Archive for August, 2009

Basterd cool

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

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This has washed up online – it’s an unused poster design for Inglourious Basterds – Tarantino’s latest offering. Emma and I made it out on Sunday night and watched it at the Rio. First time we’ve been to the cinema for a while.  We loved it.

I don’t have time to go into detail about why I think the movie’s so damn clever. I think I just felt a kinship with some of the themes kicking around in amongst the tangle of blood, celluloid and swastikas; the idea of cinema as a weapon; the nature of the Jewish cultural counter-offensive following WWII; and Hitler’s burgeoning status as the second best comic book villain of all time.

In each of his movies – but never moreso than here – Tarantino envisages scenarios and situations fluctuating from the hyper-real to the downright absurd, yet pens dialogue, builds character and orchestrates atmosphere capable of rationalising even the most ridiculous situations – such that we still believe in what we’re seeing, such that we still care about the outcome.

This allows him to go anywhere he likes as a story-teller, knowing his bewildering natural ability as a writer of dialogue is going to get him out of jail every time.

I suspect the reason this particular poster died is because it’s just too damn on-the-money.

It’s like a super-charged cover for Commando magazine, drawing upon the best traditions of illustration and poster design associated with the great Boy’s Own war stories of the fifties and early sixties.

After the difficulties faced by Tarantino’s Death Proof, and the correspondingly Grindhouse marketing campaign that went with it, I imagine the Weinsteins were a little reticent about taking this much license. And fair play to them, I loved the print campaign they ran with for this movie, it was superior at a number of levels.

It just wasn’t quite as basterd cool as this one.

Welcome to the house of war

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Photo: Matt Rawlinson

Today, anything I can imagine, I can realize on film. Back then, when my mechanical shark was being repaired and I had to shoot something, I had to make the water scary. I relied on the audience’s imagination, aided by where I put the camera.

Today, it would be a digital shark. It would cost a hell of a lot more, but never break down. As a result, I probably would have used it four times as much, which would have made the film four times less scary.

Jaws is scary because of what you don’t see, not because of what you do. We need to bring the audience back into partnership with storytelling.

Steven Spielberg

 

Last Saturday my daughters and I traded Lower Clapton for Lower Clopton, and took a road trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the location of Warhouse; a feature-length independent film being put together by creative partners Ben Read (aka @BookPirate) and Luke Massey (aka @lukemassey).

I know Ben through @sizemore, and have watched with growing interest as the #warhouse hashtags have become an increasingly regular fixture in my Twitter feed. The production photos Ben has posted have really brought the process to life for me, so I wanted to take him up on his offer of a set visit before they finished principal photography.

Turns out we timed it to perfection, stealing in for a quick look around just as cast and crew were about to turn over the first of thirty-six scenes due to be shot in a twenty-four hour window before their lead, Joseph Morgan, jetted out to LA.

As a film-maker, that’s the kind of deadline you have to treat with respect. That’s why, if a crew member is coming up short and doesn’t even know it yet, you drop him down a deep dark hole and look after it yourself, until you find a competent replacement. “I’ve sacked more people in the past four weeks than I have in the last few years,” laments Ben, seeming to look for absolution.

He doesn’t have to look very far. He’s surrounded by people who need a producer to make difficult decisions, quickly, and to take responsibility for them. When you’re shooting on a shoestring you depend on people with something to prove, often giving their time and talent away for next to nothing. You get found out pretty quickly keeping that kind of company.

And you lead by example. Over the hour or so I spent on location, I felt like I got a real sense of how everything knits together – or, perhaps, comes apart – to constitute the singularly exacting experience of independent film-making.

The crew looked as though they were coming to the end of a month-long all-nighter; thirty long days of increasingly feverish highs and abysmal lows, the culmination of which found them standing around staring down at their own creative innards, trying to figure out what went where, what belonged to whom, and whether that even mattered any more.

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Ben, meanwhile, was carrying himself with the unflappability of a man whose capacity to be caught off-guard had itself been caught off-guard, quickly overwhelmed, and was currently staked out on a dirty chopping board being poked with a butter knife by his faculty for indignation.

“This is without doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s been insanely stressful, so much so that the other day, I was driving back from set, and I almost had an accident. I remember thinking at the time, if I’d hit the other guy, and hurt myself, at least I wouldn’t have had to go back. I’m not talking life-or-death, just serious enough that nobody would mind.”

Some people might take that as a bad sign – when a producer is contemplating automotive self-harm, purely to escape the madness he himself has inspired, orchestrated and financed.

To me it speaks volumes about the brutal sense of loyalty and mutual obligation that comes part and parcel with making an indie. I’m in danger of making it sound very honourable, when in fact it probably has just as much to do with sheer bloody-mindedness, and raw strength of will.

Spielberg knows a thing or two about that too. By his own admission, he damn near drove himself crazy making Jaws. Faced with an animatronic shark that wouldn’t play ball, the director shifted emphasis onto the development of the relationship between his principal characters, as they bob around at sea waiting to become shark-bait.

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The result is an agonisingly tense middle act, punctuated by glimpses of fin, playing to the undoubted strength of the cast, and peaking with Robert Shaw’s legendary monologue about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

Jaws seems to have been a source inspiration in more ways than one in the making of Warhouse, leading Luke to declare, off the back of two particularly vicious days, “look man, the shark’s not working.  We need to think of something else.”

As well as providing a fully-working modus operandi for how to turn adversity to strength, it also offered the inspiration for one particular scene (giving @sizemore the chance to leave a cameo mark on the production, and to earn the dubious billing of ‘autopsy consultant’ in the process).

Spielberg’s experience on Jaws demonstrates that that it can be precisely at the point at which things appear to be going wrong that they’re actually coming good. And that, as creative processes go, film-making sometimes becomes a process of creating endless problems for yourself, purely so that you can capture the artistry with which you overcome them.

Who knows what we can look forward to from Warhouse? After a few hours in the heart of Warwickshire, I’m only marginally the wiser. What I can tell you is that blood has been spilt, and tears have been shed.

So far so good.

“Never seen that before.”

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Love that crashing you ‘clunker’ is considered a surprisingly cerebral activity for rednecks.

See you at Redneckfest 2010.

#WeHateTheRepublicans

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

There used to be a time when Mrs Palin was pretty much a day-to-day fixture on Idea IS the format. Then she went away. And, when I saw her (ludicrous) resignation speech a few months back, I figured maybe she was going to return to the Alaskan wilderness from whence she came.

Apparently not. Her latest achievement in a glittering career has been to unite the British people behind none other than our National Health Service. Following some typically firebrand remarks regarding the implications of Obama’s healthcare plans, the Twitter-using UK populace have responded in force by rapidly propelling the hashtag #WeLoveTheNHS to the top of Twitter’s trending topics.

Mrs Palin’s comments have spearheaded a larger wave of conservative vitriol seeking to deliver an exacting blow to Obama’s administration, by derailing one of his first significant attempts to deliver on his electoral agenda.

As usual, the right-wing aren’t too bothered with the facts. The author of one article in Investors Business Daily wrote that “people such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.”

Mr Hawking – who was born in the UK, and has lived and worked here his entire life – was quick to respond that he “wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS”.

Here’s hoping that the death throes of the Republican party continue to inspire these sorts of benevolent outpourings towards the various organs of our long-suffering welfare state. After all, it could be worse. It could be so much worse: