Archive for Cry For Bobo

Shave and a Haircut

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2015 by dcairns

15.06.14. LM Barney Thomson Ltd. The Legend of Barney Thomson, 43 INT BARROWLANDS BINGO Barney spots Charlie at the bingo * Cast approved flagged in Green only Production Office Suite 1:09, Red Tree Business Park, 33 Dalmarnock Rd, Bridgeton, Glasgow Graeme Hunter Pictures, " Sunnybank Cottages " 117 Waterside Rd, Carmunnock, Glasgow. U.K.  G76 9DU.   Tel.00447811946280

I can’t really review THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMSON because I’m very good mates with the screenwriter, Colin McLaren. One drunken evening in 2001 we watched five Scottish state-funded short films back to back, got a bit cross about them, and wrote CRY FOR BOBO as the farthest possible opposite we could conceive of to Scottish miserablism.

And, frustratingly, I can’t give you any gossip either, because I don’t know very much and I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone. I mean, I know who modeled for the prosthetic severed penis, but I just can’t tell you. (His name does not appear in this post. But there’s a clue for you — it’s a man.) And I know whose mum Thomson’s performance is partially inspired by, but I don’t think I should go into that either.

Robert Carlyle, making his feature debut, directs and also stars as the titular Barney, a put-upon barber in Glasgow. And the city has never looked better — Glasgow has its own mythic sense of itself, and the film taps into that with expressive, red-soaked visuals. Carlyle seems like a real director, not just for the strong performances he elicits, but for his visual sense and narrative control.

Barney Thomson 6

Chief among these is Emma Thompson, barely recognizable in startlingly convincing old-age makeup and a gravelly Glaswegian accent, swearing her head off as Barney’s appalling mum. When Barney accidentally kills a fellow barber, it’s to mum he turns, at which point the plot’s grisly black comedy really starts to ramp up, with rival detectives Ray Winstone and Ashley Jensen closing in on the nervous hairdresser and mum being perhaps more a hindrance than a help.

Oh, there’s also Stephen McCole (the bully from RUSHMORE), and a trio from Colin’s previous feature, Martin Compston, James Cosmo and Brian Pettifer (having a very good year, what with his turn in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell). And Tom Courtenay, who’s HILARIOUS. His timing

But you can’t really trust me on any of this, since Colin’s a mate. So probably you should just see the film for yourself, right?


Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2015 by dcairns


During WWII, British Intelligence identified a fatal flaw in the enemy’s thinking: the German spymasters were prone to what the Brits called “wishfulness.” When an agent offered his services, or when a piece of possible positive information came to light, the Germans would tend to get so excited about how good it would be if the agent were genuine or the information were true, that they could pretty soon find themselves believing in it without proper evidence. As an amusing result of this, all of Germany’s spies in Britain were either double agents working for us and feeding the Germans misinformation, or entirely fictional agents invented by British intelligence. Eventually, we had so many fictional agents sending bogus intel to the Nazis that we had to form a special subcommittee to catch or kill off a few of them in the interests of realism. We were also able to bamboozle the Boche with some fake documents in a briefcase chained to a corpse floating in the sea. Like Fox Mulder in later years, the Germans wanted to believe.


But we were guilty of wishfulness on a much larger scale. Entire campaigns were launched based on the exciting hope of success rather than on a realistic assessment of the risk of failure. Watching THEIRS IS THE GLORY got me curious about the Battle of Arnhem so I picked up Arnhem 1944 The Airborne Battle by Martin Middlebrook from the library. It’s a substantial, impressive work which tries hard to be fair to everybody (it also confirms that Dickie Attenborough’s A BRIDGE TOO FAR is pretty accurate in its account, unusually for these kind of epics). Middlebrook points out the benefits a victory at Arnhem would have brought — a much earlier end to the war, quicker liberation for Holland and the shutting down of Germany’s rocket attacks on London, and an Anglo-American conquest of Germany that would have put us in a much stronger bargaining position at Yalta: Germany might not have been split down the middle, the East enduring decades of communist rule. Someone remarked that Germany’s biggest disaster in the war was winning the Battle of Arnhem.

