Those who know me — happy few! — will aver that in one thing I am something of an absolutist. I absolutely don’t like depressing Scottish realist films. My producer and friend Nigel Smith is even more adamantly of this opinion, and has dubbed the genre “miserabilism”, a term which has since CAUGHT ON and been used in no less an organ than Sight & Sound. Nigel further categorises these films as the “piss in a milk bottle and sling it at yer granny” school of filmmaking, quotes the Johnny Rotten line “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery,” and suggests that the ultimate message about the Scottish people promoted by miserabilism is “we are victims and we live in a terrible place.” While perhaps being more moderate in my views, I don’t strongly disagree with any of this pithy assessment. But then, maybe my moderation is due to the fact that unlike Nigel I generally avoid seeing any of these films if I possibly can.
But no more! Since my great good friends Colin McLaren and Morag McKinnon have embarked on their feature film debut ROUNDING UP DONKEYS (Morag actually has a no-budget feature to her name already, but she’s been keeping quiet about that), and since said extravaganza is a follow-up of sorts to the award-winning RED ROAD, and since RR seems to epitomise many of the attributes associated with miserabilism (unhappy working-class characters, tragic backstories, unpleasant sex scenes) … in short, since all of that, I feel I’m going to have to bloody watch RED ROAD.
I’m treating this as a kind of scientific experiment. Each day for a week I’m going to run a bit of the movie but if, after a bit, I can no longer stand the skull-crushing depression, I’ll stop it, watch something cheerful, and resume the next day. Now, I might actually become HOOKED and forget my aversion to this kind of entertainment and watch the whole thing at once — if so, I solemnly vow to let you know how it went down. On the other hand, the sheer Scottishness might be too much for me almost at once, but I figure that even if I can only manage fifteen minutes at a time I’ll have the thing well and truly watched inside of a week. And I can send despatches from the front line along the way.
If I do end up fragmenting the film thusly, I’d have to admit that’s not an ideal viewing experience of the kind the makers had in mind, so you can make allowances accordingly. On the other hand, I HAVE screened some films I respect and, in a sense, enjoy, in just that way. I found Bob Fosse’s STAR 80 so horrific, and Eric Roberts’ performance in it so skin-crawlingly unpleasant, that I had to keep stopping the tape every ten minutes so I could prance around the room clawing the imaginary ants from my body. Despite this, my admiration for the film is enormous, and not just because it’s the only film, to my knowledge, photographed by Sven Nykvist to begin with a close-up on a portrait of Telly Savalas.
So — I will begin my assault on the north face of RED ROAD immediately, and will be posting regular updates on my progress to its rugged and inaccessible summit.
Wish me luck.