Archive for Robert Louis Stephenson

The Grand Delusion

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2008 by dcairns

Remarkable how many filmmakers of world class have been attracted to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And of course, how many dodgy ones too. Among the cinematic Jekylls we can count Rouben Mamoulian, Jerry Lewis and Jean Renoir, while Hydes might include Jesus Franco, Walerian Borowczyk and Terence Fisher. And then some solid middlebrows like Stephen Frears and Victor Fleming, equivalent to Stevenson’s sedate protagonist, Mr. Utterson, have had a bash too.

By a peculiar quirk of fate, the most respected filmmaker to have come near the book is Renoir, yet the film he made for French TV, THE TESTAMENT OF DR. CORDELIER, has traditionally been one of the most neglected and/or despised in his entire egg (or oeuvre, to give it its French name).

Also ironically, Renoir’s film updates and translocates the story to its own bizarre version of 1959 France, changing all the character names in doing so (but with more justification than I, MONSTER, where Jekyll becomes Charles Marlow and Hyde becomes Blake Edwards, sorry, Edward Blake, FOR NO REASON), and yet it’s by far the most faithful adaptation to Stevenson’s original narrative structure. This is kind of a perversity, since Stevenson’s story is in essence a mystery with a novel solution, which procedes on the understanding that the reader doesn’t know the central plot gimmick (that split-personality thing). By the time of Renoir’s version, of course audiences are going to be well ahead of the story, yet Uncle Jean procedes as if we were all complerely innocent. This sets the tone for the film’s overall peculiarity.

The film begins at the very apex of oddness with Renoir arriving at a TV studio to make some kind of broadcast to the nation. This he does, and we dissolve to the story he’s telling, which he seems to imply has been PLUCKED FROM THE HEADLINES, though this is not entirely clear. A prepared film begins to play, with Renoir’s V.O. running over it, and then we are into the story, with Dr. Cordelier’s unusual testament being presented to his lawyer Mr. Joly. As played by Teddy Bilis, he’s as staunch and dull as Stevenson’s Utterson, yet also brave, loyal and rather admirable — mostly. Cordelier/Jekyll is Jean-Louis Barrault, the mime from LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS, a brilliant casting coup. As Cordelier he’s as erect and crisp as Peter Cushing, with the severity and intensity of Georges Franju. Joly is baffled that Cordelier, formerly a successful psychiatrist, is leaving his entire fortune to somebody named M. Opale, a stranger to Joly. This altered will is the first titular testament, but not the last.

Faithfulness and tampering are kept in a constant dynamic by Renoir’s treatment of the story: when we first meet Hyde in the book, he’s carelessly trampling a little girl. But to show that onscreen, from the point of view of a distant onlooker, would be impossible without risking injury to a child: if you cut into close shots of feet and stuff in order to make it merely SEEM violent, you break the P.O.V. Today we could trample a C.G.I. child with abandon, but Renoir resorts to a different solution: Hyde wantonly attacks the little girl, swinging her around like a rag doll and attempting to choke her with his cane. This necessary change somewhat alters Hyde’s character, and Renoir runs with this idea, showing the villain as impulsively driven to wanton acts of cruelty throughout the story.

Barrault’s performance is remarkable: for some reason, Renoir apparently claimed that the actor worked without makeup, a blatant lie. What I expect he meant is that Barrault worked with a MASSIVE amount of makeup, all over his face and body. His nose and cheeks appear to be stuffed with cotton wool a la Brando’s Don Corleone, he has a dark wig and bushy eyebrows, ludicrously hairy hands, false teeth, and what are either weird sideburns curling under his eyes, or just very dark shading.

To be honest, it’s not the subtlest makeup. Stevenson says that Hyde has an air of deformity about him, without you being able to quite put your finger on it. Various attempts have been made at capturing this elusive idea, none entirely successful. Supposedly Lon Chaney Sr. used to remove the odd scar of deformity from each makeup, before he considered it complete (as a woman perparing for a night out should consider losing one element of her look — a necklace, a belt, or perhaps those underpants? — before leaving the house). Barrault might have benefitted from this advice. The hairy hands definitely seem like a mistake: pure sketch show comedy.

