Archive for David Cairns

My City 4: The Brodie-Snatcher

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by dcairns

THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE.

Miss Jean Brodie and her girls are spied upon by Robert Stephens from his artist’s garrett as they walk through Greyfriars Churchyard. This is a key location in all versions of GREYFRIARS BOBBY (where the wee dug sits by his master’s grave) and also in Val Lewton and Robert Wise’s film THE BODY SNATCHER, which conflates the Burke and Hare story (as filtered through Robert Louis Stevenson’s fictionalization) with that of Bobby, who is disguised under the stage name Robbie. The low-budget Lewton makes do with an establishing shot of some other church and then plunges into the studio.

The real churchyard (or kirkyard, if you want to be sectarian about it) is quite a place, although difficult to capture on film — the real frissons come from extreme details of the weathered stonework, angels and deathsheads with their features eaten away by wind and rain. But it’s also a useful place because you can look in all directions without much chance of seeing anything too modern.

Fiona and I used to live on Forrest Road, overlooking the cemetery just like Robert Stephens, although I starved one flight up, rather than in a garrett. Trilby, Fiona’s then cat, and my current avatar, once escaped out the window, over another rooftop, and into the hallowed grounds. She returned unharmed the next day, which was a relief, since she was a housecat unused to the ways of the exterior. I don’t know what she’d have done if she’d met Greyfriars Bobby’s ghost — and remember, according to the ancient Egyptians (generally reliable) cats can see the spirits of the departed. You know when you catch your cat staring fixedly at nothing…?

A strange feature of the place, just about visible above, is the way some of the grave markers are actually built into the walls of residences surrounding the graveyard. Also, many of the graves are enclosed in little stone buildings with gates that lock, which is largely a protection against body-snatchers. St John’s Churchyard, a short distance away on the corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road, even has a watch-tower to allow a guard to keep an eye out for nocturnal speculators armed with shovels.

The cemetery was used again in BURKE AND HARE: THE MUSICAL, a film I wrote sometime in the last century. Had Burke and Hare ever actually engaged in graverobbing (which is unknown — they were arrested for mass murder, having followed the simpler practice of generating fresh corpses rather than harvesting them from the earth), Greyfriars would probably have been their local place of work.

We were allowed to plant little wooden crosses so we could pretend to dig up a fresh grave. The cemetery is apparently full of unmarked graves, including that of William McGonagall, the world’s worst poet (an influence on both WC Fields and Spike Milligan). It seems likely the grounds may have once been peppered with pauper’s markers. To fake the grave-robbery, a fake mound of earth was erected — no hole was actually dug. The corpse here is played by Simon Vickery, a talented cameraman.

A prostitute who winds up on a slab is played by genius director Morag McKinnon, whose feature debut may be getting released this year (I hope so!). And the director of B&H, Stephen Murphy, now earns a living in special makeup effects, notably on the HARRY POTTER films. Meanwhile, I have a screenplay to write, so —

[sound of echoing footsteps diminishing in the distance]

Three Women

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by dcairns

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An entire film industry in female form: producer Angela Murray, writer Fiona Watson and director Morag McKinnon.

First came the shoes. Fiona seemed to have quite a lot of shoes, and our floordrobe was cluttered with them. It seemed ironic that we couldn’t walk anywhere in our flat for all the shoes. So Fiona bought a big steel shoe rack, which hooks onto a door, covering one side. But she only hung a couple of belts on it, and the Shoe Problem remained. Then she bought three big plastic boxes (each big enough to swallow an old portable TV like the one I watched ZOLTAN HOUND OF DRACULA on in my bedroom aged 15). But she seemed to be too busy to actually put anything in them.

So on Saturday morning I started putting away shoes and boots, ending with three boxes brimming with boots and an entire door decorated with shoes, so that you could take it off its hinges and use it as a wooden centipede, if you needed one. When Fiona came home and actually saw how many items of footwear she owned she started laughing hysterically. Because what else can you do when you suddenly discover you’re Imelda Marcos?

Imelda and I are currently redrafting CELL 6, a psychological horror thriller, for Edinburgh producer Eddie Dick — in fact, that’s probably what we should be doing right now. A new step outline by the 11th, please.

Off to Glasgow, where producing supremo Angelatook us to a Persian restaurant (hint: if you order the starters, you don’t need a main course) where I ate myself into a state of planetoid girth, complete with volcanic activity. Thence to Angela’s favourite bar, where I think I rather offended Angela by referring to it as “a suburb of hell” (sorry!), to be joined by Morag, who was upbeat about her upcoming film, which Sigma Productions seem to be calling DONKEYS, referred to here earlier under its working title ROUNDING UP DONKEYS (which is what they should call it). I’m really bursting to see this, since Morag and her writer Colin McLaren are among the great hopes of Scottish cinema, and since I’ve heard all kinds of onset reports that make me eager, anxious, excited, nervous, in equal measures.

Unfortunately, I’m sworn to secrecy on most of these stories. Even reproducing Angela’s stories about dealing with directors might be indiscrete, although I’m of the view that it’s a masterclass in diplomacy and would be beneficial to share with prospective producers everywhere. Maybe if we can get Angela in to lecture at the Art College she can pass on some of her wisdom and compassion.

Leave it to Believer

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on March 27, 2009 by dcairns

believ

My complimentary copy of The Believer slid through my letterbox today like a rude, papery tongue between metal lips. It’s the annual film issue, containing a free Godard DVD of ultra-rare shorts, little pieces by myself, B. Kite, J. Winter, S. Salamensky, and big meaty interviews with John Sayles, Sam Mendes, Julie Delpy, Mike Leigh. (I just saw and quite liked TOPSY TURVY so my Leigh-phobia has lifted a little.) Michael Atkinson curates and illuminates a selection of Polish film posters, and longer articles probe the works of Guillermo Del Toro, Jonas Mekas, and Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST.

A thing for you to buy!

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My own Polish movie poster, bought in a shop on Victoria Street that sadly no longer exists.

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