The Door in SF

You thought I was kidding, didn’t you?

Ron Cobb does the business. That’s the kind of door we’re talking about…

image courtesy of John Eaves. Check out his chunk of posts on Ron Cobb here.

Let’s consider the humble doorway, and how it has become a character in and of itself in SF. In every other genre I can think of, they are simple objects. They open. They close, occasionally with a slam. In a prison context, they are symbols of incarceration, although to be frank characters tend to talk about the walls more, and they are the object that will have the graffiti and the gate-bar scratches, counting off the days until freedom comes.

SF doors are infinitely more complex. They are desperately over-engineered for the job at hand. And at the same time they barely fulfil the essential design requisites that you and I would consider the door would need. They rarely have handles, for example. You have to punch a code or say a password or, memorably in Jeunet’s Alien:Resurrection, huff your cheesy breath into a detector.

And that’s before the darn things will even open for you. Then you get the best efforts of a team of props men as they slide back on tracks or drop through the floor or iris open like a lens. In Star Trek: DS9 the doors were built like cogs, and they rolled out of the way in a way that was far too complex for the end result. Lights will frequently blink and flash. In Peter Hyam’s Outland, they had useful red or green fluorescents to let you know if they were locked or not.

And then of course, they always make noise. Helpful bleeps and chimes to let you know that they’re about to do that fancy three-way split. The hiss of hydraulics. The unzipping sound that accompanied Captain Kirk as he marched down the corridors of the Enterprise (those corridors were always too fancy for my liking, although I’ve always had a thing for the Jeffries Tube). And I have to mention the doors on the Heart Of Gold in the Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, that were programmed to take pleasure in opening and closing, and did so with an almost orgasmic sigh.

Of course, there are always exceptions. The doors in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica are heavy, unwieldy things, but at least they have a handle and they are pulled open and closed. However, as they’re all designed to isolate an area in the event of a leak, they still have valves and wheels and an excess of handles and cranks. Opening a door still takes up a disproportionate amount of screen time and effort.

I’ve not really talked about the more esoteric kind of SF door yet. The Stargates, for one, have devolved over the years from being a 2001-esque gateway across galactic space, complete with warp effects and the wailings of a heavenly choir, to the kind of thing that O’Neill and crew hop through when they fancy a walk in the Canadian woods. Then we have the organic portals of the living craft of Lexx and Farscape. These worry me. I’m not sure a door should drip and ooze. Or to that point, just vanish on you just at the point when you need them the most.

But of course, my all-time favourite SF door? Well, there’s no contest, really.

And don’t tell me you wouldn’t do the same with a door that did that. I want one for my garage.

The Joy Of Corridor

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Like most things in my life, it all boils down to Star Wars.

There are certain kinds of films that I really go for, and will happily sit and watch again and again. Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is one of them, and in a short introduction before it’s screening last night on FilmFour, he nailed one reason why. They all seem to be of a particular type, a genre with a history and a meme-set that is easily tracked. I love films of the genre sub-species he described as “A Ship. A Crew. A Signal.”

These are the horror-tinged bottle films, where most of the action takes place on a dark, monolithic spacecraft, within the confines of which BAD THINGS HAPPEN once The Crew pick up and foolishly answer The Signal. This Signal is usually a misinterpreted message to STAY THE FRAK AWAY. From then on in there will be running and screaming and dying and mostly a single survivor.

But mostly, there will be corridors. Hundreds of them, stretching for miles. They will be encrusted in vents, ducts, computery bits, extraneous ribbing, tons of stencilling and detailing in a limited palette of sans-serif fonts. There will be steam. Oh my word, there will be steam. I often wonder whether ships like the Nostromo and the Event Horizon are powered by a coal-fired boiler rather than a nuclear reactor.

The camera will start the film drifting in a dreamy manner down these corridors, and end it whizzing down them as the final character either has to get to a door before a timer runs out, or because something insectoid with too many teeth is chasing them. Frequently, both of these things are happening at once. There will be a whooping alert sound. It’s the same one in all of these films. There will also be a calm female voice doing the countdown. I think Winona Ryder has the monopoly on that one.