Of course, filmmakers who go for minimalism are usually screwed too: you get Clark Kent Syndrome, as in, “How come nobody notices it’s the same guy?” This is somewhat true with Spencer Tracy (but his film’s too boring to even talk about) and massively so with John Malkovich in MARY REILLY.

But Barrault has his physical skills, and here he excels as the best Hyde since Fredric March (who also had a slightly O.T.T. neanderthal/Fred West makeup). Dressed in a David Byrne type oversized suit, he’s the only Hyde to really work with the idea of a Hyde who’s smaller than his Jekyll. He’s also slouchy, loose-limbed yet somehow alive with nervous tension, his slender frame tortured by tics, some of which he disguises as jaunty little movements. When he first appears, swinging his cane, he seems like a circus clown.

Renoir omits one of Stevenson’s nicest twists: in the story, not only do the nice people fail to realise that Jekyll is Hyde, they don’t initially realise that Jekyll’s house is Hyde’s house. The respectable front of the good doctor’s residence is connected to a disreputable back, from which the schizoid malefactor finds egress. And the back of the house is described as “a great blind forehead” of wall, making explicit the link between house and head. In the nicest image of MARY REILLY, Jekyll’s lab is separated from his home by an inexplicable cavernous emptiness, bridged by a rickety catwalk, like the corpus callosum separating the two hemispheres of the human brain…

Joly calms the angry mob by handing money to the careless mother of the trampled child, a slightly cynical gesture motivated by his desire to protect Cordelier from scandal caused by Opale’s actions. The plot can now develop along lines following Stephenson more closely than usual, though with constant departures into humour or the bizarre.

Renoir adds a more dynamic opponent for Jekyll, a fellow scientist who savagely repudiates his views. Michel Vitold as Dr. Severin manages to be at least as entertaining as Barrault, with a frenzied performance of outraged reason. Smoking furiously (he does everything furiously), dissolving into bitter laughter at virtually everything anybody says, he’s a wonderful maelstrom with a great carpet in his office. “You’ve blasphemed against matter!” he bellows. You can’t help but like him. (The rational sceptic scientist is ALWAYS a bore in these things, so Renoir and Vitold’s feat in turning him into a pleasure is equivalent to Tom Hulce’s work in MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, where the “moral voice” character actually emerges as someone it might be nice to have dinner with.)

Joly’s departures and arrivals at Vitold’s office must have all been filmed in one session (the film was made very economically and very fast), and Renoir seems to have been in a funny mood that day. Upon first arrival, Joly is scraping his shoe along the ground as if he’s stepped in something, then he trips on the step. Later, Hyde wanders past and randomly assaults a man on critches, and we are forcibly reminded of the identical scene in L’AGE D’OR — especially since Gaston Modot, the violent hero of that film, turns up later as Cordelier’s gardener.

Other departures from the book – 

1) The detectives investigating M. Opale pay a visit to a brothel where we meet M. O’s hapless whore, and see the whip he habitually uses on her. The lead flic also examines two haves of a bra — perhaps symbolising Cordelier’s sundered psyche.

2) Renoir does something quite strange in the second half, stopping the narrative progression entirely to show Cordelier throwing a lavish party for the Canadian ambassador. It’s a very Ferrero Rocher kind of shindig, and asides from showing that Cordelier appears to be feeling better, it achieves absolutely nothing in plot terms. But that very fact adds to the weirdness that is the film’s most pleasurable stock-in-trade.

3) And at the end, Cordelier’s second testament, a tape recording in which he explains his experiments and describes a sinful past unlike anything in Stephenson: as a hypnotherapist, Cordelier has raped unconscious patients. He’s really no better than Hyde, only he feels guilt and the desire to maintain a socially respectable front. Hyde is his excuse to be free of all that.

