Archive for Graham Linehan

Things that aren’t films: year’s end summary

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2015 by dcairns

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Finished season 2 of The Knick, the historical medical drama. Looks like that one’s finished. Some incredibly strong moments, particularly the death of a major character in the finale, but also a slight sense of a shark being jumped. It was soapier than season 1 — in one episode, a character who was definitely dead showed up again, and a character had a sudden foreign wife appear whom he definitely didn’t have before. The writers also amused themselves with in-jokes: the Laurel & Hardy line “I brought you some hard-boiled eggs and nuts,” and a product called Rough on Rats, which is an really obscure reference to the Winsor McCay cartoon THE PET.

We got hooked on Toast of London, the sitcom starring Matt Berry, written by Berry and Arthur Mathews of Father Ted fame. I’d been missing out on this comedy gold for several seasons, for no good reason. The first episode I watched seemed a bit too harsh for my tastes. It is a big negative at times, but also brilliant, in terms of visual gags, plotting, ideas, performances, and the bizarre story world, a non-period-specific vision of actors’ Soho, theatres, pubs and voice-over recording studios.

It’s interesting to me that while Mathews has gone darker, raunchier and swearier, his Father Ted co-author Graham Linehan has co-authored the BBC1-friendly Count Arthur Strong. which takes a fairly abrasive radio and stand-up character, senile music-hall comedian Count Arthur, and folds him into a gentle, at times sentimental series set in a recognizable real contemporary world (Count Arthur, like Steven Toast, formerly inhabited a timeless universe where he could theoretically have been around since the thirties). Linehan’s genius for farce plotting is still apparent — see an episode where two untrained pilots go up in a two-seater plane, each convinced the other is the pilot, and Count Arthur’s malapropisms are funnier than they have any right to be (“I have written a racist book.” “Racist? What do you mean?” “You know: Ooh, Madam!” He means ‘racy.’) While Linehan’s move is a more radical departure, Matthews’ seems to us the more successful show, tonally solid in its determination not to touch us, not to be endearing, not to mean anything at all.

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Doctor Who gave us two really strong episodes — amazingly strong! — at the end of the series, but seems unable to sustain a quality run longer than that — the Christmas special was an extraordinary misfire, festive only in the sense of including snow, strained laughter, and a lot of frenzied, pointless activity. It was also weirdly mean, which is fine for Toast of London but problematic for a show starring a noble, pacifist hero. But series head Stephen Moffat seems compelled to push at the limits of how dark he can make his lead character, a strategy that seems better suited to practically any other fictional hero in existence. This episode also showed why doing a comedy episode is unlikely to work on Doctor Who: because composer Murray Gold will crap all over it.

My reading seems to have ground to a halt, owing to being in prep for a film, and owing to my having started Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock, a slow-going but fascinating fantasy novel. It’s quite dense — it takes the world of myth and fairy tale seriously, and tries to invent the forgotten mythology of the Ice Age. Into this are plunged characters from our world. A long way from Tolkein, and more serious and interesting than I can make it sound, just a little hard to wade through when you’re distracted by other stuff.

But I did read The Writer’s Tale, while in early prep. It’s basically Russell T. Davies’ email correspondence with Benjamin Cook, editor of Doctor Who Magazine. It had the effect of making me like Davies more — some of his Who scripts would make me so annoyed, it’s easy to forget there’s an essentially well-meaning person behind it all, trying to entertain us. Davies is so funny and self-excoriating here, you feel he did his best writing in his emails instead of on the show — his best work in TV prior to Who had one foot and a few toes in reality, something the time-traveling adventurer was never going to make easy. It even made me feel sorry for Murray Gold, who was apparently reduced to tears by unsympathetic fan reviews of his music. “I don’t know how to score this show any better!” he declared, helplessly. It could stand being scored LESS, I’d have thought. Less of everything is good advice for this time of year.

At this time of year I like to watch this, obsessively —

I like looking at snow without having to touch it. And I like how the director, after choosing to shoot at dusk in Scandinavia, has made all his other decisions based on that fact — i.e. it’s fucking freezing, how can I shoot all of this with the zoom from a single stationary position so we can get indoors before bits start dropping off?

Also, do they really sing, at about 2.00, “You’ll be dancing once again / Like an angry hen / You will have no time for breathing”?

