move getting the funk and forming AWB in 1972 along with former Forever More bandmate Onnie McIntyre.

Gorrie’s acting skills are limited but I’ve witnessed many worse performances from musicians over the years. Most of the acting here is mediocre at best although Maggie Stride does a solid enough job as Suzy and Gilbert Wynne as sleazy manager Jimi also impresses.

This was Gorrie’s one and only appearance on celluloid but he did go on to compose and perform the scores for two further Shonteff films, The Yes Girls from 1971 and 1972’s The Fast Kill.

Strangely enough, Permissive, despite all the negatives I’ve listed, is a fascinating watch in places, especially if you have an interest in the Britain of the 1970s.

I’m guessing the editor had paid close attention to Performance, when deciding to add a number of ominous flash-forwards. One near the very start of the film that looks like a suicide. A touch that really sets the tone for one of the bleakest films ever made with a rock background.

If Ken Loach had ever directed a sexploitation film it might have resembled this.

For more on Permissive: https://www.bfi.org.uk/blu-rays-dvds/permissive

Dressed to Kill & Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!

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Dressed to Kill

My Italian soundtrack composer kick is ongoing. Over the past few nights I’ve been listening to Pino Donaggio, whose soundtrack career started with his haunting score for Don’t Look Now, before he forged a close collaboration with Brian De Palma. Over the years he’s supplied the music for many of that director’s films including Carrie, Body Double and Blow Out.

Before all that, though, Pino Donaggio penned a tune that became one of the great pop classics of the 1960s, Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te).

This song reached the top of the Italian charts in the Spring of 1965 and was also featured in Luchino Visconti’s award winning film Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa, which is sometimes known as Sandra, or in Britain, Of These Thousand Pleasures.

You might not think you know the tune from its Italian title, but you do and you most likely adore it, believe me, believe me! You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, as it was renamed with newly coined English language lyrics, becoming a British number one in Britain for Dusty Springfield in the Spring of 1966.

Italians Do It Better? Not on this particular occasion, this being one of the relatively few tracks where a cover version far surpasses the original. Here is Pino Donaggio anyway, performing the song on Italian TV.

Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill proved one of the most critically divisive movies of the 1980s. The movie is heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s Psycho and Italian Gialli movies – for starters, there’s a razor wielding killer in disguise, brutal murders and a pair of amateur sleuths, in this case the unlikely pairing of a nerdy and inventive Harry Potter lookalike and a high-end hooker.

The film is far from perfect – even when it was first released I found the whodunnit element easy to solve and Nancy Allen’s acting veers towards the flat but Dressed to Kill certainly grips you and, as always with De Palma, there are many virtuoso touches to enjoy. The long and wordless sequence in the museum is extraordinary, unpredictable and utterly dreamlike and brilliantly complemented by Pino Donaggio’s wonderful score.

The movie’s main theme accompanies the famous opening shower scene (where we see parts of Angie Dickinson’s body that I don’t remember ever seeing on Police Woman). Okay, it was actually a body double.

Donaggio’s music here is sumptuous and might come over as sentimental and even a little sickly but together with the visuals, it provides the ideal suspenseful counterpoint to a scene that makes for increasingly uneasy viewing.

Finally, some more music by another Italian maestro of scoring, Signore Berto Pisano.

From the soundtrack of a Italian/German/Spanish co-production from 1971, Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! that starred James Mason and Jean Seberg, this is a superb slice of bossa nova grooviness featuring that sometimes soaring, otherworldly soprano of Edda Dell’orso.

Another track that Stereolab would love, this is Kill (to Jean):

The Return of Django (& A World Cup Rant)

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Last year on Twitter, Yoko Ono asked the question: Who will win the World Cup? Her answer being, ‘the child who believes in a peaceful world.’

I can never muster up any enthusiasm for football nowadays and haven’t watched a single game but would guess if this child had been in Scotland’s qualifying group, the probability is that Scotland would taken an early lead, before being pegged back immediately and eventually beaten by a last-gasp free kick into the corner of the Hampden net.

