Archive for August 25, 2008

Trouble Speaking

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2008 by dcairns

Eddie Dick is an Edinburgh-based film producer and former head of Scottish Screen, the organisation for the promotion of film in Scotland. Fiona and I have known him for a few years, but only just this last week actually started sort-of working with him, with a horror screenplay called CELL 6.

Eddie’s most recent film, TROUBLE SLEEPING, directed by Robert Rae and made in association with Edinburgh’s Theatre Workshop, has its TV premier on BBC2 Scotland tonight at 10pm. I emailed him some questions about himself and his movie, and received the following fantastically frank answers:

Edinburgh!

Q: Who are you and where did you come from?

A: I TAKE IT THAT THIS IS NOT A CABBAGE-PATCH QUESTION.  EDDIE DICK, FROM A VARIED EDUCATIONAL/CULTURAL/FILM INDUSTRY BACKGROUND.
 
Q: How did you come to be a film producer?

A: A COLLISION OF ACCIDENT,OPPORTUNITY AND INTENTION.   I CAME AT IT FROM A EDUCATIONAL AND THEN CULTURAL ROUTE WHICH LEAD ME GRADUALLY TO THE FILM INDUSTRY ITSELF.   
 
You’ve rubbed up against both the sacred Bills, Douglas and Forsyth, via your book about BD’s COMRADES (which is easier to get hold of than the film itself) and a much-publicised-locally “row” with Forsyth during your time at Scottish Screen.

(Forsyth, having briefly served on the Scottish Screen committee, accused the organisation of “cronyism” and a “lack of transparency”, words which the media, particularly The Scotsman newspaper, soon had attached to Scottish Screen the way the word “bogus” is always attached to the words “asylum seekers”. The “Dear Bill” correspondence quickly became notorious, although I’m disappointed to see it doesn’t appear to be on the Internet.)

Q: Any anecdotes, or anything you learned from those experiences? It must be pleasing to you to see the Bill Douglas Trilogy out on DVD at last. 

A: RE BILL FORSYTH, THE MAIN THING I LEARNED WAS TO TRY TO AVOID GOING INTO FIGHTS WITH ONE HAND TIED BEHIND YOUR BACK; FAMOUS FILMMAKER VERSUS LOCAL BUREAUCRAT – THERE’S ONLY GOING TO BE ONE “WINNER”.   WITH THE OTHER BILL, THE MAIN THING IS THAT TALENT (ESPECIALLY THAT WHICH IS TROUBLED) DOESN’T PROTECT YOU AGAINST DEFEAT AND ANGUISH.

Shooting TROUBLE SLEEPING.
 
Q: How did you come to be involved with TROUBLE SLEEPING?

A: I WAS ASKED TO GET INVOLVED IN ITS DEVELOPMENT BY ROBERT RAE.   MY FILM’S BLIND FLIGHT AND TRUE NORTH MADE ME THE OBVIOUS, ALTHOUGH NOT THE ONLY, CHOICE.
 
Q: How was the finance raised?

A: PARTLY THROUGH TW’S SOCIAL/DRAMA CONTACTS AND PARTLY VIA MINE (SCOTTISH SCREEN AND BBC).
 
Q: What were the greatest difficulties in making the film?

A: FINANCE AND CONSTANT FIGHTS BETWEEN ME AND THE DIRECTOR.

Wow.
 
I’m very glad that a film has tackled this subject — asylum seekers — from a humanitarian standpoint. Modern Britain often feels to me much like the dystopias of V FOR VENDETTA and CHILDREN OF MEN (which features TROUBLE SLEEPING’S disabled actor Nabil Shaban in not so much a walk-on as a carry-through performance), and it was good to see that tackled in a less fantastical, more down-to-earth way.


 Gary “GANGS OF NEW YORK” Lewis appears in TROUBLE SLEEPING.

Q: The film mixes experienced professional actors with lots of screen experience in short cameo roles, with lots of newcomers in the major roles. (In this way it somewhat resembles Douglas’s COMRADES.) What was casting like, and was their any difficulty unifying the acting styles.

A: THE FILM WAS CAST FROM THE WORKSHOP’S COMMUNITYAND OPPORTUNISTIC WALKBYS( FOUAD, THE WAITER-CUM-SHOPWORKER SAW A NOTICE IN TW’S WINDOW, FOR EXAMPLE).  ROBERT RAE WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN THE CASTING; I ASKED GARY LEWIS AND ALISON PEEBLES, TO DO US A FAVOUR.

I THINK THAT THERE WAS DIFFICULTY IN UNIFYING STYLES.  THERE REMAINS AN UNEVENNESS IN PERFORMANCE, WITH SOME CLEAR WEAKNESSES.
 
