The Round-Up


The James Cosmo Experience.

“Production has begun on Morag McKinnon’s ROUNDING UP DONKEYS featuring James Cosmo (BRAVEHEART, TROY), Brian Pettifer (AMADEUS, IF), Kate Dickie (RED ROAD) and Martin Compston (SWEET SIXTEEN).”

This is the second film in Lars Von Trier and Zentropa’s ‘Advance Party’ project, three films using the same group of characters. I thought it was a dumb idea at first, but any excuse to make a film is a good excuse, if the film itself is good, and I have hopes for this one. The writer is gifted word-engineer Colin McLaren and the director is Morag McKinnon, both friends of mine and long overdue for a feature gig.

The scheme was intended for writer-directors (schemers are fond of limiting their options in this way, in hopes of whittling out as many promising candidates as possible), and Morag signed on as such, then found herself a bit stumped and got Colin in to help.

“Is it OK if Colin helps?” she asked.

Then, a little later: “I think we’ll have to give Colin a credit, he’s really collaborating quite actively on it.”

Then: “Colin’s writing it.” 

“A bittersweet, tragicomic tale of making amends, ROUNDING UP DONKEYS centres on Alfred Patterson (James Cosmo), who learns of his impending death and decides it’s time to make amends with his estranged daughter and her precocious 12-year-old.”

The first film in the ‘Advance Party’ scheme was RED ROAD, which won some awards and which I suppose I’ll watch at some point, but which seems, form its reputation, to embody exactly the kind of miserabilist mindset I generally can’t stand in British cinema. But I have to give it a chance.

The exciting difference with ROUNDING UP DONKEYS is the addition of humour, including an opening inspired by Jacques Tati’s PLAYTIME and a lot of tragi-comic black comedy around the feckless central character and his numpty pal. (I’ve discussed the project with Colin and Morag a few times during its looong gestation.)

The same two collaborated on several previous shorts, including BAFTA-winner HOME, available on the Cinema 16 DVD, the film which introduced their lucky donkey motif, and both have collaborated with myself in the past: I produced Morag’s first ever short, THE END, back when we were babies, and edited DIARY OF A MADMAN, starring Colin, who adapted it brilliantly from Gogol’s short story. Colin then starred in two of my films, HOW TO GET UP and CLARIMONDE, proving himself the leading exponent of the Scottish Expressionism school of performance. We wrote a bunch of unmade films together, including such misterpieces as ENTITY BLOUSE AND THE SPY FROM FFABRIC and INSIDE A DOG, and then co-hatched CRY FOR BOBO after an evening spent getting outside of some wine and watching three hours of mind-palpatingly depressing Scottish short films.

So there’s history there, and so I’m no doubt biased, but wouldn’t it be nice to think somebody was making a British film that might be worth seeing? Join me in my world and believe.

“Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins.”

“Homer Simpson, smiling politely.”


16 Responses to “The Round-Up”

  1. Well, although he’s not to your tastes, I’m finding it near impossible to track down Greenaway’s latest film NIGHTWATCHING, the best I can find is a Russian televisual broadcast, complete with Russian Dub, hola!

    I met the director of RED ROAD at the Canterbury premiere (the film was made in Margate, I think), seemed a fairly lively, interesting character, though at the same time, a little like she didn’t want to be there or a strong case of ADHD. Can’t recall anything interesting worth repeating though. The film’s conclusion is fairly weak… beautifully shot overall, though.

  2. dcairns Says:

    Yeah, I’ve heard it’s nice use of digital.

    I’m slightly bitter because Andrea Arnold got where she is ’cause her short film won the Oscar, and the short film Oscars are governed chiefly by luck…

    Yeah, Greenaway seems to be shrinking from view, which perhaps confirms in his mind the idea that cinema is dying. In fact its Greenaway that’s dying.

  3. Chris B Says:

    >In fact its Greenaway that’s dying.

    His new film (about Rembrandt) is supposed to be strong. I find it amusing how Greenaway always dismisses Loach and Leigh, and you don’t like all three. PG isn’t miserablism, has a great sense of humour and whose work is visually stunning… those three fit your criteria, non? His encyclopedic, scientific and cinematic qualities may be the distractions, I guess, but that’s your problem, not his. :)

  4. Chris B Says:

    Oops! with “cinematic”, I mean ‘cinema itself’ (as a theme).

    Btw, picked up Wellman’s THE PUBLIC ENEMY for £4, transfer looks stunning!

  5. dcairns Says:

    Greenaway dismisses almost everyone, which is his right.

    I could connect him with Loach and Leigh by virtue of his being dry, static, uncinematic, deadening and joyless.

    He has some kind of humour, I suppose, but I haven’t ever found him FUNNY.

    Amazing how nasty I get when I have the flu, isn’t it?

  6. dcairns Says:

    Yes, everything in that James Cagney box set is worth getting. But it would be nice if they’d release the early funny ones like Blonde Crazy, Hard To Handle and The Lady Killer. Amazingly fast-and-loose stuff.

  7. Chris B Says:

    >I could connect him with Loach and Leigh by virtue of his being dry, static, uncinematic, deadening and joyless.

    I’ve personally never understood any of the critics comments regarding PG’s “unemotional” delivery… ‘cold’ and ‘sterile’ are words I would accept but they’re just part of an emotional state, to which, if it isn’t their thing, fine, but certainly makes for lousy criticism.

    >He has some kind of humour, I suppose, but I haven’t ever found him FUNNY.

    This reminds me of when I first came to visit and Fiona commented on my lack of responsiveness to the Buster Keaton short you played. I think Keaton is an absolute genius but I rarely laugh at his work, I’m more in awe as to the construction of the piece than anything else… Which is also why Chaplin irritates me so, if he’s not funny, I have very little to fall back on. The food machine opening to MODERN TIMES is hilariously funny though, too much in fact, the film climaxes before it’s even begun.

