Archive for Return to the Edge of the World

Glazed Hamlet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2015 by dcairns


John Laurie, in he role of Hamlet, by Scottish newspaper caricaturist Emilio Coia.

Laurie was a bit of a stage star, and his Hamlet was well-received — probably it got him his part, as one of the few non-Irish players, in Hitchcock’s JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK.

My late friend Lawrie told me that if ever one met John Laurie, within seconds he would tell you about his Hamlet.

And, to my delight, when J.L. appears in Michael Powell’s RETURN TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, he staggers from an alighting helicopter, hoves up to camera, and tells us who he is – since he’s an actor, this explanation consists of a list of roles, and first on the list is Hamlet, followed by the crofter in THE 39 STEPS, and Private Frazer in Dad’s Army on TV.

“We’re all doomed,” was his TV catchphrase, and one can see how the actor’s sepulchral quality would have translated well to the melancholy Dane. I also like the suggestion in this illustration that J.L.’s Hamlet would have been an expressionistic one, bent into some sort of human Swastika.

A Book

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on June 16, 2015 by dcairns


I’m in a book!

Two entries in this whopping scholarly overview are written by me — one on Return to the Edge of the World, Michael Powell’s look back at the film which made his name, and one on  Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, Chris Rodley and Kevin MacDonald’s scintillating documentary on that fascinating, Edinburgh-born rogue talent.

Huge thanks to Jonny Murray, film scholar and particular expert on the works of Bill Forsyth and Scottish cinema in general, who made the introductions necessary to get me the gig.

I wrote my entries AGES ago but various delays kept the thing from seeing the light until now. It takes a pleasingly broad view of what constitutes Scottish cinema — films made by Scottish directors abroad are not counted, but Hollywood movies set here, like BRIGADOON, do get a mention. There’s some special consideration of genre cinema (seven versions of the Burke and Hare story!) and detailed accounts of some relatively unreported movies, such as DONKEYS and GREGORY’S TWO GIRLS.

I’m just thrilled to be in a book!

Directory of World Cinema: Scotland (Ib – Directory of World Cinema)

The Sunday Intertitle: The First Picture Show

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 24, 2013 by dcairns


In ST KILDA BRITAIN’S LONELIEST ISLE (1923-28) appears as an extra on the excellent BFI disc of Michael Powell’s THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. I happened to look at it as I was revisiting Powell’s follow-up film, RETURN TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (1978), in order to write an entry on it for an academic publication, Directory of World Cinema: Scotland. I don’t know if my piece strikes the correct academic tone: I have lines about octogenarian actor John Laurie’s eyes darting about in his skull like mad spies.



Still, the little travelogue/documentary on ST KILDA, the real island that inspired Powell’s movie, is a treat. I was particularly intrigued by an item at the end suggesting that the film crew projected the islanders’ first movie show — this was apparently in 1923, and is confirmed by news reports at the time which indicated that a shot of a steam train caused the audience to stampede from the hall, Lumiere-fashion. It’s always the same story: you can show them movies, by all means, but don’t show them movies of steam trains. You have to work up to that stuff.


Scottish children are baffled by the inert projector. I’m baffled too — why is it labelled “The Brunette”?

The Edge Of The World [1938] [DVD]