It’s just been announced that the next World Cup in Qatar will be played in November/December of 2022 and I’d guess Scotland will once again fail to qualify for this.

You may say I’m a dreamer but I would actually like if the Scottish footballing authorities declared they were refusing to even take part in any qualifying campaign for this corrupt event.

A line has to drawn somewhere and I’d draw it at staging football’s biggest tournament in a undemocratic land where where gay sex is punishable by jail, the stoning of women is legal and where hundreds of migrant workers drop dead each year as they work on construction projects including the building of new stadiums to host the World Cup.

Back in 1977, the SFA were invited to play a friendly as part of a South American tour at the National Stadium in the Chilean capital of Santiago. Four years earlier the country’s dictator General Pinochet had rounded up scores of innocent Chileans for the purpose of brutally torturing and killing them in the very same stadium. Despite this, Scotland’s footballing blazers agreed to the invitation, the resulting match being dubbed the ‘match of shame’.

The chances of the SFA doing the right thing this time around?

About the same as making money from Yoko Ono’s football tips.

*

Anyway, so what have I been up to while half the world has been glued to the coverage of the current World Cup?

Well, watching a lot of Italian cinema has taken up a big chunk of my time. Since the war, Italy has given the world a succession of critically adored directors like Pasolini, Antonioni and Visconti. They’ve also produced some of the planet’s best genre movies, especially in the wake of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, which ushered in a mad period when Italy was making more westerns than Hollywood.

After the success of Sergio Corbucci’s classic Django, there was maybe even a time when there were more spaghetti westerns with the name Django in the title being made than Hollywood westerns, most only based loosely on the coffin-dragging drifter of the original. Django Shoots First; Don’t Wait, Django! Shoot!; Django Kills Slowly; Django the Bastard and Viva! Django. I could go on. And on.

I’m guessing Italian film copyright law wasn’t stringently enforced back in the day.

Lee Scratch Perry was obviously a fan and here he is with The Upsetters on one of the most irresistible slices of ska ever recorded, The Return of Django:

Bizarrely enough the only official Django sequel came out in 1987, long after the Italian western craze had petered out, although a few years ago it was reported that we might yet see Franco Nero return again as Django,  with speculation surfacing about the actor reprising his iconic role for a third and final time in a movie taking place around fifty years after the events of the original.

Of course, Nero did also turn up in Tarantino’s Django Unchained for a cameo where he asks Jamie Foxx’s Django his name and asks if he can spell it.

‘D.J.A.N.G.O. The D is silent.’

From Django Unchained (but originally used on His Name Was King in 1971), this is Luis Bacalov & Edda Dell’Orso:

For more on Qatar, and the Independent newspaper’s campaign against modern day slavery, click here.

 

Dirty Angels

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Vergogna Schifosi

Tonight, the perfect accompaniment to relaxing in your deckchair on a sunny early evening and sipping a chilled glass of Buckardi (that’s equal measures of Buckfast and Bacardi with slightly less ginger ale).

If you don’t already know this obscure little gem then you’re in for a real treat. Honestly, don’t even think about leaving this page without reading on!

Ennio Morricone is the maestro behind the music of such films as A Fistful of Dollars and Once Upon a Time in the West through to The Untouchables and The Hateful Eight. His work has been sampled by a long list of acts from Big Audio Dynamite, Goldfrapp to The Prodigy and, of course, Stereolab.

He is also one of the rare musicians that I would firmly class in the category of genius.

Even so, I’ve still seen less than half the 500 plus films that he’s supplied the scores to and I can’t claim to have seen Vergogna Schifosi (or Dirty Angels, to give it its English translation) apart from some poor quality clips on YouTube.

It doesn’t seem to be available to buy from eBay or to download anywhere so Mauro Severino’s 1969 movie might be an underappreciated masterpiece or, alternatively, utterly awful, but even if it is a dud there’s still an exquisite Morricone soundtrack to enjoy.

According to someone commenting on YouTube, the opening track Matto, Caldo, Soldi, Morto… Girotondo sounds like a ‘satanic erotic mantra’ and I can see where they’re coming from but from the little I can glean from the internet, the song has some kind of connection to Giro Giro Tondo, an Italian nursery rhyme that is the equivalent to something like Ring Around the Rosie.