Sunshine has some great corridors. The set took over the entirety of Three Mills Studio in East London when the film was shot in 2006, and the detailing is exquisite. I’m happy to report that there’s also little attempt to score points off the meme. Although the ship is on it’s way to the sun, the corridors are dark and claustrophobic. The feel is heavy and industrial. Like most of these ships, the Icarus II is a submarine in space, a tiny metal bubble of life in an environment that’s almost instantly lethal.

I spent years in my youth drawing corridors like the ones you see in films like Sunshine and Alien. Once the technical drawing classes I took in junior high school taught me the rudiments of perspective, I was away. I can still draft a pretty good blocky spaceship in three-point, or an infinitely expansive throughway liberally coated in technological cruft. I love them. They are places where adventure happens, where there is high drama, monsters coming out of the walls and lots of those spinning orange lights they have on the roofs of ambulances.

I said at the beginning that I blamed this on Star Wars. Think about it. Two minutes into the film, after all that tedious nonsense with the yellow letters and the big triangle that goes on for miles, we are inside the Tantive IV, and we see… well, THIS.

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This, and the later scenes in the Death Star are something that should not be shown to an impressionable ten-year-old who’s already a little too lost in his own imagination for his own good. Especially the bits in the prison block.

For further reading, I cannot recommend Martin Anderson’s post on Den Of Geek highly enough. If you think I’m wibbling on un-necessarily, just wait and see what he’s got.

Coming up: doors in SF.

Banksy, Time Out and NanoWrimo.

It’s time, I think, to start talking about a project that I’ve been tangentially involved in for a while. This is a short documentary that Dom, one of my best friends and filming partners, has been working on. It’s about the art and public perception of the graffiti artist Banksy. It’s an unusual project, in that Dom is claiming that he has nothing to do with it. He’s telling people that it was simply something he came across, a DVD that he found behind a lamp-post somewhere, and that all he’s doing is bringing it to the public’s attention. To the point where the working title is now “I Found A Film About Banksy”.

Fair enough then. I too have fallen down the rabbit hole, and can only tell you what I know about this film. Last Thursday, for reasons I am not at liberty to go into, I was on a slow-running train into London on my day off, with my trusty MiniDV camcorder. Dom and I were off to The Courthouse, a hotel that used to be the Great Marlborough St Magistrates Court, to interview entrepreneur Ivan Massow.

I’ve discussed the film that he’s made, “Banksy’s Coming To Dinner”, here. Dom had been keen to talk to him since he’d seen the film, and Ivan had agreed to an interview after a surprisingly short amount of nagging from my most tenacious friend. We arranged for a 10:30 meet with Ivan at the bar of The Courthouse, which has kept the holding cells it was built around and converted them into snugs. A great place for an interview about an artist whose relationship to the law is at best skewed.

As we headed in, it became clear that we were going to be late. My train was painfully slow-running, and traffic for Dom was the usual London nightmare. Also, Ivan had pulled the interview forward half an hour. We were now in danger of pissing off our interviewee with a late arrival – the most unprofessional thing to do when someone is doing you a favour. I arrived at the Courthouse at 10:15, got the bar open and quickly settled on a decent cell for a chat. Dom was five minutes after me, looking intensely harried, but with good news. Ivan was also running late.

We ran the quickest rig-up in the history of film-making ever, and were just about ready to go when Ivan finally arrived, 25 minutes late and already looking at his watch. Great. This would not be the leisurely chat we were expecting. However, we had no cause to grumble.

Ivan was great. Erudite, funny and insightful, and fully up for playing the Banksy game. In short, not admitting to anything. You might say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment. It wasn’t me, nobody saw me, you can’t prove anything. Plausible deniability. We managed 25 minutes with Ivan before he had to run, and we’re both very grateful to him for giving us that much. There is some very good stuff in that interview, and he’s added a chunk of value to the already rich mix that allegedly has been put together by someone. See, the game is addictive.

The remainder of the day was a solid chunk of decompression in various pubs, chats with friends and plotting our next move. This was a great way to relax after an incredibly panicky morning. We’d pulled victory out of the jaws of humiliating defeat, and it felt good.

So. Next. Dom will be giving Sheffield the love at the documentary film festival, and we are in prep mode for the reshoots on Time Out, which should be happening in the next week or so. Then it’s a simple case of finishing the cut on that and getting it distributed, hopefully to a slightly more interesting platform than YouTube. More news on that as it happens, obviously.

