Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Film

Dubious Claims To Fame 26: Trainspotting

Like so many others, my first introduction to dance pioneers Underworld came with a viewing of the iconic Nineties Scottish film, Trainspotting. If it was not the network television premiere, back when we only had four channels to watch, it was certainly within a year or two of release.

When the newsagent John Menzies had a summer sale, in 2000 or more likely 2001, I picked up two albums on CD for pennies: Air’s 10,000 Hz Legend and Underworld’s Everything Everything. I remember the date of those purchases not because the price reduction was notable (though it was), but because it was the time when this diehard teenaged metalhead began to discover and appreciate electronic music. Everything Everything cost me forty-nine pence, at a time when Menzies were punting new albums for seventeen pounds. For that amount, without knowing what to expect but with their definitive Trainspotting hit ‘Born Slippy’ on the tracklisting, I took the risk. That song was good enough to merit the splurging of half a quid.

It took no time into the first listen to realise that it was a live album, and what an album! Track after track of brilliant, uplifting music, building and releasing and building again, washing over euphoric crowds and taking them with it. I loved it, and sixteen years later I believe it is probably the live album I have listened to most in my life – comfortably eclipsing Iron Maiden’s seminal Live After Death.

t2-uw-2010-gigAbove: I enjoyed that gig, a lot.

With limited internet – by which I mean the internet itself was limited, back when downloading one song took hours and an entire album meant leaving the computer running Napster, Kazaa, or Audiogalaxy overnight – I sought out physical copies of their studio recordings, buying the first two. In 2007, I finally saw Underworld play live, an unforgettable experience in Glasgow’s corporate-sponsored Academy. The concert was recorded and released immediately afterwards for sale on compact disc, an official bootleg of the kind Pearl Jam first offered, as every show on the tour was turned into the best kind of souvenir or the collecting completist’s expensive nightmare. Thankfully, most of them are online now.

I saw Underworld play again in 2010, at the legendary Barrowland, and once more in 2015 – in the interim they scored the opening ceremony of London’s Olympic Games for director Danny Boyle, and their prolonged hiatus drove me to sieze the opportunity and see them at both their London shows in 2016. By this time, I had more live bootlegs than I can listen to in two straight days, and my left forearm has been completely given over to a tattoo inspired by them. Also in 2016, filming began on the sequel to Trainspotting.

The original launched the careers of Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle, heading an ensemble cast who have all enjoyed career success since, and was directed by Danny Boyle. The film reached far beyond its Scottish roots, quotes and music and scenes and marketing artwork all quickly becoming ingrained in popular culture. Any follow-up would be hotly anticipated and have to be confident of adding to the legacy.

t2-uw-email-picAbove: Update sent to Underworld’s mailing list, November 2016.

As a fan of the film, of the band, and as someone who works in film and television, I joined the long list of people hoping to find work on the return trip. With luck, I found myself employed in the props department for a couple of days.

I do not recall if I signed a non-disclosure agreement or not, but I suspect that I did and I am certainly going to write as though that is the case. I was told that the script was kept locked in a safe, with readings restricted and sometimes supervised – true or not, this one is definitely hotly anticipated.

My role was functional, rather than artistic – emptying lorries, unpacking boxes, tidying stock, moving furniture, cleaning, and so on: a cog in a very big wheel, delighted to be involved in this momentous project. I try not to write much about my professional life. It interests me, but I am wary of being boring or worse, a blowhard. Despite the proximity to famous people, our paths rarely cross, and most of my days are spent preparing things before they arrive or removing them afterwards. That said, in relation to this film, I was secretly thrilled to walk past Sick Boy at one point. Technically I walked past an actor, outside and thirty feet away, but history and association and his bleached hair meant that, to me, I saw Sick Boy.

t2-uw-2016-gigAbove: I was at both Camden Roundhouse gigs this year.

Where is this self-proclaimed dubious claim to fame? In the studio. Various sets had been built, some completed and filmed in, others in the early stages of construction. To tell you that there was a pub interior and some homes and a nightclub toilet is to give little away. The toilet had seven cubicles, and a floor that was still being laid with rubber tiles. A couple of tilers finished the sinks, and I was instructed to move fixings and hardware to the back of the set – ready for installation – and place toilet pans into the cubicles. From memory, and this will have no bearing on your enjoyment of the movie, there were four white pans, four stainless steel, four white lids, and four black. These would be fixed in position later, once the designer had chosen combinations for the desired look.

