Archive for The Bill Douglas Trilogy

Mr. Hyde in Edinburgh

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2008 by dcairns

A few unoriginal comments on Stevenson’s original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

It’s been said before that the story has a lot of RLS’s hometown of Edinburgh about it. Although the given setting is London, with Hyde’s hideaway explicitly identified as a Soho address (that disreputable district, long home to the theatre and sex industries, would later also house the major British film companies, including Hammer House), Stevenson must have been influenced by his home city as he wrote the tale, in those two feverish overnight drafts.

Right at the start, when Hyde commits his first child-trampling, Stevenson introduces on the scene an Edinburgh doctor, described as “the usual cut-and-dry apothecary, of no particular age and colour, with a strong Edinburgh accent, and about as emotional as a bagpipe.” This man actually typifies most of the characters, apart from J&H, who populate the narrative. In fact, the lawyer Utterson is introduced as the most boring man in literature, and this is part of a consistent tactic to surround the arguably melodramatic title character with dry, methodical and sober-minded characters, creating a stifling normal world for Hyde to erupt into. These characteristics typify somewhat the puritan, Calvinistic ethos of 19th century Edinburgh, still somewhat in the air today.

Edinburgh is a schizoid city. In Stevenson’s day it was divided between Old Town and New. The New Town is Georgian, enlightened, civilised, luxurious in a restrained way. The streets resemble Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street, and exude dignity and rationality.

The Old Town is jumbled, chaotic, a mixture of periods and styles. Narrow closes open onto tilting and dishevelled thoroughfares, arranged down the sprawl of the High Street. These are the haunts of Burke and Hare, whose exploits inspired Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher (filmed by Val Lewton and Robert Wise), and Deacon Brodie, a respectable cabinet-maker and son of a town councillor who led a double life as a burglar. He’s played by Billy Connolly in a TV movie.

Sewage was still emptied out of windows in the Old Town in Stevenson’s day, to flow through the gutters, spreading disease and foul odours. (You cried “Gardyloo!” as you tipped your bucket, a bastard French version of “Look out below!”) So Edinburgh had a divided personality much like Jekyll and Hyde.

Today the Old Town, cleaned up a bit, is the tourist centre, leading as it always does between Holyrood Palace and the Castle. The New Town provides office space, shops and expensive homes. The dark side of Edinburgh has been exported to run down council estates like Muirhouse. (“In Muirhouse, no one can hear you scream. Well, we can. We just dinnae gie a fuck.” ~ Irvine Welsh.) The town council satisfies itself with keeping the centre safe and decorous, allowing the outlying slums to go to hell.

Sad to report, the young lead of Bill Douglas’s esteemed trilogy (MY CHILDHOOD, MY AIN FOLK, MY WAY HOME) was trapped by poverty in one of these areas, and succumbed to crime, drugs and an early death. They are places of despair.

“The figure in these two phases haunted the lawyer all night; and if at any time he dozed over, it was but to see it glide more stealthily through sleeping houses, or move the more swiftly, and still the more swiftly, through wider labyrinths of lamp-lighted city, and at every street corner crush a child and leave her screaming.”

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Trouble Speaking

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2008 by dcairns

Eddie Dick is an Edinburgh-based film producer and former head of Scottish Screen, the organisation for the promotion of film in Scotland. Fiona and I have known him for a few years, but only just this last week actually started sort-of working with him, with a horror screenplay called CELL 6.

Eddie’s most recent film, TROUBLE SLEEPING, directed by Robert Rae and made in association with Edinburgh’s Theatre Workshop, has its TV premier on BBC2 Scotland tonight at 10pm. I emailed him some questions about himself and his movie, and received the following fantastically frank answers:

Edinburgh!

Q: Who are you and where did you come from?

A: I TAKE IT THAT THIS IS NOT A CABBAGE-PATCH QUESTION.  EDDIE DICK, FROM A VARIED EDUCATIONAL/CULTURAL/FILM INDUSTRY BACKGROUND.
 
Q: How did you come to be a film producer?

A: A COLLISION OF ACCIDENT,OPPORTUNITY AND INTENTION.   I CAME AT IT FROM A EDUCATIONAL AND THEN CULTURAL ROUTE WHICH LEAD ME GRADUALLY TO THE FILM INDUSTRY ITSELF.   
 