 

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The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Eightth

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on July 18, 2011 by dcairns

It’s that time again — my unproduced screenplay befouls your screens with its rotten words and crumbling punctuation marks. It was comedy writer Graham Linehan who advised me that grotesque overwriting, of the kind you’ll see below, isn’t necessarily helpful in selling a script. If the thing is funny, the argument goes, the most straightforward text is your best bet for conveying that. I was probably unduly influenced by Bruce Robinson’s published script for WITHNAIL AND I, which opens with a brilliant and entirely unfilmable literary joke (“Dostoevsky once said that Hell might be nothing more than a room with a chair. In this room, there are several chairs.”)

True Crime was a fun character to write, like Mr Netherbow but even more linguistically unhinged. Just as Mr N gets a lot of Shakespeare, TC touches upon William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience with his cry of “Weep weep!”

If’s final appearance in this installment is certainly inspired by Lon Chaney’s colorful cape-swirling on a rooftop in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, while his entry via the French windows is Christopher Lee related: the impossible redness of Lee’s cape’s lining burned itself into my brain at an impressionable age. Now read on —

INT. BARBER SHOP – EVENING

An electric razor BUZZES menacingly.

Howie gets a haircut for his date. He reads the paper as he’s groomed – a headline cries FISHMONGER DERAILED.

NEWSCASTER (O.S.)

Police are treating the opera as suspicious. In other news, a basilisk was found nailed to a church door in Leith today –

INT. POLICE STATION – NIGHT

NEWSCASTER (O.S.)

– prompting calls for a crackdown on mythical –

Turner marches in. PC. THROWER lowers his Conan Doyle.

THROWER

Message for you, Inspector.

(consults note pad)

“Meet me under Sherlock Holmes if you want to know about… If.”

TURNER

Who’s it from?

THROWER

Didn’t say. Just gave me the message and sort of… swirled off, Sir.

TURNER

Description?

THROWER

He didn’t give one.

Surrounded by assholes. Turner sighs impatiently.

TURNER

YOU give one, then.

THROWER

About six foot, raincoat, smelled of shite.

Turner hurries out and Thrower returns to THE VALLEY OF FEAR.

EXT. TOP OF LEITH WALK – NIGHT

A STATUE of Sherlock Holmes peruses the busy intersection.

Turner strides up to Holmes, walks around him.

Upon returning to his starting point, he finds a raincoated man, TRUE CRIME, fists in pockets, huddled against the gusting wind.

Turner regards the man, uncertain, sniffs, becomes sure.

TURNER

You wanted to see me?

A bleary eye regards him.

TRUE CRIME

Call me True Crime. My real name was… erased. I’d like to tell you my story, but there are… blanks.

TURNER

Tell me what you can.

TRUE CRIME

I was born. Or so I presume. I became a writer the way other people become fat, from greed and laziness. I couldn’t make things up so I set them down. Facts.

INT. TRUE CRIME’S STUDY – NIGHT

Quaint and dusty volumes akimbo before him, True Crime types, cigarette on lip. He’s less grizzled and filthy now.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

The facts of the case. I inhabited the True Crime section of every book shop. I told the stories of the Old Masters of crime; Gaston Mulberry, the cat poisoner of Paris, Lubert Frill, the great shark thief, and Mabeline O’Silver, rapist of the ice rinks.

Crime flicks through a dirty great book of assaults and stops, cigarette springing erect in his maw.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

Then one night I fell upon the skewer of history that was to be my unhaving. If! The very word sends paroxysms through my thigh. Mr. If, the Diabolo of the Senses, the deranged guru of sin and oblivion. The fist of Fate was up me and I didn’t know it from Adam’s.

An engraving of a shadowy phantom adorns the leaf before him. He fingers the page sensuously.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

But of course! It’s never been done! A really true history of the billion wrongs of evil old If! The Tangerine Outrage! The Exploding River! The Strange Affair of the Hissing Nunnery. And the Curious Case of the Sunrise Who Swallowed February. At last – a factual and scholarly study of the infamous loon – and who better to commit it to printing than this myself?

French windows burst open.

A shadowy figure.

A cow moos.

TRUE CRIME (VO)

“Shame on you, sister!” declaimed the spectre rampant. Ooh, he was angry. “You have crimed against my non-existence, rendered realer my phantasmal nothingness, and for that you shall moan!”

True Crime’s typewriter bursts into flames.