That was more or less the last thing I did, to close my second of two shifts. I was happy enough – I worked and reconnected with good people, on something I had for months wanted to be part of, and it paid me. Having been told some of the storyline and how it would relate to the first film, and with all of the main cast and crew back for the second run, I could rejoin the ranks of everyone else waiting to see the result – my existing belief that it will be great now bolstered by the additional insight. I thought no more about it.

Then what happened is, six months down the line, the official trailer came out. It was accompanied by a new teaser poster, depicting the four male leads.

t2-uw-stallsAbove: Some time after my involvement had ended. Watch the trailer.

And that, despite my preference to keep these things grounded and relatable, is just about the most dubious claim to fame I could possibly hope for – this image has been seen millions of times, and I put those toilets there. This, ignoring appearances to the contrary, is icing on the cake. The 1996 version of me cannot stop smiling.

 

 

 

 

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A Spoiler I Never Saw Coming.

** This post contains spoilers to films that are a decade old, or more. **

I had no interest in watching the film Saw, released in 2004 and easily ignored in the years since. I am no fan of horror films, finding them to be tedious viewing. With ridiculous premises, nonsensical plots, awful dialogue, and an obnoxious amount of screaming, shouting, and shrieking, I am content to watch almost anything else instead. Despite the work it provides to the many talented prosthetics and special effects crews out there, I am especially keen to avoid the whole gore/torture genre that has arisen.

I do watch the occasional horror, hoping it will not bore me for its duration. Largely, the ones I enjoy are tongue-in-cheek and full of dark humour. An early job after I graduated saw me working on a then-innovative feature, its villains the undead German soldiers of World War Two. A short while later, I was loading-in gear for my favourite band, ahead of their concert that night. Having worked for and with them a few times, their singer enquired as to what I had been up to since he had last seen me at their previous gig. I happily told him:

“I’ve been working on a film about Nazi Zombies. What could be cooler than Nazi Zombies?!”

He looked at me and, deapan, asked “Have you ever seen the film Zombie Strippers?”

zombie_strippers02Above: Silly fun, as you would expect from the title.

I like Outpost, the former of those two, because so much of the menace is hidden in the darkness. It comes across more atmospheric thriller than gory horror, the threat as much in the mind of the audience as visible on screen. Zombie Strippers, the plot blatant from its title, is enjoyably stupid, very entertaining and contains some pointed satire. Robert Englund, the instantly recognisable anti-hero in a series of iconic films I have never watched, comes across brilliantly as the sleazy manager looking out for himself. As he reveals an arsenal of guns and displays his National Rifle Association membership card, he defiantly defends his incompetence with the weapons: “Hey, the law says I can own them, not that I have to know how to use them.

A good friend of mine loves horrors, and lives close enough that we have had a fair few film nights together. I introduced her to things I love and which I figured she might like, like Clue and Das Experiment, and in return she showed me the new Evil Dead and the second Human Centipede. I had not seen the original, as you will no doubt have guessed, but found the sequel comparatively watchable. Centred around a man so obsessed with the original film that he attempts to recreate it, there was a certain logic to it, at least. I find that lacking in a lot of horror, which contributes to my disinterest in it.

spoiler_alert

It is this same friend who adores Saw, and who finally convinced me to watch it with her. I held off for years because of the “torture-porn” tag that the franchise gained, picking up somewhere along the route that a character cuts off his own foot. I had no desire to witness that, staged as I knew it to be. However, I was eventually swayed by her enthusiasm and by my discovery that it stars Cary Elwes. He will always be, to my mind, the Lincoln green-clad hero who proclaimed “unlike some other Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent.” When I first rented the VHS of Robin Hood: Men In Tights I watched it thirteen times in two days, and many more times after that. I can still quote vast amounts of it, a seminal movie in the development of my sense of humour.

My friend and I sat down together to watch Saw, ten years after its cinematic release and after a full year of her regularly telling me to check it out. The opening scene shows two men chained separately in a large industrial bathroom. A corpse lies on the floor between them. My friend helpfully explained “You think he’s dead, but he’s not. At the end he gets up and you find out he did it all.”

“Are you joking?”

“No. Sorry.”

It took me so long to be coaxed into watching it, and within a minute of it starting she had announced the ending. I was completely nonplussed, a feeling compounded by the recollection of our shared viewing of The Sixth Sense. That is a film with an infamous twist, and I had kept my mouth shut throughout – even when she asked me directly.

“Is he dead?”

“We’ll find out.”

“Oh my god, he was dead the whole time,” she exclaimed at the appropriate juncture.

“I know.”

She punched my arm, momentarily annoyed. “No! You were surprised too!”

