Archive for June 23, 2010

It’s a Long Shot but it Just Might Work

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2010 by dcairns

Neville Smith, Anne Zelda and Charles Gormley.

Very interesting seeing LONG SHOT, an obscure — indeed, near-vanished — semi-improvized drama-doc in which a producer (real-life prod Charlie Gormley) and a writer (real-life writer Neville Smith) try to find Sam Fuller at the 1977 Edinburgh Film Festival (Fuller was meant to turn up with Wim Wenders and THE AMERICAN FRIEND) in order to enlist his services. Fuller doesn’t show.

Director Maurice Hatton was a self-educated and slightly mysterious figure who had apparently acquired £19,000 and some soon-to-expire East German film stock, and so made the film on the hoof to get something on celluloid before his stock became unusable. The film actually got a TV airing in the early days of Channel 4, before dropping off the cinematic map altogether. I remember watching a bit of it before the static, long take, long-shot style bored me. I was only a kid.

Seeing it as an old, old man, I was depressed by the fact that nothing in Scotland seems to have changed, except that the Film Festival has a wider range of venues to draw upon (the marquee of the ABC Cinema — now the Odeon — can be seen in the film, with Wenders’ film on in Screen 2 but the movie version of ARE YOU BEING SERVED in Screen 1…). But it was nice to see then-festival-director Lynda Myles (co-author of The Movie Brats) in her Maria Schneider perm, and future festival director Jim Hickey, and Gormley’s little son Tommy, who is now one of Britain’s top assistant directors. Other cameos are contributed by Wenders, Stephen Frears (playing a man in the biscuit trade), Alan Bennett (in a totally different, non-naturalistic register from everybody else), John Boorman (“This is a script that’s desperate. Desperate to be a film.”) Susannah York, agent Dennis Selinger, likably satanic exec Sandy Lieberson, and Suzanne (CARRY ON EMMANNUELLE) Danielle.

Hatton’s grainy, static look is reminiscent of early Jarmusch, and his use of intertitles to set up each scene in a quirky way reinforces the resemblance. I also suspect Wenders is more of an inspiration than the movie admits. Somehow the sight of the nervous  Gormley and the defensive Smith struggling to get anything off the ground seemed like the last word in film biz floundering, illustrating the sisyphean, kafkaesque and quietly soul-destroying nature of hustling for movies, even though the film before our eyes was proof that miracles do sometimes happen. It’s a minor work, but the very fact that it exists is should give me hope.

Gormley and Smith’s movie, about the Scottish oil boom, never happened. Gormley, who was a pretty good actor, appeared in another film for Georges Sluizer, and worked with Bill Forsyth. Then he convinced himself he was a director and made a few films that way. I met him in the 90s and he was very nice, but I wasn’t convinced he’d chosen the right job. He probably thought the same about me, mind you. Neville Smith wrote another film playing in the fest this year, 1971’s GUMSHOE, which is a SUPERB script — funny and cunning and rhythmic, and all about our love affair with Hollywood movies. Almost uniquely for a British film, it leapfrogs off that love and manages to land on interesting territory of its own. Despite doing a lot of TV work, Smith hasn’t had another film made.

Frears turned up and introduced LONG SHOT, before bolting off to catch a plane so he wouldn’t have to look at it. At a panel session to discuss these vanished films, he expressed polite horror at the idea of UK 70s movies being rediscovered, and seemed content to rest on his better-known achievements from the Thatcher era. For me, the non-canonical work being celebrated in this season is a lot more interesting and enjoyable. Ken Russell’s SAVAGE MESSIAH next!

My copy of the 1978 Film Festival programme — proof that LONG SHOT does exist!