This probably is the most faithful cinematic adaptation, in that it follows Stephenson’s basic shape: a series of clues are laid out and we follow them to the “revelation”. The effect is different though, because while a reader is aware that the story was intended for a public that didn’t know what the story was about, Renoir is pretending that we don’t know where this is heading (although, as you see above, he has a few surprises up his sleeve). I would imagine that the film’s poor reception at the time owes a lot to public and critical bafflement at this bizarre but fascinating strategy.

In contrast to almost everybody from Mamoulian to Roy Ward Baker to Jerry Lewis, Renoir makes nothing at all of the transformation, when we finally see it, but allows Barrault to create some impressive spasms and paroxysms as one identity is ripped away and another emerges through it. A religious moral is ascribed to the events by Joly, and Renoir comes back in with a V.O. to wrap things up, leaving us a little uncertain whether what we’ve just seen is meant to be a re-enactment of a fake news story, or what?

And it’s not often one finishes a film so unsure of what one just saw.

Postively Indecent

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2008 by dcairns

“You’ve got to write about the Mamoulian JEKYLL AND HYDE — and you’ve got to say it’s my favourite film — one of them,” argued Fiona, cogently. I had started talking about either a series of posts on pre-code Hollywood films (but too many excellent bloggers have been there ahead of me) or maybe a series of posts on versions of Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 adaptation, scripted by Samuel Hoffenstein and Percy Heath (check the IMDb for Hoffenstein’s REMARKABLE list of credits – it includes several of my very favourite films, from CLUNY BROWN to THE WIZARD OF OZ, LAURA to LOVE ME TONIGHT) is widely thought of as the best version ever, and came out in what is indisputably the key year for horror movies: Universal brought out both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN the same year. All three films could be considered the definitive versions of the three best-known Gothic creepers, but Mamoulian’s is certainly the most sophisticated film.

Every time we watch it, and we must have done so ten or more times, we spot more details and ideas. Mamoulian was many things, including: an intellectual who was unafraid of exploring ideas onscreen (his version of Hyde is both a neanderthal man and an embodiment of Freud’s Id); a man of the theatre with a fascination for performance and performers; a cinematic innovator who seems willing to try any device, however bizarre. The cliché was always “the innovator who ran out of innovations,” which is unfair, since Mamoulian both following the fashion of cinema, which ran amok with experimentation in the early ’30s, then settled to a more consistent style and grammar during his later career, and he seems to have chosen a classical approach for his later work: he doesn’t fall back on repeating his old tricks, he abandons most of them altogether. I must admit I do prefer the first four films, with their joy of discovery, but R.M. remained a considerable talent.

Reel for reel, JEKYLL must contain more startling new cinematic ideas than CITIZEN KANE. It suffers a bit from over-reliance on symbolism, and some of the gimmicks just don’t work too well, but such zest and creativity carry you over any number of awkward moments.

Maybe the opening subjective camera sequence has been written about too much? As a kid I was thrown by the abrupt cuts from Jekyll’s hand playing the organ to his butler Poole, but the cuts simulate the effect of rapidly moving your eyes from one subject to another — nobody sees a swish-pan when they do that — so they’re fine, really. Tracking through Jekyll’s opulent townhouse (“Beautiful roses, Poole,”) we come to a mirror: Fredric March is reflected in it, preternaturally porcelain-handsome, yet already with rather disturbing bags under his eyes. Poole slips through a side door and emerges in the reflection (it’s actually a window, through which the camera can stare directly at the actors — does this make sense?), handing March/Jekyll his hat and coat, then a fast pan takes us towards the front door, and the camera movement somehow detaches from the dolly in order to wobble up into an open carriage. A little jump cut allows the carriage to ride off, carrying us with it, then a dissolve elides the journey to the lecture hall where Jekyll hands his things to a porter and steps in front of the audience. Quick shots of the anticipating professors take us out of the P.O.V. and then we get March expounding his Startling Theories about the divided soul.