In that instance I was not surprised, given that it was my DVD of it that we watched and given how parodied it has been in the intervening years. I will admit to being surprised at the spoiler she casually let slip during Saw though, inasmuch as it was entirely unexpected and I had no idea what to do with that information. I did not foresee that she would instantly ruin the very film she was desperate for me to watch.

Nevertheless, I will have my revenge. She loves Star Wars, but one day I will make her watch Psycho. Or The Usual Suspects. Or Planet Of The Apes. Or The Crying Game. Or Soylent Green. Or – well, you see what I am implying.

bible spoiler

 

 

 


World War Who? Seeing The Future.

I wrote the following joke today. If you want to be offended by it please check a dictionary first.

The Retardis is a time machine that only goes backwards.

That reminded me that I have not yet seen the feature film World War Z, but I once put it on long enough to watch the end credits.

This may seem a strange decision, to begin at the ending without viewing a single scene or giving the plot any attention. However, the film was partly shot in Glasgow, my home town, and I was curious to see which of my industry friends had worked on it. I noticed something in the cast list which caught my attention.

Filmed in 2011, the parts were cast long in advance of the BBC’s much-anticipated announcement about the actor who would play the new Doctor Who. It was 2013 when, publisihing details of their own output as “news”, it was revealed that Peter Capaldi had gained the role.

Peter Capaldi, the credits told me, had a part in World War Z. With hindsight, the way they worded his appearance as a member of the World Health Organisation seems rather apt.

wwz credit

 


Dubious Claims To fame – 15

A few years ago, I replied to a request for extras to play “The Infected” in a short film that was inspired by, and set in the world of, 28 Days Later.

It looked like fun, and I thought I might make some professional contacts among the crew. As it turned out, I already knew them all anyway. I spent a Sunday morning being made to look bloodied and bruised by trained make-up artists, and then spent the afternoon running along a deserted stretch of road in a rundown industrial estate. It was good fun, and my day was later edited down to about three seconds of screen time, and they weren’t consecutive. Not that that bothers me, I had fun and I looked cool. I even got the train back to Glasgow in full make-up, and got a few strange looks on the journey. For my own amusement, I stopped in at my local shop on the way home and asked if they had any elastoplast.

The film was written and directed by Carter Ferguson, formerly a regular actor on Scottish soap River City and currently a Fight Director for theatre, film and television. I worked on his next short film too, for which I built the set as well as appearing as his monster-of-choice, and I later did a third short in which I lunged at him with a (rubber) baseball bat and was taken out with a sword. Most of my appearances involved a day or two of work, and all were edited down to fleeting glimpses, but that’s the nature of the beast and I’m not complaining.

When Carter and his fellow filmmakers at Ickleflix were looking to promote their short film, I tried to help where I could, and relentlessly spammed everybody on my facebook and twitter feeds, and on myspace and bebo, to give an indication of how long ago it now was. In a moment of inspiration, I got in touch with my once-local newspaper to see if they would plug the film. To my surprise, they arranged to phone me to do a short interview.

I spoke to them for about twenty minutes, and lots of what I said was either curtailed, rephrased, removed, or amended. Nevertheless, despite being full of inaccuracies, they did indeed run a short article about me on their website (as far as I’m aware it didn’t make the printed version). You can read it here.

So that was the first, and so far only, time that my claim to fame actually rests on something that I have achieved or done, rather than merely been party to.

Here is the trailer for The Rage, but it looks like the film has been taken offline for some reason.

 

 


Dubious Claims To Fame – 8

I don’t generally consider meetings in my line of work as claims to fame, as I’m sure I’ve explained here previously. It’s something of a given, working in theatre, film, and television, that you are going to have minor brushes with celebrated faces and personalities. There are plenty of people out there who will regale you with tales of how they “worked with” some famous actor or comedian, when what they mean is that they positioned lights to shine on them, or rigged a PA so they could be heard, or some other far more mundane interaction which doesn’t merit the implied collaboration of that phrase “worked with.”

I’ve met a few blowhards too, who will drop the names of everybody they can think of, just for the sake of it and, I guess, to make themselves seem interesting. I’m not interesting, not in the slightest, but I do at least try and write up my experiences in a way that will hopefully be broadly entertaining to read. I can tell from the site stats that nobody reads any of it anyway, yet. So it doesn’t really matter what I write here.

I was working on a film called New Town Killers, which stars the actor Dougray Scott. I am fine with dropping his name, because – for all his international success – my greatest claim to fame regarding him is a family connection: my grandmother was his godmother, and she stayed close friends with his mum. It is very hard to be phased by a big-name Hollywood star and once widely-rumoured new James Bond when you know your aunt has long claimed (embarrasedly) to have accidentally dropped him on his head while babysitting him.

