Archive for A Town Called Bastard

Dudley

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 21, 2018 by dcairns

I was very sad to learn to learn of Dudley Sutton’s recent passing — not only was he a great character actor, but a generous man who appeared in my first proper short film in 1990 for almost no money, traveling to Edinburgh without even being sure how we were going to put him up. (It was OK, we had a self-catering flat for him.)

I met him — I remember this being on the street, not in the station, so I don’t know how we arranged that. “I’m so glad to be back in the People’s Republic of Scotland,” he began, “Because here, you not only SAY you don’t vote for her, you DON’T vote for her.” (At the time, Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservative party had hardly any seats in Scotland.)

He was pleased to hear I was both writer and director: “Good, you’ll know what you want.” (But I was a first-timer, so that wasn’t quite true.)

The film was based on an authentic medieval comic tale — the only funny one, ever — THE THREE HUNCHBACKS. Dud played the fourth hunchback, the main one. We had worked out how to assemble medieval garb for our ridiculously large cast of characters, borrowing the best bits from Biggar Theatre Workshop and Edinburgh College of Art’s much-missed costume nook. The impossible bit was medieval shoes, but I had a plan. As I wasn’t shooting closeups of feet, we would only ever see them in wide, full-figure shots, and on 16mm there wouldn’t be much detail. So the actors would wear normal shoes, with socks pulled over them to add bright colour. Cardboard “buckles” painted silver would be taped to the socks, and the toes would be filled with cardboard cones to make them pointy in that Robin Hood style. Dud didn’t blink an eye at all this.

The first morning was chaos. I lost my binder with all my storyboards and was wandering around the various vehicles (we had a minibus and a car, at least, and about a ninety minute drive to the location) asking for it. “That’s the director?” Dud asked, apparently. “Welcome to the house of pain, Dud,” said the AD.

(Later, the cinematographer would observe me standing in a field in long hair, long coat, long scarf and wellingtons, and remark, “Oh my God, Christopher Robin’s directing the film.”)

Dud gave ME a valuable bit of direction on his very first shot of the film. “Never ask for effects. If you ask for effects, that’s all you’ll get.” I knew nothing about directing actors and thought if I just spoke clearly and said what I wanted, that’d be fine. It took me years (and some reading and some trial and error) to work out why that’s wrong.

Dud rewrote and vastly improved his first speech, getting the first biggest of the film: “What if I just told them to fuck off?” “Might be a bit harsh,” I dithered. “Well, I could say, ‘Fuck off out of it’? That’s a bit gentler.” We went with option #1.

“What’s on at the local art cinema?” he asked one night. “Fellini’s EIGHT AND A HALF.” “Oh, I was in one of his. He cut out all my lines, but I’m still in there.” I hadn’t been able to see CASANOVA at this point, and there was no IMDb to list his credits. I knew him from THE DEVILS, everyone else from Lovejoy. When he showed up, they were all, “Why didn’t you SAY he was Tink in Lovejoy?” THE LEATHER BOYS didn’t enter into anyone’s thinking back then, alas.

I didn’t get to hang out with Dud too much because we were always filming. After losing one of his four days of shooting to a camera malfunction (sixty foot of film concertina’d all over the floor) we had to pick up the pace to complete his stuff in time. “I’ll say this for you, when you do get going you don’t hang about,” he remarked with gruff approval.

So just occasionally I’d catch the tail end or the middle of a story while fetching Dud for a shot. “Of course the best films for drugs were the Disney films,” was one memorable sentence. And, “The crookedest film I was ever in was A TOWN CALLED BASTARD.” Apparently he also spoke about being expelled from RADA for smoking dope.

Dud competed his work, went home, and then we found two shots were out of focus. We replaced them using a hastily contrived “double,” who was thirty years younger and Japanese, but it didn’t matter because his fake hump concealed his head completely from the back. This was all a great introduction to filmmaking.

“I keep seeing Dud out the corner of my eye,” I remarked to Stuart, the producer.

“So do I!” he replied.

The film won third prize in a contest and we sent Dud a share of the money and he wrote back saying he’d have a nice dinner on that. “It seems just yesterday that we were all running about in the mud in our cone-filled socks.”

Yes it does.