You’ve rubbed up against both the sacred Bills, Douglas and Forsyth, via your book about BD’s COMRADES (which is easier to get hold of than the film itself) and a much-publicised-locally “row” with Forsyth during your time at Scottish Screen.

(Forsyth, having briefly served on the Scottish Screen committee, accused the organisation of “cronyism” and a “lack of transparency”, words which the media, particularly The Scotsman newspaper, soon had attached to Scottish Screen the way the word “bogus” is always attached to the words “asylum seekers”. The “Dear Bill” correspondence quickly became notorious, although I’m disappointed to see it doesn’t appear to be on the Internet.)

Q: Any anecdotes, or anything you learned from those experiences? It must be pleasing to you to see the Bill Douglas Trilogy out on DVD at last. 

A: RE BILL FORSYTH, THE MAIN THING I LEARNED WAS TO TRY TO AVOID GOING INTO FIGHTS WITH ONE HAND TIED BEHIND YOUR BACK; FAMOUS FILMMAKER VERSUS LOCAL BUREAUCRAT – THERE’S ONLY GOING TO BE ONE “WINNER”.   WITH THE OTHER BILL, THE MAIN THING IS THAT TALENT (ESPECIALLY THAT WHICH IS TROUBLED) DOESN’T PROTECT YOU AGAINST DEFEAT AND ANGUISH.

Shooting TROUBLE SLEEPING.
 
Q: How did you come to be involved with TROUBLE SLEEPING?

A: I WAS ASKED TO GET INVOLVED IN ITS DEVELOPMENT BY ROBERT RAE.   MY FILM’S BLIND FLIGHT AND TRUE NORTH MADE ME THE OBVIOUS, ALTHOUGH NOT THE ONLY, CHOICE.
 
Q: How was the finance raised?

A: PARTLY THROUGH TW’S SOCIAL/DRAMA CONTACTS AND PARTLY VIA MINE (SCOTTISH SCREEN AND BBC).
 
Q: What were the greatest difficulties in making the film?

A: FINANCE AND CONSTANT FIGHTS BETWEEN ME AND THE DIRECTOR.

Wow.
 
I’m very glad that a film has tackled this subject — asylum seekers — from a humanitarian standpoint. Modern Britain often feels to me much like the dystopias of V FOR VENDETTA and CHILDREN OF MEN (which features TROUBLE SLEEPING’S disabled actor Nabil Shaban in not so much a walk-on as a carry-through performance), and it was good to see that tackled in a less fantastical, more down-to-earth way.


 Gary “GANGS OF NEW YORK” Lewis appears in TROUBLE SLEEPING.

Q: The film mixes experienced professional actors with lots of screen experience in short cameo roles, with lots of newcomers in the major roles. (In this way it somewhat resembles Douglas’s COMRADES.) What was casting like, and was their any difficulty unifying the acting styles.

A: THE FILM WAS CAST FROM THE WORKSHOP’S COMMUNITYAND OPPORTUNISTIC WALKBYS( FOUAD, THE WAITER-CUM-SHOPWORKER SAW A NOTICE IN TW’S WINDOW, FOR EXAMPLE).  ROBERT RAE WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN THE CASTING; I ASKED GARY LEWIS AND ALISON PEEBLES, TO DO US A FAVOUR.

I THINK THAT THERE WAS DIFFICULTY IN UNIFYING STYLES.  THERE REMAINS AN UNEVENNESS IN PERFORMANCE, WITH SOME CLEAR WEAKNESSES.
 
I liked Nabil Shaban in the film. From what Eddie told me, I could see that they’d “hired a volcano then told it not to explode,” as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins complained to Jim Jarmusch re his role in MYSTERY TRAIN. But I like the sense of barely controlled ham, and he DOES keep it in check.
 
Q: What next? From out conversations, it seems like you’re moving towards more genre-based filmmaking? Is this a deliberate policy, or just the result of the projects you’ve found recently?
A: IT IS A DELIBERATE POLICY, BUT NOT AN EXCLUSIVE ONE.   I WANT TO MAKE A BROADER RANGE OF FILMS (HAVING MADE 3 SOCIO-POLITICAL ONES).  I’VE BEEN SEEKING GENRE MATERIAL SUCH AS CELL 6.
Many thanks to Eddie for helping out here.