Archive for Martin Compston

Because There Are No Donkeys In It

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2012 by dcairns

At last — DONKEYS, written by my friend Colin McLaren and directed by my friend and fellow alumni Morag McKinnon, hits the streets today in DVD form. Order it via the link below.

The follow-up film to RED ROAD has taken so long to secure a release that Morag has almost completed her next feature, BREATHING, a documentary co-directed with the mighty Emma Davie, about which more soon. Two years between first festival appearance and DVD. Almost as if someone weren’t quite sure how to sell it.

That trio on the DVD cover provides one clue. Brian Pettifer was in IF, O LUCKY MAN! and BRITANNIA HOSPITAL. Martin Compston was in SWEET SIXTEEN. James Cosmo was in TRAINSPOTTING. So DONKEYS is like SWEET SIXTEEN crossed with O LUCKY MAN! and TRAINSPOTTING. Kate Dickey, recently seen as a mop-topped space doctor in PROMETHEUS, is also a key character. And Brian Pettifer was also in AMADEUS. So maybe it’s AMADEUS meets PROMETHEUS. But that would imply that it featured an old man with a rubber head. It doesn’t.

Look: James Cosmo was the voice of the orang utan in BABE: PIG IN THE CITY. Martin Compston is in STRIPPERS VS WEREWOLVES. You do the math. Any way you look at it, this is a must-buy.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been an advertising copywriter after all. Although I submit that had anybody used my slogans “Goodness Gracious Great Bolognese!” and “Lurpak Spreadable: it’s so spreadable, it’s incredible!” I would be able to retire and live on the moon in a palace made of diamonds and chocolate.

In DONKEYS, compulsive liar James Cosmo learns he’s dying and tries to make up with his estranged daughter (Dickie) while avoiding owning up to his unacknowledged son (Compston) by trying to convince his not-very-bright best friend (Pettifer) that he is the lad’s father. If farce is tragedy played at double speed, DONKEYS is farce played a two-thirds speed. They don’t have a category for that yet.

Contains mild peril.

The concept behind Sigma and Zentropa’s “Advance Party” scheme is that different filmmakers make up their own stories about a group of characters created by Lone Scherfig. A loose concept allowing for considerable freedom of movement — but my chums still recast actors, rewrote life stories, and reduced some roles to walk-ons. Good luck squaring the events of DONKEYS with the events of RED ROAD — it’s fun coming up with theories to make sense of the lacunae. But more fun just to watch DONKEYS, which is as THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ is to EL: crazier, funnier and plottier.

Colin writes:  “Donkeys is a heartfelt look at the human condition, containing Brian Pettifer’s (to date) sole outing as Mahatma Gandhi. Well, now you can own it. And him. It’s out on DVD on Monday. One pence from each purchase goes to keeping me in pens. £1.49 would buy me pens for up to six months. Please give what you can, as long as it’s nine pounds, the cost of the DVD. Thank you.”

Oh wait, I’ve got a slogan for it: “As funny as cancer! No — funnier!”

To continue the supernatural blaxploitation theme, limericks on BLACULA by Hilary Barta, the lord of limerwrecks, are here and here.

Buy DONKEYS here –

Donkeys [DVD]

Morag and Colin’s BAFTA-winning short HOME is included on this –

Cinema 16 – British Short Films [DVD]

Geology, litigation, gender, cinema: my Saturday night.

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2008 by dcairns

The Rat-Infested City of Glasgow

The glamour of film-making — the unit assembles for ROUNDING UP DONKEYS.

Just back from the rat-infested city of Glasgow, which I plunged into in order to attend some birthday celebrations. I was also on the look-out for info that might help me land another film or TV job, though it was unlikely that anybody at this party would be able to grant me one directly, and I was also looking out for any little items of interest for the blog.

The 40th birthdays belonged to Travis and Helen Reeves, whom I know from way back. They are that rare phenomenon, non-identical twins who look alike, though not so much now. I shall explain — while not genetically identical, they have a strong facial resemblance and similar build. But not so much now, since Travis, who used to be Helen’s sister, is now her brother, which makes a fair difference.