And then it’s November, and Nanowrimo again. I have a great idea, which is going to be a manic romp around some of the influences that shaped my reading as a kid. I’m really excited about this one, as is everyone that I’ve pitched it to, purely on the strength of the title, which came out of a misheard phrase when I was talking about last year’s Nano.

Ladies and gents. My novel for 2009 will be based on a very simple concept.

Pirates.

On the Moon.

Prepare yourselves.

A Progress Report

Dom discovers YouTube. That's it for work today, I guess...

Looking back over the past few posts, it’s painfully obvious that I am turning into a curmudgeonous old whiner, griping and complaining about the state of the country, signing petitions in lieu of doing something useful.

So, for a change, let’s be positive and constructive and look at how the film projects are coming along.

Time Out is taking shape nicely. We’ve closed up gaps, tweaked the edit ever so slightly, and laid in a sound bed that’s suitably overwhelming. We’ve storyboarded up the shots we need to get in a comparatively simple reshoot day, and are now getting that day together, in conjunction with our brilliant cast and crew. The plan is to complete Time Out in the next couple of months. Let’s call it a Christmas Present to the world.

Meanwhile, Decks Dance And Videotape continues on it’s glacially slow path to realisation. Dom had one of his busiest weeks ever, squeezing in interviews with Richard, promoter of the renowned Raindance night and Pez, the guy who defined the iconography of thee Acid House aera with his use of The Smiley Face. But that’s not all, dance fans. He also snagged an interview with house pioneer and legend, Marshall Jefferson. He can now brag that Marshall bought him a Chinese takeout. There aren’t too many people who can say that. All three came across as wise, insightful and funny. And they can all talk the hind legs off a kangaroo.

Logging work will commence on this prime chunk of footage, and next order of business will be a new trailer to drum up some interest, reflecting the wealth of interviewee goodness we now have on board.

And of course, how surreal the whole thing can be…

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L-R, Richard, Pez. Or is it the other way round?

Over the past week, Dom and I have really made some progress on two very solid projects, and there’s more to come. We’re interviewing next Thursday, working on yet another film that I’ve been keeping shtum about on this blog for the time being. That may well have to change soon. Keep it locked to X&HT. News is approaching.

Blood + Roses – a review

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Reviews should be objective. It’s never a good sign for a pundit to write a piece on a film when it’s known that he or she was involved in it’s creation. There’s no sense of distance, and every chance of bias.

Here is my review of Blood + Roses, a film which gives me a prominent colourist credit, and for which I put together an EPK.

Blood + Roses is a film about a girl who cannot help but get involved with bad boys.

At the beginning of the film we meet Jane, who is stuck in a loveless relationship with Martin, a cold, controlling bastard played with misogynistic glee by Kane John Scott. Jane, frail and wounded, has nightmares of something awful that has happened to her in the recent past. Something that she can’t quite remember, and that Martin is in no hurry to help her recall. Something that they have driven to an isolated cottage in the country to try and put behind them.

Once there, things don’t seem to be improving for Jane. Martin is unsympathetic, selfish. Then she meets, and is seduced by the ultimate tall, dark stranger – Seth, a vampire. As Jane begins to change, her memories of what has happened begin to return, and her frailty is shed in favour of something more primal. Physically and mentally, her strength returns. As it does so, Jane begins to thirst. Not just for blood, but for revenge.

Blood + Roses is an attempt to tweak some of the more romantic aspects of the vampire mythos, to tease out some dark truths about the nature of attraction and desire. Jane may be stuck in a loveless marriage, but she knows what she’s getting into with Seth. She embraces her new life with relish, and an almost unseemly haste, considering the consequences.

Jane is played by Marysia Kay with a touching fragility in the early stages of film, before her transformation. After, she becomes stronger, sleeker, more feline, graceful yet deadly. She portrays this change nicely, and as a vet of the BritHorror scene, I would have been surprised if she hadn’t. This is, after all, an actress who specialises in portraying strong women – sometimes strong enough to pull their hapless victims in two!

Seth, the third point in the triangle, is played with louche charm by Benjamin Green. Seth appears worldly and urbane, but at the same time he is very much the predator of the piece. He simply walks into Martin and Jane’s life and takes what he wants, without a wasted thought to the consequences. Jane is quick to embrace his attitude – any escape from the airless trap that her life has become with Martin would seem to be acceptable, even the loss of her soul.