There’s no precedent for all this in any other adaptation of the story. It’s a very direct way of stating the nature of Jekyll’s research, and most versions are the poorer for not having an equivalent. Stevenson’s story, of course, is a mystery, and something like this could spoil the surprise, but most adaptations take Jekyll’s point of view, rather than those of the various eyewitnesses whose stories make up the book, so the story explains itself as it goes. Mamoulian seizes that idea, already used in the John Barrymore version, and takes it literally. The subjective camera opening will be echoed later in the first transformation…

There then follow some slightly duller scenes, closely derived from the Barrymore version and probably the play, where we see Jekyll as a philanthropic doctor treating the poor, and his fiancee Muriel awaiting his arrival at a ball. Muriel, a boring character, is played by Rose Hobart, an avant garde legend due to the 1936 experimental movie ROSE HOBART, culled from various shots of R.H. walking about and looking around, all taken from the ludicrous jungle romp EAST OF BORNEO (see it!), made the same year as DR. J. Rose is a bit of a bore in this film, but it’s really the script’s fault: she’s a plot function without a personality, and bound to look flat and lifeless next to Miriam Hopkins.

Fortunately, Miriam is along shortly, to provide pre-code spice and hysteria, with a commendable stab at a stage cockney accent. Another famous Mamoulian subjective camera sequence: Hopkins undressing in front of Jekyll. She’s asked him to turn away, but the staring camera suggests he hasn’t taken her request too seriously (or “sirius-ly” as March and Hobart insist on pronouncing it), and an insert of her discarded garter landing at his feet, which pointing straight at her, confirms our suspicion with wilful salaciousness.

Miriam enjoins Jekyll to “Come back soon,” and swings her bare leg metronomically from the bed: a lap dissolve keeps this leg superimposed over Jekyll’s thoughtful face for close to a minute as he walks off with his boring friend Lannion (apparently the moral voice of the film, but one whom it’s impossible to sympathise with). Ah, that leg!

Jekyll is anxious to marry the tedious Muriel, and a glimpse of Miriam Hopkins makes him even more so: the man has lusts he can barely contain. He urges Muriel to elope to Paris with him: “And we’ll be so happy even the French will envy us,” but she respects her stern dad too much. Dad is Brig. General Danvers Carew, played by overstuffed hambone Halliwell Hobbes. Carew appears in most adaptations, but is a radically different character each time. In Stevenson he’s just a victim, bludgeoned to death with a cane which breaks: the two pieces of cane connect Jekyll to Hyde at the story’s climax. Here he’s the Forces of Repression personified, enforcing the social codes Lannion blethers about.

Jekyll’s transformation is explicitly motivated by the desire to fulfill his natural lustiness — he’s desperate to marry so he can do this legitimately. When his butler recommends he distract himself with the London nightlife, he despairingly objects that a gentleman of his social standing can’t be seen to do so. His transformation is important more as a disguise to allow him to do what’s unacceptable, than as a disinhibiting drug to loosen him up.

Ah, that transformation. The zippy pan to the skeleton Jekyll toasts, the accelerated motion that allows Jekyll to write his last testament with amazing speed — goofy but somehow admirable. The subjecting camera approach to the mirror, and the extreme pull-focus from the smouldering beaker before Jekyll’s face, to the reflected figure drinking. Then the much-lauded effect where layers of coloured makeup are revealed by the removal of coloured filters, which cameraman Karl Struss had pioneered in the silent BEN-HUR.

Sounds! As Jekyll staggers from the mirror and sees only a spinning blur, we get a weird tintinnabulation, a pounding heartbeat (Mamoulian’s own, recorded after he raced up and down a flight of stairs*) and a series of pronouncements from lap-dissolved characters of memory: “Positively indecent!” “It isn’t done!” etc.