    ‘Uncinematic’ means what exactly?

  8. dcairns Says:

    Keaton is funny but you don’t have to laugh at him. Greenaway wants you to think he’s witty but doesn’t actually say anything clever, ever. He’s NOT funny, to me anyway.

    “Uncinematic” I guess is lazy shorthand, but what it means in this case is that I just don’t think Greenaway gets what cinema is or can do, and his use of it strikes me as very limited and, frankly, a waste of everybody’s time. If he had just made The Daughtsman’s Contract, fine, but he’s stayed in that mode and barely developed at all. It’s like if Jarman had followed Blue with Green, Red and Mauve. Some things are perfectly suited to one-offs, but become boring when pursued ad infinitum.

    His films don’t make me feel anything, they don’t provoke any interesting thoughts, and I don’t find them visually stunning because they just repeat the same old tropes endlessly. I just want him to stop. It shouldn’t make any difference to me because I can just avoid seeing the films, but in some obscure way I would be happier if he ceased work at once.

  9. Chris B Says:

    Argh! Sat down to watch Assayas’s new film BOARDING GATE and, despite being toted as an English language film, there are chunks in French and Cantonese (I think), alas, no subs provided.

    >I just don’t think Greenaway gets what cinema is or can do

    Oh! I think he does, but his response towards what he knows of the histoire(s) du cinema means he wants to pursue a different course. To take a comment you’ve made on this blog before, when you referred to PG’s static camera (except for tracking shots); a simple response to audience’s engagement with ‘action’ in movement. Add up a number of these supposed “anti-audience” devices and the only failure I can see would be believing that it is, in fact, anti-audience (successful static camera: Ozu, Akerman, Haneke, etc).

    >If he had just made The Daughtsman’s Contract, fine

    Take it you have no time for his short films either? DRAUGHTSMAN wasn’t his first feature, btw, THE FALLS was.

    Thing is, Greenaway began as what I would call, a “lightweight avant-gardist”; a formalist and parodist of structuralism, who would later (post-’82) posit himself within “mainstream” cinema, His themes and obsessions would continue, in a provocative manner, while constantly adapting to changing technology and working with all forms of art… but it’s not like he didn’t have anything to say. To quote A.L. Rees:
    “While Jarman set a new agenda for gay pride as an art form, Greenaway’s arcane savagery undermined straight society in a different way. If Mrs Thatcher was the new Elizabeth, or even Bloody Mary, here were two Jacobeans ahead of the game. Each made proleptic and caustic attacks on the new order to come, Jarman with his nightmare vision of derelict London, JUBILEE (1977), and Greenaway with his troubling morality tale of private enterprise, THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT (1982). In the long period of Tory rule from 1979 to the later 1990s, their films explored the extreme edges of the national psyche and irritated its sore spots: sexual psychosis, greed, nostalgia, corruption, madness and exploitation. This heady mixture had a ripe appeal for the disaffected liberal intelligentsia who had precious few images to identify with in the age of Essex Man. And so, in this sense, they spoke to – and against – the age, and found for themselves a ready and radical audience.”

    I believe even Rosenbaum had THE PILLOW BOOK somewhere in his list of favourite films from ’97, a film made 15 years after (his and most critics only choice) THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT. Would like to read his comments on TPB (can’t find any online).

    >His films don’t make me feel anything

    And yet, I feel positively elated after a screening. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the criticisms but they just don’t resonate with me.

    >but in some obscure way I would be happier if he ceased work at once.

    Hmm, careful, with a comment like that, you may end up a talentless hack like Alan Parker. :)

    Anyway, all’s good, it appears NIGHTWATCHING has just emerged for my viewing pleasure.

  10. David Hockney sat next to me at the press screening of Prospero’s Books. After ten minites he heaved a heavy sigh and walked out!

    (Slow curtain. The end.)

  11. I’m with Hockney on this one. I appreciate this is a personal response and shouldn’t be taken as law, but if I could take away all Greenaway’s funding and give it to Terence Davies, I would.

    I kind of hate Alan Parker too, though he’s made more films I could sit through.

    Greenaway did explicitly take on Thatcherism in The Cook, The Thief, one of his best films. He found a way to move the camera without moving the audience.

    Largely static camera: Lester, Bresson, Feulliade… but their FILMS aren’t static.

  12. Ozu’s aren’t either.

    And when ti comes to takes on the Thatcher era, NOTHING beats Sammy and Rosie Get Laid

  13. If I were rich, I’d fund Davies. Hear he *is* working on a new project at the moment, which is good news, if true.

    Jury’s still out on Lester (and Truffaut). As I said about Gondry (and, for me, the same rings true regarding the aforementioned) on another forum: “for all their supposed ‘energy’, with characters running around everywhere, acting foolish, Joie de vivre and whatnot, there’s absolutely no life in his work. I see someone traveling down the lines of anarchism but, in effect, only generating boredom…”

    I don’t find PG’s work to be static at all but we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  14. Have copied the Musketeers for you — it might chime with your tendency to find bleak interpretations in “cheerful” works. Here everybody is an idiot except the chief villain, honour is an illusion and love a passing whim. All is vanity, and it all ends very badly. And yet the surface is sunny, romantic and swashbuckling.

    Y’know, I’ve never really enjoyed anything by Hanif Kureishi… I prefer Britannia Hospital, which corresponds exactly to my memories of what that era was LIKE.

  15. I believe I belive ! I was thrilled to hear from Becky Knapp that Colin & Morag were going into production – ‘Home’ is one of my favourite shorts.

  16. This is really promising. I hope they can preserve the humour of the script against any pressure to “normalize” it into another drab Scottish realist film.

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