Blood + Roses is a film to muse over, something that needs a little time to sink in and percolate. It’s careful to play with the mythos just enough – the “v word” is never mentioned, and in this film they can be seen in mirrors. An interesting move, perhaps to bring home the point that the life Seth offers is a dark mirror of the one Jane is so keen to leave. The life of a vampire is, in it’s way, as constrained as her marriage to Martin. She will never see the sun again, eat real food be able to have children. Her time with Martin may have stripped away most of her humanity, but accepting Seth’s bloody bargain means turning her back on what’s left of it.

The isolated location of Blood + Roses works in it’s favour. Most of the action takes place in the confines of the small cottage Martin and Jane have rented. The camera stays tightly framed on the actors, trapping them in dark corners, unable to escape their fate. The cinematography is lush and rich, though, and colour is used to surreal effect in a couple of dream sequences. Kudos to DoP Richard J. Wood and director Simon Aitken for resisting the temptation to desaturate the colour palette and give the pictures a mud wash. This is a good-looking film, even if it was shot in nasty HD video.

The film really comes to life when it’s focussed in on the vampires. The chemistry between Seth and Jane comes across beautifully, to the point where I was disappointed when they weren’t on screen. By contrast, I felt too much time was spent on the plot cooked up by Martin and his doctor friend Ted, and their crime against Jane. This wasn’t helped by the dry reading given by Adam Bambrough, which made the pair come across as buffoonish rather than truly evil. A shame, because on the whole I thought the script, by Simon’s long-time writing partner Ben Woodiwiss, worked well. And the guy can write a mean vampire.

On the whole, then, I found Blood + Roses an entertaining take on a couple of standard horror tropes. It doesn’t wallow in grue or histrionic performances, preferring instead a low-key approach that builds slowly towards the finale. Here, at last, my gorehound tendency was satisfied in an ending that riffed nicely on classical and Elizabethan revenge tragedy. It’s something a bit different, and I wish it well.

But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

A Night Of Blood And Roses

It’s a big day for UK indie film-maker Simon Aitken. Blood + Roses, his first feature, has it’s cast, crew and press screenings tonight. I’m really excited, and can’t wait to see it on the big screen at last. It’s been a long, hard two year fight to get the film to this position, and it shows the sort of tenacity and single-minded drive that Simon has in spades that he’s done it with no money, and certainly no help from government or lottery-funded grants. It’s a tremendous achievement, and I’m proud to be associated with it.

Plus, beer afterwards. Always good.

Frightfest: peaks, troughs and a mission.

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Saturday dawned, sunny with clear blue skies. A blessing, after three twelve hour days at work in the dark, staring at a screen.
No sun for me. I would be spending the day voluntarily sitting in a dark room, staring at a screen. Saturday was Frightfest day.

I met Leading Man Clive and Blood ‘n’ Roses Aitken in the one decent pub in Leicester Square. They were breakfasting. I had already eaten, so fortified myself with a pint of crude. It’s good for you, right? Besides, I didn’t want any more coffee. Twitchy in a horror movie crowd is not a good look.

To the Empire, the big new venue for Frightfest. We grabbed wrist bands, perused the retail opportunities around the main concourse (The Cinema Store had a decent selection of goodies, but I contented myself with a Frightfest teeshirt) and all too soon it was time to go in for the first movie.

SMASH CUT is a loving tribute to the work of Hershell Gordon Lewis, The Wizard Of Gore. It wears it’s influences lightly and isn’t afraid to make fun of itself. The story of a director who starts harvesting murder victims for props for his movie, it’s light on it’s feet, funny, sharp and impassioned about the state of the industry. It features a lot of genre names in cameo and supporting roles, including Hershell himself, who was clearly having a ball. It was a great casting move to include porn star Sasha Grey, who gives a fairly solid performance as the investigative journalist tracking down the psycho director. There’s a fine horror tradition of giving strong female roles to porn actresses, and it’s carried off with aplomb here.

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I loved it. It will never win any Oscars, but for fans of the genre it’s well worth the time. Director Lee Demarbre and star David Hess introduced the film and gave a hilarious Q&A afterwards, which also addressed the central dilemma at the heart of the film. A love story to cheap and cheesy 16mm film-making, it’s shot on video. I’m never convinced by the arguments given for shooting on HD versus film, and just think it always looks a bit cheap. I’m biased, I know, but I simply don’t see HD as the only choice for the lo-to-no budget film-maker.