And then, still in subjective camera, Hyde sees his reflection… now Mamoulian’s character leaves Hyde’s head in order to observe from the outside. “Free at last!”

Wally Westmore’s make-up design, a sort of cro-magnon Fred West look, aims for Stephenson’s description of the character — a sort of generalised sense of deformity — but takes everything too far. Of course, it’s one of the difficulties of the character: a makeup artist must create a character who’s memorable and striking yet credible (the public expects a monster and must have one, but Hyde needs to be able to walk the streets without immediately causing panic), and who erases the actor underneath. When they try to go subtle in MARY REILLY, we end up with the Superman/Clark Kent effect: how come nobody notices that it’s the same guy? Here every feature of Frederick March’s appearance has been altered out of recognition, but a bit too much. The teeth are amusing. The slightly pointy head, a borrowing from John Barrymore’s late-stage make-up, is disturbing.

The physical movement aspect of the character is March’s triumph. As Jekyll he seems to exaggerate his own worst traits as an actor: he’s rather stiff and faux-English. As Hyde he lets rip. You get a great insight into how much fun it would be to rampage around in a cape. And it’s intelligent and witty too — Hyde streeeeeetches when he first appears, as if he’s been curled up for too long in a foetal position inside Jekyll’s cramped subconscious. And when, after his second transformation, he runs out into the rain, he turns his face up to enjoy the droplets on his skin. The world is new.

Mamoulian’s conception, suggested by Stephenson but elaborated, is of Hyde as the animal spirit, the neanderthal ancestor or the primitive id. He’s actually innocent at first, aggressive and brutish, but not yet corrupt. As he takes pleasure from the world, his appearance becomes more putrid and dissipated, like Dorian Gray’s portrait. Jekyll is like Gray, protected from the ill-effects of his nocturnal vices by this substitute creation.

Hyde, who shares Jekyll’s memories, immediately goes looking for Miriam Hopkins, and finds her at a convincingly seedy music hall, where hefty chorus girls strut their overstuffed stuff in an echo of Mamoulian’s first film, APPLAUSE. Gliding through the crowd, Hyde pauses to paw a girl’s bare back — a shuddersome moment. Then he finds Miriam, and the abusive relationship part of the film begins.

This is one of the aspects that fascinates Fiona — having made a video about abusive relationships, she was struck by the repeated use of the phrase “a real Jekyll and Hyde character” by women who had violent partners. Here, Hyde is persistently vicious and domineering, with Jekyll as the winning personality who smooths things over with money and kind words. The only difference is that, up until the very end, Hopkins has no idea that the two men in her life are really one. Hopkins’ final scene is moving, terrifying, and deeply disturbing in its fusion of love, sex, violence and death. Mamoulian would probably want me to say “Eros and Thanatos”, since he pans to a statuette of Eros embracing a maiden as Hyde takes Hopkins in his hands…

Another interesting aspect — the film abounds in them — is that Hyde is clearly pathologically jealous of Jekyll, who inspires love in both Hopkins and Hobart, where Hyde can evoke only revulsion (brilliantly played by Hopkins, who looks at times as if her lovely skin is going to crawl right off and hide up the chimney).

And another! The addiction angle — Stephenson has Jekyll liken himself to a drunkard, swearing off the stuff but then succumbing to temptation. Jekyll uses his formula as both a disinhibitor to allow himself to do things he couldn’t do when “sober” (things which would disgust him morally and physically — we’re told Hyde beats Hopkins with a whip), and as a disguise to avoid being caught. But, unlike most drugs which weaken in effect as the body builds up a tolerance, Jekyll’s experiment takes on greater strength, and he begins to transform spontaneously. Even after praying for forgiveness and safety, Jekyll is betrayed by the poison in his soul — the film seems bracingly cynical about the efficacy of appeals to the Almighty.