But this is wishfulness. British military command discovered that Arnhem was heavily defended with tanks, but as this info was discovered awkwardly late in the planning stage of the attack, it was simply suppressed. Thousands of men were air-dropped to pretty much certain death. The plan was a very fragile one. The RAF didn’t want to fly too close to enemy defences so they dropped the infantry miles from their targets, sacrificing the element fo surprise which was the main advantage of an airborne attack. Here’s a quote from Brigadier ‘Shan’ Hackett which is hilarious in its analysis of the tragic absurdity of the plan.

The airborne movement was very naive. It was very good on getting airborne troops to battle, but they were very innocent when it came to fighting the Germans when we arrived. They used to make a beautiful airborne plan and then add the fighting-the-Germans bit afterwards. We brigade commanders were at one of the divisional commander’s conferences […] where this lovely plan was being presented. The Polish commander, Sosabowski, said in his lovely deep voice, ‘But the Germans, General, the Germans!’

(Sosabowski is played, incompetently, by Gene Hackman, in the Attenborough film, probably the only time I’ve seen Hackman be bad. He seems to have thought he could do a Polish accent without research, by effort of will alone, or else he just has a tin ear for accents.)

Anyway, I think filmmakers can fall prey to wishfulness too. Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true, and the marvelous rewards available if a thing comes off does not make it any more likely that it WILL come off.

Art Linson recounts preparing an action-comedy in the nineties, and finding none of the appropriate leading men available. Willem Dafoe was suggested. An up-and-coming young star. But Linson wasn’t convinced he was a light comedian. He asked his wife one night, “Do you think Willem Dafoe could make you laugh?” She replied, “I don’t know, but I saw him smile once and I had nightmares for a week.”

But with nobody obviously bankable and better suited to be found, Linson talked himself into it. And had to burn the negative. The whole film was abandoned, and I think they managed to somehow claim the insurance, or else there was a fortuitous accident and they used it as an excuse. There you go.


When w e made CRY FOR BOBO, ace producer Nigel Smith (far right) and I packed the script with every gag we could think of. We wanted to win the commission, so we wanted it to sound as impressive as possible. But the film had to be under ten minutes long. We used lots of formatting tricks to pack a lot of content into less than ten pages — the theory is that one page = a minute of screen time, but if you have a disproportionate amount of action to dialogue, and if you pack the prose tighter than a Dashiell Hammett shopping list in shorthand, that all gets thrown out of whack.

Having won the commission, we should have then pruned the script a bit, but we fell in love with our own material and then tried to shoot all of it. I had to drop a banana skin and plank gag, but nearly everything else got shot — and the first cut was fourteen minutes long without credits. That’s half again as long as it needed to be.

Working with Nigel, the late, great Bert Eeles as editor, and resourceful assistant editor Anna Mehta, we somehow managed to hack the thing down, preserving the best jokes, keeping the story coherent, and stopping the pace getting so hectic it would just irritate everyone, but it wasn’t easy. We had convinced ourselves that we could make it ten minutes long just by playing everything fast. Wishfulness. It’ll get you in a lot of trouble. Fortunately, we didn’t have German tanks shooting at us on this one.


The best bit in Richard Attenborough and William Goldman’s A BRIDGE TOO FAR involves Frank Grimes, a young intelligence officer who breaks the news to Dirk Borgarde’s General Browning that there are a bunch of German tanks at Arnhem which could scupper the whole plan. Browning, in reality, refused to alter the plan and did not inform his superiors, his peers or his men about the tanks. Goldman had the job of writing dialogue which would explain Browning’s reasoning, or unreasoning if you prefer. I think he did a great job.

“I doubt they’re fully serviceable.”

“Then why would the Germans conceal them, sir?”

“Normal routine.”

Browning realises this is weak. “We’ve had dozens of aerial photographs taken and these are the only ones that show tanks!”

Ye-es. But they DO SHOW TANKS.

“Do you seriously expect us to call off the biggest operation mounted since D-Day… because of three photographs?”


An effective scene which utilises a human attribute insufficiently exploited by modern movies — our ability to get infuriated by idiocy. I think it’s very tempting to suspect that modern movies don’t try this because they don’t respect the audience enough to credit them with that reaction.