Aaaaanyway. Twenty minutes later, we were back in our seats for HIERRO, a Spanish horror that’s clearly going for the same creepy ghost child feel as The Orpanage and The Devil’s Backbone. It doesn’t, sadly, feeling leaden and plodding. Rather than building a mood and putting us on edge, director Gabe Ibáñez seems content to make a good looking frame, and ensure that his lead actress, the lovely Elena Anaya, always looks stunning even at the height of her despair.

Elena plays Maria, who lost her son on a ferry trip to the island of La Hierro, on the southernmost tip of the Spanish territories. Crazed with grief, she returns to the island when a child’s body is found, only to then believe that the child is still alive.

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It’s a shame that it doesn’t work. The performances are fine, the last plot twist is clever, and Gabe Ibáñez can compose a beautiful looking shot. But the funereal pace and lack of shocks just do for it, in the end, and I found myself unable to care for Maria or her plight.

Another short break, which led Aitken to indulge in the Pick ‘n’ Mix counter as we didn’t have time to get anything proper to eat, and back in for MILLENIUM, aka THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. This, we were told, was something of a departure. Not strictly speaking a horror film at all, it contains enough horror tropes to make it suitable for we merry band of hardcore Frighters. “Trust us on this one,” we were urged. “It’s great.”

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And it is. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of detective stories, but this was utterly absorbing. A twisty, clever tale of the decades-spanning work of a serial killer and the journalist and hacker who team up to stop him, it features one of the best new characters of the decade, and if there’s any justice, Bizarre magazine’s new muse, the heavily tattooed and pierced Lisbeth Salander. Vicious, antisocial, but stridently moral and incorruptible, she is no victim despite her harsh upbringing. Her revenge on the guardian who abuses her is jaw-droppingly cruel – but he deserves everything that happens to him, and she had the whole cinema cheering.

Already a massive hit in Europe, you need to search this one out when it hits the UK early next year. There are two other films in the trilogy, which are out in Scandinavia in September and November. Time for me to start brushing up on my Swedish…

Yet another short break (you can see where I’m going with this, can’t you?) which gave us just enough time to dash out and inhale a Burger King. It was getting on for seven o’clock at this point, and we’d all had to skip lunch. Pick ‘n’ Mix, Simon opined, is no substitute.

I was excited now, as the next film up was the new one from one of my horror heroes, Dario Argento. A return to his slasher roots, to the point where it was simply named after the genre: GIALLO.

These days, it’s unusual for me to watch a film through my fingers. I like to think I’m pretty hardcore. Giallo was a rare exception. I was in a knot throughout.

It’s utterly, mind-buggeringly, squirm-inducingly awful. It would be laughable without the name of a master attached. The dialouge is rotten. The performances veer from flat to scenery-chewing without ever hitting decent. The effects are no better than the ones in Smash Cut, and they were supposed to be laughable. I spent the first reel hoping against hope that it would improve, and realised by the end of the second that there was no hope for it. I very nearly walked out, but I was so utterly mesmerised by the slow-motion car-crash unspooling in front of me that I was rooted to my seat.

It’s interesting to note that Argento’s most recent mainstream interview, a three-page spread in this month’s Bizarre, fails to mention Giallo at all. There are strong rumours that he has completely disassociated himself from it, that it was taken out of his hands, even that Emmanuelle Seigner, the lead actress, was on drugs throughout. Can’t properly comment on that one as it’s pure speculation, but it would explain the dreadfully flat performance. I’m not a believer in the so-bad-it’s-good school of film appreciation, but it honestly has laugh-out-loud moments. If it’s a spoof, it’s a work of utter genius. If it’s not, then I’ve just witnessed one of my favourite directors piss what’s left of his reputation away.

After that we all needed a drink, so I got them in while we waited for the next film of the night. I had tried and failed to get tix for Pontypool, a clever spin on infection horror, but I was assured that I would not be disappointed by my second choice.

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And so it proved to be. TRICK ‘R TREAT is a loving tribute to the horror anthologies of the eighties. It’s chock full of invention, wit, charm, proper scares and features the most genuinely inventive new horror character in years, the Halloween sprite Sam. It’s being hailed as the highlight of the festival, and rightly so, as it’s genuinely, properly entertaining. Quite honestly, it’s a film I could take Clare to, feeling sure she’d enjoy it.