 

 

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The Sunday Intertitle: Not Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2016 by dcairns

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Strange title card from SHOOTING STARS (1928). This one has strange credits, also — it has a scenario by one John Orton, it’s directed by one A.V. Bramble, but it has in addition a non-specific authorial credit — “By Anthony Asquith.” Since Asquith is known to us a director, one tends to ascribe him credit, but heaven knows how the workload was actually divided.

I like A.V. Bramble because his name is A.V. Bramble.

Sad to say, the astounding A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR is unique in the Asquith oeuvre, a Germanic, doomladen, yet quirky drama. A late silent, it contains a naughty parody of early talkies — and then Asquith plunged into talkies himself and immediately came to embody the British tradition of quality, making respectable, theatrical, well-acted movies which are kind of D.O.A. from a cinematic perspective. I don’t know, I have a vague plan to attempt to watch THE V.I.P.S sometime, just to see if it’s really as dull as I remember (I remember it as eight hours long and entirely composed of actors in an airport doing their income tax. Possibly this is a distorted memory.)

But if COTTAGE is the one supernova in Asquith’s career, UNDERGROUND has quite a lot of verve and makes London’s subway into an epic adventure setting, and SHOOTING STARS is the other lively one, with much to commend it. (I’d be very interested to see his other silent, THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS if that ever becomes possible.) Like UNDERGROUND this has the star quality of the underrated Brian Aherne, and character actor Donald Calthrop (Hitchcock’s BLACKMAILer), and its setting behind the scenes of the British film industry immediately endears it to silent movie buffs. The fact that we’re introduced to the crew as they shoot a western just makes it better. British westerns are so scarce that there’s no slang name for them — “fish and chips western” has occasionally been bandied about, but apart from CARRY ON COWBOY there’s very little to apply it to (HANNIE CALDER and A TOWN CALLED BASTARD are the others that come to mind. “The crookedest film I ever did,” was Dudley Sutton’s verdict on the latter).

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There are a few moments where Asquith runs mad, creatively, too, such as his subjective camera swinging-from-a-chandelier shots…

 

No Excuse

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2014 by dcairns

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In the first film I directed, I was lucky to have a Distinguished Thespian, from whom I learned crucial stuff (“Never ask for effects, because if you do, that’s all you’ll get”). And I heard some good stories, though alas I missed a lot of them while setting up shots. I would walk in to fetch our star and catch him in the middle of a sentence like “The crookedest film I was ever in was A TOWN CALLED BASTARD.” One time I caught the line, “Of course the best films to be in, for drugs, were the Disney films.” Some surprised looks. “Because you got these cool Californian guys coming over…”

But no chemical intoxicant can really excuse this — a broken-down toy robot with the voice of Slim Pickens. I like Slim Pickens, but make him play a cute robot with sympathetic cartoon eyes and you really are thumbing my vomit button very hard indeed. Stuff like this makes you actually respect how restrained George Lucas was — his cute robot was essentially a fat bullet with legs. No anthropomorphism at all, and no voice. The audience does the humanizing.

If rampant hallucinogen abuse can’t excuse the film’s robots (Roddy McDowell voices the other one, FFS), it may at least explain the deeply bananas ending, probably the most batshit crazy ending to a kids film ever — even more disorienting than TIME BANDITS. As the heroes plunge into the titular singularity, TV director Gary Nelson spins his cast in a tumbrel, replays their dialogue at them through an echo chamber, dilates them with an optical printer and otherwise confuses the young audience, Maximilian Schell floats by in dreadlocks as if attempting a very special James Bond title sequence, seemingly mates with his hulking Gort-substitute robot henchman, then finds himself INSIDE the robot looking out, then he’s on a papier-mache promontory in heavy metal Hell — the weirdness is so extreme it even wakes composer John Barry from his movie-long slumber to offer up some swooning arpeggios, as he does.

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And then it’s Heaven, which is of course far more skeletally imagined, and then there’s more normal outer space and the cast look very confused and then the movie kind of stops.

Obviously they were thinking of 2001, and obviously they weren’t able to handle the visual abstraction and so needed to show some kind of solid imagery. And their ideas were thoroughly confused. I think Professor Hawking would refute their depiction of an event horizon.

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It couldn’t happen now, and it shouldn’t have happened then. But, after a movie that just recycles 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA in space with a sticky STAR WARS paste slathered over everything, an ending so batshit crazy has to be welcomed. They tried something, finally.