We were dressing a set in an empty office block and, if you’ve seen the film, it was for the squat – a dirty, graffitied mess of a flat. We piled in all manner of salvaged cupboards and units, a filthy mattress, couches and furniture, broken bits of bikes, traffic cones, and all kinds of other things that made the place look lived-in but not cared-for. A street artist came in and did some very big pieces on the walls, and we all added to it with tags (or “menchies” in local parlance) – if you look very closely, you can see my spraypainted initials¬† in the back of several shots.

Under instruction, we scoured the disused building we were in, looking for any abandoned items we could dress into the set. I had already gone on a mission to get flyers and posters from local clubs and so on, and these were used to cover windows and provide further background detail. I had also found, while scouring the various floors, an unused Health And Safety sign, of the type required to be displayed in business premises by law. I added it on the wall beside the flyers, but I knew it couldn’t stay – it looked out of place, was too noticeable.

It was about this time that the director arrived on the set, to see for the first time how we had transformed the space. The film was being directed by Richard Jobson, and I was more excited about his involvement in the piece, on account of my teenage punk fixation and on account of his previous career singing for The Skids. He walked into the room and looked around, happy with what he saw. It was at this point I was putting up the H&S sign, and realising it couldn’t stay. I had an idea, though, that might help it blend in.

He took a call on his mobile, and sat down in a manky armchair in the middle of the room. While he was chatting, and unsure how it would be received, I got the biggest permanent marker I could find, and – in large black letters – wrote “BOLLOCKS” in block capitals diagonally across the poster. It was at this point he interrupted his conversation to say distractedly to the person on the other end “Sorry, I’m just watching someone write ‘bollocks’ on the wall, and I wish it was me.”

So that was the time my rebellious attitude to authority was approved by the guy who co-wrote and sang “Into The Valley.”

 


The Naked Truth

I just watched the film “Amelie” again. It seems to have acquired something of a cult status, one of those few foreign-language films that gained a massive following without succumbing to the often-inevitable and usually awful Hollywood remake. I saw it in the cinema when it was released – if memory serves, I actually saw one of the early previews as a friend’s friend had managed to get free tickets via the local newspaper. This is just an aside.

There are a couple of instances of brief nudity in the film, and it reminded me of something I’ve observed in the making of film and theatre. It has been discussed a few times through the years with various colleagues, who have also picked up on the anomaly, because people who bare themselves to the world – on film or on stage – are afforded the utmost privacy when doing so.

By this I mean, if an actor or actress is required to be naked on a set or in a rehearsal, very often the room will be closed off. Only essential cast and crew are permitted access, presumably (and understandably) so that the person in question feels as comfortable as possible. I would imagine it is difficult enough to remove all your clothes, possibly engage in simulated sex, or deliver scripted lines, while under intense scrutiny – without the further indignity of feeling that every passing Joe has stopped by to ogle you in the process.

Nevertheless, when you think about it, it is a wee bit absurd. To be that insistent on privacy so that virtually nobody sees you nude while you prepare to be and are filmed, yet when the movie is released or the play staged everybody can see you nude.

 

 


Quit While You Are Behind.

I’ve just watched the movie “2:22” and feel compelled to document the experience here. If you’d like the quick review, it’s not worth the time.

The plan was simple, the job was not.

So reads the back of the DVD cover, a slick and professional affair that makes the movie look like everything it is not – well-shot, action-packed, and good. I picked it up in Poundland, figuring that it was worth the risk at that price. In retrospect, naw.

I got a twenty-five minutes into it, watching a jumble of seemingly unconnected scenes, with characters unsympathetic in any respect. This led me to inform the world of Facebook that:
“I’m about a quarter of the way in, and so far it is the worst written, worst cast, and worst acted film I’ve seen in quite some time. One of those films that’s so bad it’s really fucking bad. Part of me wants to quit while I’m behind, part of me hopes it might yet redeem itself by having a decent plot. So far, no discernible plot is apparent. I paid a quid for the DVD, and suspect I was overcharged by 99p.”

The main thrust of the film is that, at 2:22am on 1st January, four robbers loot the safety deposit boxes in a hotel.
– Why that precise time? It is never explained.
– Why are there only two members of staff on? I guess Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) is a very quiet time of year for the hospitality industry.
– Why are the streets completely deserted? As we all know, everybody celebrates at midnight, then we’re all in bed by 2am.

The dialogue is clunky, and serves to facilitate and perpetuate a number of tedious cliches.