So, it’s a shoo in for Halloween screenings, right? Warner Bros must be all over this one like a rash, right? A proper, honest horror hit in the making, right?

Wrong. Trick ‘R Treat was made in 2007, and has been shelved ever since. It’s finally getting a DVD release this year, which is totally bogus for a film that really comes to life in front of a cinema audience. For this film to be sat on, when formulaic retreads and remakes get the nod is frankly sickening. Michael Dougherty, the director, was there, and made an impassioned plea for people to get behind this film and push for it. He has support from none other than John Landis, at Frightfest for the re-release of An American Werewolf in London, and who made his feelings about Warner’s actions very clear indeed, with a bellowed “Fuck ’em!”

Supporting this criminally overlooked film is the least I can do. It’s available for pre-order now – go snag a copy. Better, if you get the chance to see this film on the big screen, do it. It’s brilliant. It’s just the most deeply satisfying horror I’ve seen in a long time.

The last film of the night, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, started late, and was shaping up to be good, sugared-up gory fun, but something made me check the train schedules, which was just as well. The 3:30am train I was counting on wasn’t running, which meant an abrupt exit, hasty apologetic texts to Simon and Clive, and a dash across town to catch the last train home. A shame, as I enjoy the anime-brought-to-life of films like Tokyo Gore Police. The twenty minutes I saw came across like Grange Hill on meth. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

(The clip below is NOT SAFE FOR ANYBODY)

And that was me done. I was drained after just one day, so Gods know how Clive does it year after year. I can see why he does it though. It’s a great way to get a real snapshot of what’s going on in the horror and fantasy field, as well as seeing rare and interesting movies that you simply wouldn’t see otherwise.

My one problem was with the density of programming. It’s great that they cram so many films into the day, but it does mean if you want to network or kick back with your mates, you’ll probably have to miss something, and if you’re on a day pass that’s just not the best use of your time.

Still, that’s a minor grumble against a day that was otherwise well worth the money.

Frightfest – very nearly the best fun you can have with lots of people in the dark.

Frightfest

August Bank Holiday is rolling around, in the same sort of way as a rhino that’s about to run you down. It’s big, it’s slow-moving, but somehow it’s on you before you realise it.

Normally at this time of year I would be getting ready to wallow in the mud at the Reading Festival. Due to circumstances both beyond (tickets sold out in 15 nanoseconds flat) and within my control (laziness) Radiohead will just have to manage without me. No, this year I shall  be at Leicester Square, for a day of Frightfest.

The UK’s premier horror and fantasy film festival hits it’s tenth anniversary this year, and it’s ringing the changes in a big way. A move to the Empire, one of the bigger cinemas in The Square, and the opening of a second Discovery Screen for new talent. Which means more films, of course, and with that the chance to miss something you really want to see because something you want to see more is screening at the same time. So it goes.

I’m easing in gently, by just doing the Saturday, which has the highest concentration of must-sees for me. Unlike hardcore Festers like Leading Man Clive, who regularly do the whole thing, which can’t be good for you.

The real pick of the crop for me, is Giallo, the new film by Dario Argento. It seems like a move back to his stylish slasher roots, and should be an absolute blast. There are rumours that he might be attending, which would make me a happy horror head.

(FanBoy Fact: One of my discoveries of this year, Frederic Brown’s noir novel The Screaming Mimi, was the uncredited source for Argento’s first giallo, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Different kinds of pulpy yumminess).

One feature of the fest that I may well miss is the Zombie Walk around Leicester Square on the Monday morning. Don’t be fooled. That’s not makeup. This is what horror fans tend to look like after three days in a dark room with inappropriate nutrition and not enough kip.

Bacon saaarnieesss... erm, we mean braaaainnnns...
Bacon saaarnieesss... erm, we mean braaaainnnns...

I’ve meant to do Frightfest for years, and I’m really excited to be sitting down with some good friends and just indulging my geeky half.

Alright, two-thirds.