Through a Glass Darkly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 18, 2013 by dcairns


I wrote an official obituary of my friend and colleague Scott Ward for Edinburgh University, and spoke about him at three screenings. I’m reproducing an edited version of what I said, partly for Scott’s friends, partly because you can’t talk about Scott without talking about valuable lessons, and so this material is of possible use to people who never met Scott, who never knew he was here at all.

University Obituary

Scott Ward (1966-2013), who died last week, was a cinematographer and a teacher of cinematography. He taught cinematography for both documentary and drama in Edinburgh College of Art’s Film and Television Department for close to ten years.

His two jobs, teacher and filmmaker, were quite contiguous: you couldn’t work with Scott without learning, not because he would lecture as he worked – he was far too efficient for that – more because of the questions he asked in advance and the conclusions he reached, and the sensitivity with which he put a plan into action.

Always calm, patient when he had to be, but briskly decisive when it was time, he made all his collaborators look good, by framing and lighting expressively, always taking the most interesting and courageous route but never overstating an effect or being guilty of the obvious. He raged – gently – against the problem of the “default film,” where decisions are made for reasons other than creativity. “You’re making a film so you think you need the latest camera and the best lights and the most expensive actors, but until you ask what the film is about, none of that can be assumed. You might not even need a camera at all!”

The whole film department at ECA is shocked at this sudden loss of an essential colleague and friend, somebody who could be consulted on any project, experimental, fiction or documentary, about any technical or creative question, and who had answers that were beautifully practical, that told you more about what you were trying to achieve as well as how to achieve it. And with enthusiasm, spirit and vision, generosity and humour.


Edinburgh College of Art Screening

If one were about to make a film — a crazy idea, but go with me — one would be looking for collaborators. And you would ask what sort of qualities an ideal collaborator would have? You would want them to be knowledgeable technically, aware of what could be done, but also knowledgeable historically, aware of what had already been done. You would want them to have good taste. You would want them to have that indefinable sensitivity that an artist requires. You’d need them to be hard-working and totally reliable. You’d like them to be pleasant to work with. You’d want them to be smart, not only so they could come up with ideas to help the project, but so they could understand your ideas swiftly, and make it clear that they’d understood. You’d want them to be able to do the job to a very high standard — and also to do it quickly.

Obviously, I’m talking about the ideal collaborator. But obviously I’m also talking about Scott.


Glasgow Short Film Festival Screening

You should all be so lucky as to work with somebody as good as Scott. And I don’t know realistically how that can happen now. The best chance is for us all to try to be more like Scott. This would mean being artistic without temperament. It would mean being brave without being foolhardy. It would mean being smart without being cautious. Scott said “You get rewarded for bravery, always.” So you have to figure out what it is you’re making, and make it the boldest, most exciting, most powerful version of that, that it can be. If we can all do that, then we’ll all have good films to watch.

Dublin International Film Festival

This premier is dedicated to Scott. He was already ill when he did our shoot, but we had no idea. When I heard he had died, I asked his partner if there was anything I could do, but she said, “You already did do something: you made his last shoot something about cinema and papier mache heads. He was so happy about that.”


The screening in Glasgow of CRY FOR BOBO was wonderful — the audience laughed at everything save the first gag (Nigel was right about that one — it IS too soon to get a laugh) and were generally appreciative, while the projection of our new HD copy of the film looked smashing. Glasgow audiences are known for sometimes being tough (one Music Hall comedian committed suicide after a particularly unsuccessful gig), and the last time BOBO showed there, in front of Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY, the audience was more interested in seeing the film they had come to see, which is understandable. (Though I did get a free ride through in an Edinburgh Film Festival limo, along with the gracious Mr. Cumming.) But this crowd, even though they were anxiously awaiting the results of the Short Film Fest’s awards, were very vocally responsive, in a nice way.

Thanks to Matt Lloyd and Morvern Cunningham for putting it on, and thanks to Brian Robinson and Simon Vickery for company. Thanks to everyone at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival for our screening, and to Emma Davie for organizing the showing at ECA.