Featuring the honey-saturated soprano of Edda Dell’orso, whose voice here conjures up visions of earthly paradises, I’ll go for a Capri beach with golden sands, inhabited by Monica Vitti lookalikes in bikinis and the most intensely coloured rainbow you’ve ever seen in the sky.

Glorioso!

More Morricone in the near future, folks.

Teenage Superstars – An Interview with Grant McPhee (An Updated Repost)

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Big Gold Dream Teenage Superstars

Tomorrow night (29/6/18) sees a screening of Teenage Superstars, the sequel to Big Gold Dream, in Glasgow’s Govanhill Baths.

The film, shown last week in Edinburgh as part of the Film Festival’s Documentaries Strand, follows on from where the Big Gold Dream left off. There’s plenty of fine music from The Vaselines, Jesus and Mary Chain, BMX Bandits and a host of other Scottish indie stalwarts with the likes of Jim Reid, Alan McGee, Edwyn Collins and Eugene Kelly all interviewed along the way.

For those lucky enough to be going along, the legendary Jowe Head (Swell Maps & Television Personalities) will be playing his first Glasgow gig in 20 years, with some Teenage Superstars, Duglas T Stewart and Rose McDowall, helping out on backing duties. Additionally there will be a Q&A with director Grant McPhee and you can BYOB.

The screening starts at 7 pm on the dot but there will also be a few Easter eggs being shown from 18:30, so get along early, folks. A percentage of the ticket price goes towards support for Dan Treacy of The Television Personalities. Booking information here.

The Original Interview (from Sept 2016)

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 Twitter.

Long Shot (Scottish Connection #4)

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Long Shot 1978
Director: Maurice Hatton
Cast: Charles Gormley, Neville Smith, Anne Zelda

Today marks the start of the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival.
This year’s programme promises some real cinematic delights including the American Dreams strand which will showcase some of the most fascinating new films from independent cinema across the pond including Unicorn Store, the directorial debut of Brie Larson. What I’m most looking forward to, though, is Hal, a documentary portrait of director Hal Ashby (of The Last Detail, Harold and Maude, and Being There fame).

Also being screened on the 40th anniversary of its premiere at the 1978 Festival at the Calton Studios is an obscure micro-budget film about filmmaking shot mainly in Edinburgh during the ’77 Festival.

Long Shot will be shown again this year on Sun 1 July at the Filmhouse 2 and here’s an updated version of a review (with a little added flavour of the Edinburgh independent music scene of the era) originally available here.

Long Shot

1977 proved to be a key year for independent music in Britain, The Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch EP proving to be the catalyst for what would become a boom period for the D-I-Y ethic. All of a sudden independent labels began springing up around the country with Edinburgh well to the fore, represented by such fondly remembered imprints as Fast, Zoom and Sensible; labels that gave the world The Human League, Rezillos, Mekons, Valves and many more.

The idea of setting up a record label and bringing out a few thousand copies of a single suddenly struck many as easily achievable. The Desperate Bicycles could even sing ‘It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it’, but in the pre-digital era, for budding independent filmmakers hoping to shoot a feature, it was often a gargantuan task scraping together enough money to buy film stock, pay actors and crew and all those other inevitable costs.

And while the head honcho of a label could bring a bag full of singles to be sold along to a local record shop like Bruce’s on Rose Street or Hot Licks on Cockburn Street, or go down the mail order route, small film production companies faced major problems setting up deals for distribution at any of the major British cinema chains.

Mithras Films, the London-based production company behind Long Shot, was certainly far removed from the studio system while the film’s director, Maurice Hatton, was once dubbed ‘the most incorruptibly independent’ of British filmmakers.

Shot on some super grainy film, mainly short-ends and stock that was on the brink of expiring from what was then East Germany, the film illustrates the struggles of Charlie Gormley (played by Charles Gormley). He’s a small-time producer touting around a script by his pal Neville Smith (played by – you guessed it – Neville Smith). A likeable Glaswegian, Charlie’s passionate but never too in-yer-face when delivering his spiel regarding Gulf and Western, a ‘movie about oil’ set in Aberdeen and he elicits interest from one distributor, who promises to front some money if Gormley can land a name director, preferably Sam Fuller, to helm the film.