Frightfest begins tomorrow evening with the premiere of seaborne shocker Triangle. Hopefully nothing like the old soap opera set on the Le Havre ferry…

Straight 8: showing your mistakes in public

It’s done for another year. Three days of screenings. Three days of triumph, of disappointment, of joy and pain, of ecstasy and despair. There’s nothing else like Straight 8, and that’s probably a good thing. I’ve done four films under the discipline now, and I still can’t honestly say I recommend it. It’s like any addiction. You know it’s going to do you some damage, but you just can’t help going back for another hit.

This year was new for me for a few reasons. It was the first time working with my good friend and docobuddy Dom Wade. It was the first time working with a pick-up crew sourced from Shooting People.

And it was the first time that we badly screwed up.

Rewind to March. We are in London Bridge, at our first location. We’re set up in the kitchen of the flat that is our primary indoor location.

And Dom is convinced something’s gone wrong with the camera. He didn’t hear the film roll on the last two shots we ran. And that mechanical claw is loud. But we have a lot of ambient noise going on, to help our actress Kiki get into character. He can’t be sure, but he’s used the Braun Nizo on every Straight8 film he’s shot. In his bones, he knows something ain’t right. So he reseats the battery.

It’s a tense moment. We reset the shot without the noise, and are relieved to hear the clatter of the camera mechanism. Problem solved, we think, although there’s a danger that we have the same scene twice. That’s something we have no way of checking, so we carry on.

Dom was right. There had been a problem. The scene was shot as planned. But at some point, the camera triggered while left on its side, and rolled for 8 seconds. There is a shot of a corner of a kitchen counter in the film that shouldn’t be there. It was a mistake which blew our carefully timed sound effect, and the entire conceit of the film, to bits.

We found this out at the same time as everyone else, in the crowded screen two at the Curzon Mayfair.

The heightened atmosphere at a Straight8 screening is like no other. Everyone is in the same position, not knowing, hoping, dreading. The highs when your film goes well are unbelievable. The lows when it doesn’t are black dogs.

Confronted with the realisation that my carefully laid plans had gone horribly wrong, and were playing out in front of a room full of my peers was not one of the finer nights of my film-making life.

I felt sick. I needed a wee. I wanted to cry. I watched the rest of the film through my fingers.

I excused myself as soon as I could, and stood in the loos, letting the waves of nausea ebb. I felt frantic, panicky. If I’d had my jacket with me, I probably would have walked out. But no. This kind of thing is always a risk with Straight8. You can never be sure what you’re going to get. I took a deep breath, and walked back in. The place for drama was up on screen.

Afterwards, a surprise. Both Ed, who runs Straight8, and Fiona Brownlie, who made the best film of the night, mentioned how much they liked the idea. (“But Ed,” said Dom in the quote of the night, “It’s completely wrong!”) We must have been doing something right for it to get into the screening in the first place. But my disappointment was tangible. I don’t know if it was better or worse that only one member of our brilliant cast and crew, Hayley, could make it. As it was, I found it hard to look her in the face as we said goodbye. I felt like I’d let everyone down somehow.

Enough of this pitiful attempt to curry sympathy. It belittles us all. The fact is that this can be fixed, and no-one has to see Time Out in that form ever again. We have the film, and will retransfer today. Then it’s a simple matter of cut, top and tail, and we can get the film out there properly. I’m fascinated to see just how well the sound drops back into sync once we chop out the offending shot. I’d like to feel that all my hard work with stopwatches and schedules wasn’t completely in vain.

I have to remind myself that we went through exactly the same shit last year with Code Grey, where we lost the important final shot. the fix was done, and it went on to great success. Who knows where Time Out will lead us?

So, that’s it for this year, and I ask the question I always ask. Will I do it again in 2010?

Dunno. Like any addict, I have to take it one day at a time.

Scare Tactics

Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist appears to be stoking one hell (sorry) of a row. It was the subject of controversy at it’s Cannes screening, and now has a reputation to defend as a hardcore slice of nastiness.

If Von Trier was hoping for the sort of press that helped Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible to acclaim, he’ll be disappointed. The critical response to his psychological horror about the descent into madness of a couple following the death of their child has been at best muted, at worst out and out hostile.

Masochistic readers of the Daily Mail film column were treated to a frankly surreal tirade from Christoper Hart in which he reviewed the film without actually having seen it. Fair point, I suppose. I don’t read the Daily Mail, but that doesn’t stop me from ripping the piss out of it. 