Mr. If strides at him, engulfing the frame in

DARKNESS

EXT. TOP OF LEITH WALK – NIGHT

Turner and True Crime face each other.

TRUE CRIME

I’d called him back, all inadvertent, from some imaginary hinterworld, and upset his nothingness like a child with bricks. He told me I’d nevermore inscribe, that my every gesture henceforth would remove facts from the world. Through bravery or stupid, I doubted his mouth. The penalty was big.

INT. TRUE CRIME’S STUDY – niGHT

True Crime stands on a precipitous pile of wobbly hardbacks, a noose round his neck, looped over a beam and clasped in the jaws of a floppy-eared RABBIT on the floor.

True Crime tries hard to keep his balance.

TRUE CRIME (V.O.)

“For a hundred years I was myth and folderol,” he hinted. “And then you have to pin me to the notice board of reality with your research and typing. Tush on you, sir!”

The sound of True Crime’s narration slowly blends into that of Mr If’s own voice.

MR. IF

I romped delightful in the naked meadows of limbo, till this brute world hauled me from ecstatic nothingness and stood me goosepimpling in a line-up with tinned spam and flatirons, the unfeeling objects of mere reality. But I shall wreak my nastiness upon all that is concrete! Death to the actual! All hail the untrue! Hoppla!

From nowhere he CRACKS a ringmaster’s bullwhip at the oblivious bunny.

True Crime sweats and teeters.

If stamps his feet, shrieks, and cajoles.

MR. IF

Here, bunny wunny wunny.

Heaving a sigh, he abandons the rabbit and kicks the books from under True Crime.

The author drops to the floor. The rabbit, still clutching the rope, is yanked into the air. Releasing the rope, it shoots across the study, breaking a window on exit.

Crime looks up, terrified, from a collapsed pile of books as If sweeps up to him.

MR. IF

So…you still defy me?

TRUE CRIME

It’s not true… I don’t –

If produces, from nowhere, a conjuror’s WAND.

MR. IF

Prepare to be dishevelled!

EXT. TOP OF LEITH WALK – NIGHT

True Crime IS rather dishevelled.

TURNER

So he…dishevelled you? Mussed you up a bit, I expect?

TRUE CRIME

THIS, he did… and THIS!

True Crime withdraws his forelimbs from his raincoat.

Instead of hands he has big ERASERS. Turner is appalled.

TRUE CRIME

Pencil erasers for hands. Robbed of limb, gift and ribbon, I rove the world, rubbing at nothing. Unable even to wipe mine own arse. Pity me, most wretched of creatures! Weep weep, weep weep!

He scurries off into the darkness leaving the inspector mopping his brow, vexed, perplexed and perspiring.

Watching from above is Mr. If. He clings to the Holmes statue, his cape billowing. He slaps a dunce’s cap on Sherlock and pounces off like a jungle cat or big nancy.

A great BOOFT of lightening hurts the sky.

And it is TO BE CONTINUED…

Shot/Reverse shot

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by dcairns

From the excellent sitcom Black Books. Series 1, Episode 2. Written by Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan, directed by Graham Linehan.

This is as good an illustration of the principle of the eyeline as any I know of. By tricking the audience using shots which appear to match, something quite profound about the way the human mind processes montage is revealed. If I were called Kuleshov or something distinguished like that, I could put it into words. At any rate, the idea that our participation in creating the scene via edits is in any way voluntary would seem to be disproved. The two close-ups compel anybody familiar with film grammar to picture a face-to-face conversation.

And it’s a good joke. (The old lady’s great too.)

For my money, it beats the illustration of the eyeline that unexpectedly appears in the late Satoshi Kon’s PAPRIKA, although that one certainly has its charm (as does the anime reconstruction of ROMAN HOLIDAY).

Maybe breaking rules is the best way of illustrating them. The other clip I use most in discussing dialogue scenes is from INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED, AKA BLOODSUCKERS, a scene which is bad in just about every way possible — it not only provokes all kinds of thoughts about screenwriting, montage, framing, the problems of shooting large groups, and continuity, it gets them hysterical. Which I think is a good way of getting them to remember something. Expect that clip to arrive here soon…

Black Books – The Complete Box Set [DVD]

Paprika [DVD]

Paprika [Blu-ray][Region Free]

The Complete Black Books

Paprika [Blu-ray]