It’s all prefigured weirdly in my film CLARIMONDE, I think, where Travis, then outwardly female, provided the voice for a male character (a ghost). The same scene featured another male ghost who was actually a woman in drag, looking like a cross between Ringo Starr and a Mexican bandit.

Along with his gender reassignment, Mr. T has also changed careers — apart from his writing and directing, he used to be a production designer, arranging objects within the three-dimensional space of a set, and is now a sound designer, arranging noises within the three-dimensional space of a cinema (or TV viewer’s lounge). This comparison between the two jobs originates with Walter Murch, and it’s the reason he invented the job title “sound montage designer”.

Helen Reeves is a “diminutive antipodean singer-songwriter” who used to duet with Travis under the unofficial heading “The Twindigo Girls”, though Travis’ deepened voice has made their harmonizing trickier, and rendered the nickname inaccurate.

I did find out a few things that might prove useful in my film-hustling, and caught up with several old friends, such as Bert Eeles, editor of CRY FOR BOBO, and John Cobban, sound designer of same. I also picked up fascinating insights into forensic archaeology from Travis’ friend Friga (sp?), with whom I also co-invented a futuristic dwelling space (the kind of thing I tend to do after a few pints). Friga was bemoaning the fact that geological drill cores, which are basically cylinders of rock, are often very beautiful, what with the interesting laminations in sedimentary stone, but if you’re a geologist you get too many of them to keep. I suggested building a house out of them. Friga initially thought this impractical, since the cores are cylindrical, not brick-shaped, until we jointly realised they could be assembled into a STONE LOG CABIN.

So when you find yourself spending your retirement years in an edifice constructed from little cylinders of laminated sedimentary rock, you’ll know it’s my fault.

The night was spent in Morag McKinnon’s spare room. Morag is fresh from directing her first feature, ROUNDING UP DONKEYS, but I can’t tell you much of anything about that because it’s all at a sensitive stage, rough cut and all. I’m still very much psyched to see it, but there’s a no-DVD policy in force at the moment to stop unfinished edits falling into THE WRONG HANDS, i.e. probably mine.

I can tell you about the LAWSUIT though, because that’s been in the papers. As I mentioned before, ROUNDING UP DONKEYS is the second film in a trilogy, following on from Andrea Arnold’s RED ROAD. While the films are supposed to deal with the lives of a common group of characters, the fact that each movie is the work of a different writer and director means that this was never likely to have the uniformity of Kieslowski’s DECALOGUE. In fact, screenwriter / mad god Colin McLaren refitted the characters to suit his dramatic purposes, giving Kate Dickie a new daughter, and having her meet Martin Compston for the first time, even though she meets him in RED ROAD. So it’s an alternate universe sequel to RED ROAD. (There should be more of those!)

Following in the same spirit, Morag recast a minor character in RED ROAD — Dickie’s dad — since he’s the major character in ROUNDING UP DONKEYS. James Cosmo, a distinguished player who also embodies a dad in TRAINSPOTTING, takes the role. This has upset the actor from RED ROAD, Andrew Armour, who apparently feels that by taking the part in film 1, he was effectively contracted to play him in all subsequent films, should the character appear. I don’t think he has a legal leg to stand on, but there’s a terrible pathos to his position: he’s said that this is his only chance at a leading role, which is tantamount to admitting nobody would ever cast him in a star part except by accident.

I like Armour in RED ROAD — he seems like a real old guy who’s kind of wandered in front of the camera, rather than like an actor, which is surely a good thing. But the character written by Colin is a new person in all but name, and requires a different sort of player to bring him to life. It’s just one of those things.

If you want a really sad casting story, consider the case of the actor originally cast as Sonny in THE GODFATHER. In order to get Paramount to agree to cast Al Pacino (an unknown who had underperformed in screen tests), Coppola had to agree to take James Caan as Sonny and let the original guy go. Not only had the guy already celebrated getting the part with his family… I can’t remember his name. Because he’s not famous. He never got another break — that was his shot.

(Maybe I’m inclined to depressing tales because I’m hungover. More cheerful stuff tomorrow!)