The main character, Gulli, is sitting alone at a hotel bar. A pretty girl is the only other customer. She’s been stood up, so she comes and sits next to him, saying “Look, I don’t normally do this, I just don’t really feel like being alone right now.”

Her conversation is overly punctuated with the word “cute” – his pet fish is cute, him telling her she has a nice smile is cute. His patter, however, is even worse.
“I’ve been drinking tonic and lime all night. I think I’m going to turn into a tonic and lime.”
He then tells the bartender that he’d like to pay for the tonics and lime, saying “I don’t know how many I’ve had” in a manner that suggests he’s somehow become drunk on them – this combination of water and fruit.

Despite setting an entire scene in a strip club, the only (half) nude shot in the whole film is preceded by one character telling another “Holy fuck, look at those tits.” It feels like they shoehorned brief nudity into a setting that would naturally be populated by naked girls. The “contains strong sex” warning on the back of the DVD cover must therefore allude to the two male characters who portray a TV actor and his oft-berated assistant. A noise complaint comes in from the neighbouring hotel room, and we see that the actor is lying on the bed, in only his underpants, with a ball-gag stuffed in his mouth. The assistant is wearing a black strap-on dildo, standing at the end of the bed and slapping him in the face with it. If this was an attempt at humour, it feels like the only deliberate attempt made. If not, then it is another trite made-to-shock sequence, with little substance.

Gabriel Byrne’s character (his credit is mysteriously missing from the ensemble list of seven names on the cover, despite being one of only two actors pictured there) is the kind of guy who ignores his own anguished child, punches the family dog after calling it to him and feeding it a treat, and later boasts of shooting it in the head. His co-conspirator calls him an animal.
“Are you done?”
“No I’m not done. I’m just getting started.”
Glad they got that hack line in too.

His wife is portrayed by an actress who doubled her screen time by inserting variations of the words “fuck” and “fucking” into her introductory scene.
“Where the fuck are you going?” she asks her ten-year-old son.
“What the fuck is that smell?” she asks her husband.
“Go, leave me alone again on another New Year’s fucking Eve,” she chastises him, before telling her son to “give your fucking father a hug.”
That’s pretty much her sole scene, though, so you can see why she made it last as long as possible.

The girl in the bar, too, doesn’t crop up again anywhere else. It becomes apparent that her estranged husband, the cop, is the guy who winds up investigating the crime. That sounds fine, and Tarantino would have worked it in beautifully if he’d only been involved. Instead, we have two characters who exist entirely seperately and are linked only by that expositional piece of dialogue.

There’s an old man wandering the hotel, contemplating various methods of suicide. He never comes into contact with the main characters, making his presence pointless. If you want to see a number of humorous scenes depicting someone trying several elaborate methods of suicide, go and watch the French-language film Delicatessen. If this guy’s plight is supposed to add weight or poignancy, then it fails completely, because it’s never made clear who he is or why he’s doing this and so you never feel for him.

The hotel is so deserted that the robbers can spend three hours wandering the corridors with guns, drilling the locks out all of the safety deposit boxes behind the front desk, taking hostages on numerous floors, and never get seen or interrupted once. There is initial tension when a phone rings, but this is instantly dissipated when one answers it and pretends to be the reception clerk. That was easy. Some passing cops come to the door, and decide that nothing untoward is happening – that old chestnut. When one of the robbers later gets shot in the shoulder (where else?), he is fine because it’s “only a flesh wound.”

Overall, the film feels like a mish-mash of styles, with some sequences slowed down and some edited like a music video. In the walking-through-the-club-to-pulsating-music-on-the-soundtrack scene, the cuts and delays aren’t even in time with the beat.

In summary, we have a film populated with characters about whom we don’t care; they are staging a heist which goes remarkably smoothly considering all the potential hiccups they encounter; it feels like they left in all the scenes that would ordinarily be deleted in order to move the story forward or because they are irrelevant; equally, it feels that if they HAD deleted such scenes the film would last ten minutes. The acting is universally atrocious, save for Robert Miano’s robber and Val Kilmer’s cameo (both scenes), the plot is as minimal as much of the logic demonstrated throughout, and, having spent 104 minutes watching it followed by time writing this, I’m now going to take my own advice and quit while I’m behind.

In short, if you want to see a film about a seemingly-simple robbery which then goes wrong, with unforgettable characters and situations, with snappy and memorable dialogue, with a fitting and realistic denouement, and which you will happily watch several times over – then invest in Dog Day Afternoon instead.

As for 2:22 – if you see the DVD in the pound shop, leave it there.