Realising he cannot control the raging beast that dwells within him, Jekyll visits Rose Hobart to break off their engagement. But as he leaves, he sees her through the French windows, weeping. The sight is enough to trigger a new and fatal transformation. “So does this mean that the sight of her crying turned him on?” asks Fiona. This implies that Hyde has now become a sort of Incredible Sexual Hulk, metamorphosing when aroused. Shades of Simone Simon in CAT PEOPLE. But I’m not sure this is correct, because Jekyll’s next change is random.

March excels here, effecting the transformation purely by posture, as Mamoulian shoots him from behind. He must have welcomed the opportunity to compete with Richard Mansfield and John Barrymore, who won great acclaim for transforming before the audience’s eyes without the use of makeup of special effects. The sequence is all the more effective for its simplicity, and it stands out in a film brimming with invention and sophisticated ideas.

Having crashed in on Hobart (livening her up — it really is a tedious role for anyone to play) and bludgeoned her dad to death with his cane (an incident elaborated greatly from the book) Hyde flees athletically through the fog fog fog of Paramount’s Victorian London (speeding from the wide, upscale streets around Hobart’s home, through dingy slums, and then into the divided area where Jekyll’s home stands, elegant mansion at the front, hissing laboratory at the back, connected only by a slender walkway…

Cornered in the lab by Lannion and the police, Hyde hides in plain view by forcing a transformation to Jekyll, who still intends to get away with it — for all his remorse and praying, he has no intention of being had up for murder. But the Jekyll facade crumbles before the cops’ eyes, and the most raddled version of Hyde yet, emerges. He’s still spry though, vaulting around like Errol Flynn, until an emissary of death sends him on his way with a conventional household bullet.

These last transformations are achieved through lap dissolves, as in the unsatisfactory Spencer Tracy remake, and they’re not half as brilliant as the others. Outside of Jack Pearce’s work with Lon Chaney as THE WOLFMAN, there haven’t been many lap dissolve changes that really impressed me.

As Jekyll lies dead on his lab table, Mamoulian glides the camera behind the fire, where a giant pot, used to symbolise Jekyll’s seething passions at various points of the narrative, still bubbles. In an era when all horror films had to end with the restoration of order, it’s somehow not a reassuring end.

A Strange Case

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2008 by dcairns

Scotch Mist 

One of the local papers here just carried a surprising story that ungovernably prolific genius Raoul Ruiz is planning an adaptation of Robert Louis Stephenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, to be filmed in “modern” Aberdeen, with John Malkovich in the lead.

Ruiz has often expressed his admiration for RLS, and has worked with Malkovich successfully on TIME REGAINED and KLIMT, and recently gave a lecture in Aberdeen which I only heard about when it was too late. I would willingly have travelled to that granite scowl of a city to hear the Great Man’s thoughts. So these various facts make the project more or less explicable.

But it’s still a little odd, since Malkovich has already played Jekyll & Hyde, in Stephen Frears’ unsuccessful MARY REILLY (basically, the Jekyll story told from the perspective of the doctor’s maid), and a little of that was actually shot in Scotland. Although RLS set his morality tale in London, it’s often been suggested that the schizoid nature of Stephenson’s hometown, Edinburgh, with its respectable New Town and dark, crooked Old Town, was a major influence on the tale. Plus I think Stephen Frears fancied getting out of the studio for a bit, so the whole company transferred from Pinewood to Edinburgh at considerable expense to shoot a little around St Stephen’s Church and Greyfriar’s Churchyard, 90% of which wound up on the cutting room floor.

Through eminent Scots producer Iain Smith, some fun stories filtered from the shoot: one day, star Julia Roberts summoned him and announced, with much toothy smiling, that she was thinking of flying to New York to be with her new husband Lyle Lovett (remember THAT love match?) for the weekend. Smith said that sounded very nice, but wondered what it had to do with him. By the time he walked from Roberts’ trailer back to his office the phone was ringing. He picked it up and a man swore at him. It was Roberts’ agent, explaining, through the medium of profanity, how Smith had better find the money in his budget for Roberts’ little jaunt. I don’t think Smith ever actually agreed to do this, but it happened anyway. Studios like to keep their stars happy.