Long_Shot_-_Charlie_Gormley_&_Richard_Demarco

Most of Gormley’s time is spent on wild goose chases, desperately trying to track down the veteran American director, who is due to make a guest appearance at the Edinburgh International Film Festival as well as persuading typists to update the screenplay, and hustling his script to any exec, agent or possible investor prepared to listen. Who will then – if they judge the project has any merit – insist that compromises will have to be made.

I’m not sure how much easier it is to get a feature film made today but at least in the age of smart phones, Microsoft Word and the internet, the majority of hopefuls will at least spend less time being rejected.

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Fuller is a no show and in a meeting with Wim Wenders, Gormley brings up the idea of him becoming involved – something which Wenders doesn’t totally rebuff. Later it will be the turn of John Boorman to be courted, and he shows genuine interest in working on Gulf and Western, albeit with no guarantees.

As for stars, Susannah York (who Neville confuses with Julie Christie and then Lynn Redgrave) and Sylvia Kristel are both apparently in the frame for the role of the lead female – knowing how popular softcore porn and sex comedies (which featured not very much sex and even less comedy) were with British audiences of the time, the latter might have been the better choice purely in terms of the box office.

In real life, Charlie Gormley co-ran an independent production company, Tree Films, in Glasgow along with Bill Forsyth around this time, the pair earning their money mostly by shooting sponsored documentaries for local tourist boards and large businesses. Forsyth is seen briefly in a cameo here where he discusses what I’m guessing is an authentic project that the pair worked on together.

Yes, fact and fiction blur incessantly in Long Shot – most of the cinematic luminaries here play themselves (or versions of themselves) although a few others are morphed into completely invented characters: Alan Bennett provides a turn as a hapless and hopeless doctor while Stephen Frears is a nameless biscuit salesman whose car is hijacked by Neville and his new pal Annie – incidentally, Frear’s debut directorial effort, Gumshoe, had been penned by Smith.

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Long Shot is episodic, fading in and out and utilising a plethora of title cards throughout. Shot mostly in black and white (with colour only making an appearance very late on as things finally start looking up for Charlie and Neville) the film, despite its obvious financial limitations, is a fascinating watch and might just be the most insightful fictionalised look at what would later become known as lo-fi or guerrilla filmmaking that I have seen.

The performances are solid and naturalistic with particularly enjoyable turns from both Gormley and Smith. I know I was rooting for their project to be green-lit. It’s also very amusing with some strong farcical comedy, and it undoubtedly deserves to be more widely known, having only ever been screened once on British TV, on Channel 4 over thirty years ago.

Luckily, last summer Long Shot finally gained the chance to been seen more widely via a British Film Institute dual format release as part of their Flipside series, dedicated to rediscovering cult British films. Previous entries having included Bronco Bullfrog, Deep End and Bill Forsyth’s That Sinking Feeling. Long Shot is a valuable addition to the list.

The extras included are generally very strong, the best of the bunch being Hooray for Holyrood from 1986, an enjoyable and informative look at the first forty years of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (with a couple of brief detours to Cannes) presented by a delightfully caustic Robbie Coltrane.

There’s also Scene Nun, Take One, a short and almost silent comedy directed by Hatton that comes over as a love letter to the French New Wave; Sean Connery’s Edinburgh, a 1982 TV documentary that does exactly what it says on the tin and an enlightening 22 page booklet with new writing by Dylan Cave, Bill Forsyth (whose award winning Local Hero could also be called a movie about oil) and Vic Pratt.

The real life Gormley went on to direct a couple of films, the best-known being Heavenly Pursuits, which starred Tom Conti and Helen Mirren. His TV work includes 1993’s Down Among the Big Boys with a cast that included Billy Connolly. Sadly he died in 2005.

For more information on Long Shot visit the film’s page on the BFI site.

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