Roadkill

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2008 by dcairns

On the Road 

I’ve been sounding people out about my treatment of RED ROAD (in brief, watching it in episodes over an entire week and sorta live-blogging the experience). I was worried that I wasn’t being fair to it. I was much meaner about THE COTTAGE (and somebody, perhaps the director, has objected to this in the Comments section) but at least I saw that one in approved conditions, at the cinema and in one go.

Generally, friends said things like “You’re being quite even-handed about it, but the fact that it’s taking you a week to watch it…one can read between the lines.”

Well, without my even noticing, I managed to watch more that 24 minutes of it last time — in fact, it was more like 30! So I knew I had only one short burst left in store, but somehow I couldn’t quite settle down to it last night. I spent the evening making screen grabs of Anton Diffring’s arse exploding instead, which somehow felt more, I dunno, rewarding.

An angle on my shoulder

But, with Jaffa Cakes to the ready I finally completed my epic slog through the film. I was pleasantly surprised! As I had suspected, the long-delayed revelation that explains Kate Dickie’s erratic behaviour through the whole film was kind of a damp squib in dramatic terms, failing to exceed what I’d already imagined. And in the aftermath of her LADY VENGEANCE-style attempt at gaining retribution (a completely half-arsed scheme that could never have worked — does Andrea Arnold have any idea how appallingly hard it is to secure a conviction for rape?) the pace slows to a crawl, to the point where you expect it to start replaying backwards, like that bit in FUNNY GAMES. Kate’s in-laws make tea. We watch three cups being carefully poured, in real time. A biscuit is selected. Will her dad-in-law have a biscuit? No, he’ll not bother.

BUT! A happy ending. How surprising. Not overwhelmingly happy, but redemptive. Joy Division drone rapturously onto the soundtrack, just to stop us getting TOO excited, and this is accompanied by a high-angle shot that might as well have “The End” stenciled across it — the combination of song and locked-off composition rupture the carefully-preserved aesthetic of the rest of the film, but it’s arguably appropriate to do so. It seemed kind of wrong, though. Maybe making the shot a security camera view would have justified it.

This is the first in a three-film scheme originated by Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa Films, who have been drawn to Scotland by the preponderance of gloom. Like moths to a flame, only a flame that somehow makes the room darker. Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen created a core group of characters (a not-too-diverse bunch of working-class whites, alas) who are to feature in all three films. As I always say, it seems a screwy justification for making films, but if the films are good they won’t need any justification. I’m dining with the writer of the second film this evening, so expect GOSSIP.

RED ROAD seems to struggle slightly with the imposed form. At least one major character, Natalie Press, has no storyline of her own and no real involvement with anybody else’s. Martin Compston is only slightly more integrated. The film apes REAR WINDOW’s construction to a moderate degree, with Kate Dickie’s surveillance job affording her a window into numerous lives, but this isn’t exploited the way Hitchcock did it: there’s really only ONE supporting character, a man with a dog, and his “story” is extremely slight (dog dies, is replaced, a distant echo of one strand from the Hitchcock film). The surveillance work is smoothly woven into the central plot, but other elements, such as Dickie’s van-driving, premature-ejaculating lover, have no real narrative function and seem to occupy space that could be better filled.

Blue in the Face

My feeling is that the film’s constant hugging of its central enigma to its chest is a neurotic mistake. If we opened with the background tragedy, all Dickie’s behaviour would carry more emotional weight, while still being intriguing and baffling. The story overall has a decent heft to it, but it’s drawn out to staggering lengths, and what might help would be a bunch of supporting stories using the other characters. At present they don’t serve any purpose except to pad out a thin plot.

RED ROAD is a superior Scottish film. That’s my problem — it exemplifies an approach to filmmaking that ignores the need for complex narratives and replaces it with nothing but nice photography. It’s well shot, well-acted, well-scored (but some actual TUNES would have helped), but it seems parsimonious, refusing us subplots, tonal variety, changes of pace, fun. It’s the kind of film people abroad might expect from the Scots: dour and tight-fisted.

Behind the Screen

I don’t need each Scottish film to fulfill every possibility of cinema, but I’m tired of the sameness. A filmmaker as able as Arnold ought to separate herself from the herd by making something genuinely different for her next project. Scottish cinema needs a change.

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