A common reaction to Antichrist, and one which I’m seeing used more often from critics that clearly have no better commentary, is to call this kind of horror “boring”. Not the words that look good on a poster.

However, now self appointed media watchdog Mediawatch and Tory backbencher Julian Brazier have waded in, calling for the abolition of the BBFC. Their argument:

“Films of this sort, with such extreme content, should not be classified for public exhibition anywhere. The BBFC should have declined classification and rejected this film.”

“When people are being entertained by mutilation, that is beyond the pale.”

Better yet, Mr. Brazier has said:

“From the accounts I have heard of Antichrist, this does seem to be one more example of how the BBFC has given up on trying to regulate material which the majority of the public feel is offensive.”

Pretty typical cant from a loudmouth who hasn’t seen the piece in question, but fancies a few column inches.

But actually, as the clever chaps at MediaWatchWatch point out, advice rather than regulation is a good thing. The BBFC have been guilty of some downright bizarre spates of nannying over the years (take the debacle over cuts to The Sasha Baron-Cohen homomentary Brüno which has led to two different versions of the film being available at the cinema) but in general they seem to be showing a bit more restraint than one would fear. An advisory role would seem to make sense for a body that is, after all, the British Board of Film Classification, not censorship.

The reaction to all this that most closely mirrors my own comes, appropriately enough, from a fellow film-maker. Michael Booth of Pleased Sheep Film heaps approbation on both Brazier and John Beyer of Mediawatch, calling, in a priceless display of righteous fury, for the abolition of Mediawatch. I recommend the whole post on his forum, but couldn’t resist this quote:

I propose we ban Mediawatch and censor their ridiculous outbursts as one day someone may read one of their quotes and is patronized to the point of a machete/gun spree killing. Trust me on this, as there’s just as much foundation to this as any of Mediawatch’s petitions, protests or claims. Lives could possibly be lost or corrupted by Mediawatch’s very existence. When I read the quotes by John Beyer, I myself a mild mannered person punched a cushion in anger. I hate to think what would have happened if another person had been in the room – or I was a more violent man. It could quite easily have been someone’s smiling face, a child or a pensioner. It could have been catastrophic.

I also propose we seek out and remove politicians that try to exploit the subject of fictionalized violence instead of tackling the real crime that happens on our streets. And in some cases using fiction as a scapegoat for real crime. And all to win many misguided votes to keep them in a very large wage courtesy of you and I the taxpayer – who will have our right to decide for ourselves removed.

I’m siding with him. I, like Mike, believe that if you are expected to act like an adult then you should also be expected to be treated like an adult. Adult films are exactly that, made for an audience that should be able to make up their own minds about what is distasteful.

Let’s not forget too that Mediawatch are vocal but pretty much powerless. They have as much chance of getting Antichrist taken off the screens as I do. By their own logic, if they can’t fulfill their duty, then they should be dissolved. Michael’s right to be angry, but I don’t think he has anything to worry about.

It’s interesting to note the intersection between this film and bête noire of this site, section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Let’s remind ourselves of what constitutes an offence under this law, shall we?

(7) An image falls within this subsection if it portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, any of the following—

(a) an act which threatens a person’s life,

(b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals,

(c) an act which involves sexual interference with a human corpse, or

(d) a person performing an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal (whether dead or alive).


I hope I’m not spoiling your enjoyment of the film, or indeed your dinner, if I mention that Antichrist is chockful of subsection (b). Which would make the film illegal, were it not for it’s 18 certificate, quite literally a get out of jail free card. Proof, once again after the dropping of a test case attempting to apply the Obscene Publications Act to writing hosted purely on the internet, that legislation attempting to foist value judgements onto a legal framework seems to be unworkable.

Let’s not get too complacent, though. This little storm in a teacup took place in the week when the first trial attempting to convict under the Act is taking place in Belfast. Publicity there is pretty much absent.

Which, I guess this is really all about. Reports of the furore Antichrist created at Cannes have been somewhat exaggerated, as Michael pointed out. Four people walked out of the screening. Four. That’s hardly a damning indictment. Combined with the poor reviews, the noise is all starting to feel like a tactic to gather some heat under a director whose reputation has been tepid for a while.

It also shows is how in this country our relationship to censorship and freedom of speech could not be more conflicted if they dressed up in armour and whacked each other around the helms with axes. The only winner in this battle would appear to be Lars Von Trier.