I had this distant memory of a film, and I never knew what it was. I suspect everybody has something like that. I actually have fewer than most, having tracked so many down and worked out what they were. But one that stuck in my brain involved a knight fighting a spectral figure who kept vanishing in a cloud of stoor, and then he somehow was underwater, and the whole thing was very spooky.
This was a short film screened as support for a feature, but (a) my family arrived halfway through the film so we never knew what it was called and (b) over the years I forgot which film was the main feature, so it became impossible to research. I asked on the odd message board, describing the short as best I could, but nobody could help.
Well, now the film has turned up, and I was able to see it with Fiona at Edinburgh Filmhouse in the presence of the director, Roger Christian. It’s called BLACK ANGEL.
Christian had been an art director, working on THE FINAL PROGRAMME and ALIEN and MAHLER — good stuff. He would later direct cult film THE SENDER and despised Scientological sci-fi BATTLEFIELD EARTH.
What was exciting was (1) to discover that BLACK ANGEL was shot in Scotland and (2) that it has all the creepy atmosphere I remembered seeing it with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Christian had been influenced by Kurosawa and Tarkovsky and myth, and the resulting film is elusive in plot — well, downright messy at times — but extremely stylish and beautifully photographed by newcomer Roger Pratt (BRAZIL) and scored by Trevor Jones with electronic additions by Paddy Kingsland. The acting is mainly adequate, but its the mood that counts. Christian’s lack of experience shows in the writing, but what he writes with the lens is often beautiful. It’s actually really nice to see the zoom lens used subtly but insistently. The slight lack of clarity in the storytelling actually means that the experience of seeing in as a fortysomething was remarkably similar to seeing half of it as a teenager — you can’t quite work out what it’s all about, but it lodges in the mind’s less rational back room.
According to Christian, the film was funded by the old Eady Levy, which took a portion of cinema earnings to support new talent, and got the support of George Lucas, who liked it so much he borrowed the step-printed action sequence technique for a moment in EMPIRE. I always hated step-printing, actually — when not part of the plan, as in Wong Kar-Wei’s FALLEN ANGELS, it tends to come across as a cheap alternative to proper slomo. RC freely admitted that the fight scene wasn’t impactful enough and his film was running a couple of minutes too short, so it was kind of an act of desperation. The epic soundtrack sells it.
I’m interested in hearing about your half-remembered, nameless films. Maybe we can ID them.