I liked Nabil Shaban in the film. From what Eddie told me, I could see that they’d “hired a volcano then told it not to explode,” as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins complained to Jim Jarmusch re his role in MYSTERY TRAIN. But I like the sense of barely controlled ham, and he DOES keep it in check.
 
Q: What next? From out conversations, it seems like you’re moving towards more genre-based filmmaking? Is this a deliberate policy, or just the result of the projects you’ve found recently?
A: IT IS A DELIBERATE POLICY, BUT NOT AN EXCLUSIVE ONE.   I WANT TO MAKE A BROADER RANGE OF FILMS (HAVING MADE 3 SOCIO-POLITICAL ONES).  I’VE BEEN SEEKING GENRE MATERIAL SUCH AS CELL 6.
Many thanks to Eddie for helping out here.
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A Wing and a Prayer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2008 by dcairns

His Ward is his Bond.

So, I watched Frank Borzage’s CHINA DOLL, which has a character played by Ward Bond with my name (Father Cairns), although I wasn’t actually aware of this until I checked the IMDb because nobody seemed able to pronounce the name. Most of the cast seemed to be using the Irish name “Kearns”, whereas from Victor Mature’s slobbery great mouth the name emerged as more like “Corns”.

You don’t get many Cairnses in the movies, so that was something. Curiously, I just came across a fictional Cairns in Christopher Fowler’s sixth Bryant and May mystery, The Victoria Vanishes. Since Fowler has been known to drop by here, I wondered if he drew the name from life. But since CHINA DOLL was made ten years before I was born, I can’t claim to have inspired that one.

The name Cairns, in religious circles, is mostly associated with a namesake of mine from the Church of Scotland, but Bond’s character is apparently Catholic (he has nuns in tow, one of whom plays Frankie and Johnny on sax for comic relief). Borzage himself was a member of some unusual Catholic branch of Masonry, or something odd like that.

The film, a WWII-set romance between airman Victor Mature (“a melting waxwork of Dean Martin” — B. Kite) and poor Chinese girl Li Hua Li (“introduced” to the West in this film, then back to making films in Hong Kong and Taiwan for the next twenty years, making her one of the more successful people to have been “introduced”). Blind drunk one night, misanthropic Big Victor accidentally buys Li as bonded slave for three months, falls in love, and reconnects with humanity.

The script has nice lines: when Vic’s colonel (Denver Dukes of Hazzard Pyle) tells him that life on earth isn’t so bad, the boozy curmudgeon retorts, “Everybody leaves it sooner or later.” But Mature plays the character as too soft, so that his conversion lacks force. Shot in America with stock footage enhancement, the film is minus atmosphere and shadow. It’s a shame this weaker effort has surfaced on DVD when so little Borzage is available, although it finally looks like the emotionally exhausting masterpiece SEVENTH HEAVEN is being released, and another silent classic, THE RIVER, is out in its incomplete glory.

Borzage is going to be one of my very favourite filmmakers once I’ve seen enough of his work. MOONRISE is simply one of the greatest films I know, and STREET ANGEL and SEVENTH HEAVEN are terrific. Between the silent movies and the late blossoming of MOONRISE, Borzage seemed to get distracted with a lot of inappropriate and mediocre assignments from MGM, and CHINA DOLL is a production of John Wayne’s Batjac company, so it keeps veering between manly combat and Borzagian spirituality and sentiment.

Intercut baby playing with dog tags with Dad blasting Japs out of the sky. John Woo, take note.

While I normally agree with Chairman Mao somewhat on the subject of religion, I find Borzage’s take on it sufficiently idiosyncratic and personal to be engaging — STRANGE CARGO (1940) must be the weirdest tract ever filmed. In one scene, serial killer Paul Lukas, rejecting an offer of salvation, walks off into the jungle, then spots Borzage’s camera, which approaches him hopefully… “No!” snaps Lukas, and storms off, disappearing from the film unpunished, presumably to continue his murderous lifestyle. A simply wonderful, chilling, utterly peculiar moment.

Patrons: as interracial sex is taking place, the management present this shot of a wet window.

As director and co-producer, Borzage seems to have invested plenty of interest in CHINA DOLL (he was a flyer himself), as the religious and romantic aspects show. But it doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders. The Production Code forbade Mature and Hua Li from kissing, which is disgraceful but doesn’t actually hurt the film — I don’t actually want to see the cute Chinese girl get enveloped in the skin-dripping face of Big Victor anyway, and her saluting him makes for a more novel and touching solution.