At the end of shooting the last scene, Malkovich approached his co-star and told her, in the frankest terms, how little he had enjoyed working with her and how greatly he looked forward to never finding himself in her presence again so long as he lived. A few months later both were called back to re-shoot the romantic finale… That must’ve been a happy reunion.

Love's Young Nightmare

In the end, three endings were shot, none apparently very satisfying (the book kind of peters out too). This failure to get to grips with what the story was trying to achieve had a deleterious effect on the whole film. It starts well, creating horror and anxiety out of seemingly innocent domestic details, then fails to find any h. or a. in the actual horror-movie events central to the plot. The normally bright-witted Frears allows startling mismatches of word and image: Roberts describes her cruel father as having “not quite a limp”, and then we get a flashback of Michael Gambon lurching about on one ankle, the most extreme limp anybody’s ever seen. Malkovich’s Jekyll looks and sounds just like his Hyde (different hair and nose, is all), making nonsense of everybody’s confusion, which is all the more damaging in this version, since we’re supposed to share Julia Roberts’ viewpoint. We get the striking Bronagh Gallagher from THE COMMITMENTS as the other maid, which allows us to notice how much better suited than Roberts she would be to playing the lead. The best thing in it is living legend George Cole, late of the 50s ST TRINIANS films, as Poole, the butler.

RR

Returning to the Ruiz: why Aberdeen? Presumably the place impressed Ruiz on his recent visit. It has a heavy slate ceiling of sky so low you can reach up and touch it, which could be a dramatic feature, and the whole city is grey, which at least gives it a unified look, even if the look is one you could achieve by diving into a cement mixer. I don’t have a copy of Christopher Brookmyre’s A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away to hand, but the author devotes most of chapter two to a demolition job on the “Silver City”:

‘”Silver City” my arse. It was grey. It. Was. Grey. If Aberdeen was silver then shite wasn’t brown, it was burnished sienna.’

Or words to that effect. But what the hell. I’m excited by the idea of Ruiz filming anywhere in Scotland, anywhere in the UK, anywhere AT ALL. The idea of him having to deal with the bureaucrats at Scottish Screen, our native funding body, is oddly hilarious, since in KLIMT he created a character called the Secretary, who defines his job at the Ministry of Arts as that of preventing any art from actually happening. Some people have said the same thing about our own Scottish Screen.

saucy old Gustav

In fact, I can hold my hand up and say that when the organisation was called The Scottish Film Production Fund, it was I who started referring to it as The Scottish Film Prevention Fund, a nickname that caught on with alarming speed, until the outfit was reborn as the S.S. No possible jokes there.

Despite their initials, they are good people over there in Glasgow, the only problem being the endemic inertia and caution associated with committees and quangos the world over. Dynamic leadership might yet overcome this barrier. They were kind enough to co-fund three of my shorts, which gave me a career of sorts, after ten years’ aimless hoping. When I asked the then-head, Steve Macintyre, why he had voted against CRY FOR BOBO (he was in the minority and it still got selected) he told me that it struck him as the kind of film that would be very good if it was done well, but awful if it was done badly. Now, allowing for the strong possibility that perhaps this was a polite lie and really he just hated the script, it seems to me that the only films worth doing are the ones that fall into this exact category. The alternative is films that will never be terribly good no matter how hard everybody works, and it is these to which Scotland has devoted much of its slender resources through most of our brief history as a feature-film producing nation.

So, if Ruiz’s formidable imagination and strong reputation can stir Scottish Screen to action, and he can raise the rest of his finances elsewhere, from venture capitalists with short memories who no longer recall MARY REILLY, we could look forward to a truly unusual rendition of the Stephenson classic, one that genuinely merits that part of the original title usually omitted: The Strange Case…

I've just seen Ratcatcher

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