Tuesday, 26 April 2011

I DREAM OF 'TO THE BRINK' (Peter Davies, 1988)

A boy (Matthew Rhys) dreams about a television show that he is convinced must be real, so rich is the detail in his head. He spends a day walking around his small Welsh town, asking people if they have heard of it. They have not. Every time he sleeps, he is taken to this world, a forgotten comedy-drama from the 1970s, an alternative past that only he can access.

Upon waking, he carried back with him the fully-formed history (life, loves, unloves) of a character he knew to be fictional, and yet: it was perfect in all the ways that a plausible outline should be, but vague and imprecise at the exact points that made it seem flesh rather than a carefully sculpted invention (taking into account the obvious, which is that art must consider logic in a way that real life does not, swathes of this dreamt figure's history were in the shadow, as blurry as a stranger at a station about which nothing is known except their keenness for the arrival of a train).

In the dream, the man was an English actor, a descendent of the Barrymore clan, whose name was Richard, or Rich, or maybe he was just rich. He was handsome in a slightly exotic way, dark like Tom Conti, but taller. Richard Barrymore then, estranged nephew of Sir John, who played posh con artist Hugh Brinkman in 70s sitcom To The Brink. He knew that this didn't exist, this show, but it sat in place in his mind as comfortably as those that did. To The Brink, numbers could be fabricated that seemed correct: 140 episodes, between 1974 and 1981, with a Christmas special in 1983 completing the cycle. By that point, Barrymore was starring in minor British films, small cameos in Hollywood productions, a grey beard for the stage, the usual. He died on-set in 1989, liver failure, the drink. 53. Loved, missed. They said nice things about him as a man, more than his acting. His technique was neither here nor there, his charms were his chops.

In the dream, the boy is looking at black and white photos from this show under a Christmas tree at his grandmother's old house, the one that stayed as a constant in his childhood. He can see the faces of the cast, including the grumpy pub landlord with the catchphrase ('Last orders, gentlemen. You too Mr Brinkman.'), the very common and very pretty Susie Soap, who works for Hugh in some capacity or other, and Mr Constable (played by an actor who was clearly well-respected and famous, because despite appearing for only one scene every week he was billed in the credits in large lingering letters as 'featuring Leo Carmichael as Mr Constable', to canned applause), a pensioner who Brink stops in to check up on, as some kind of penance or display of his virtuousness, lest the rest of the show leave us in doubt as to the golden heart below the caddish exterior. To The Brink survived the axe with the introduction of thick but loveable Jamaican sidekick Malcolm in the second series, a step that caused the show to be both praised for racial diversity and attacked for an apparent lampooning of immigrants. The boy loved Malcolm, and laughed just thinking of him.

Escapades: Brink always needed money, despite being to the manor born. Each week he would trip into some scam designed to return his crumbling estate to fortune. But everybody around him, except a select few, thought that his bank account was overflowing, and were trying to rip him off at every turn. Thus the frequent situation where Brink would be lavishing presents on a disinterested socialite while trying to convince would-be gangsters of his poverty.

There always seemed to be a scene where, Brink, cornered by some heavies/ an annoyed husband/ the police would feign a cockney accent and talk his way out of trouble; an inverse Eliza Doolittle, dropping 'is H's like smart bombs, for deliberate effect, and burying schooled vowels in South London lock-ups with the documented evidence of his five-hundred year-old family tree.

The boy even recounted some of the lines, pulling off approximations of the normal cut-glass Brink voice and his rougher alter-ego, but the town just laughed indulgently, and spoke of other television shows that they remembered, and were actually real. But none of them were vehicles, souped-up or otherwise, for the elusive and charming Hugh Brinkman.

I Dream Of 'To The Brink' Directed by Peter Davies Produced by Vic Marshall Written by Rick Green Starring Matthew Rhys, Thomas Bowen, Laura Ashe, Willie Ross Channel 4 Films 107mins Release Date UK: Nov 1988 US:N/A Tagline: 'Come Back, Hughie Brink, Your Drink Needs Drinking!'

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


This hypnotic film from the solipsistic eye of Cecil Franck is part of a larger exercise in narrative and mind-mapping that the filmmaker returned to throughout his career. Essentially an internal monologue over the top of images of a boy walking the streets of suburban Stuttgart, it hints at the melancholy of Albert Lamorisse's Le Ballon Rouge (1956). The footage, featuring Franck's nephew Jens, was shot in 1955, and subsequently reused by Cecil in over 100 films, recut and combined with different voiceovers and swathes of musics, an ever-evolving exercise in film. From 1955's Light Line to 1984's Lazer, Franck's manipulation of just an hour of the same visuals, over and over, is an endless working towards the central questions of art and meaning(lessness).

Mathematische uses an English language voiceover. A boy speaks:

'When I was a child I would love to make games out of everyday activities. any walk was a race with imaginary opponents. Or I might consider cars to be my enemy, and attempt to pass a lamppost before they did. This worked fine on quieter streets, where the noise of the car in the distance would serve as a challenge; I'd pick a marker ahead of me, one which seemed to be far enough away to not be so easy for me to reach before the car. A truly satisfying judgement would result in me dipping slightly to take the tape mere feet before the car passed unknowingly. On busier streets it would be harder to pick out individual cars in the hubbub, so I would change the game. One might be to see the sections of grass between the pavement and the street as safe zones behind which passing cars were no threat. In this case, I could not pass between them across a driveway entrance at the the same time as a car went by. Again, I could not run or stop, but by adjusting the pace of my stride, I'd hope to navigate an entire street without being 'hit' by a passing car. I would spend a lot of time imagining lines, running from the edges of the grass through perpendicular angles across the road and across the pavement. I'd also imagine similar lines across the front and rear bumpers of cars fizzing at 90 degree angles across the pavement, shots of invisible laser or light that would be repelled by the grass but would otherwise continue across the unguarded pavements, burning all in their path. Imagining these lines became second nature; They'd spin out from parked cars (also designated as cover sometimes) and benches, walls and any vehicle. Geometric prettiness from unseen shapes, dealt with by checked strides and sudden spurts.'

As late as 2005, with the release of Luxuriant Jay, Franck was still making films with the same piece of footage he had shot of Jens in 1955. 'I have not lifted a camera or been on a set in fifty years,' he said, 'for the images I collected then contain endless possibility. There are a million films to be made from those sequences of Jens, and I will never be finished. I am like a musician composing using only one chord, on one instrument, and through this repetition I discover anew things that I could not with a wider palette.'(1)

Jens Franck died in the year 2000, aged fifty-one. His uncle continues to remake his image, combining it, in various constellations, with various music (self-composed minimalist electronics, or commissioned/borrowed works from (among many others) Klaus Schulze, Holger Czukay, Robert Wyatt, Francoise Hardy and Die Krupps) and snippets of broken words. 'Now Jens is gone, I feel like my mission has sharpened, my idea more correct. In these fifty-five minutes, over and over, I can reflect his life, his family, his loves, his passions, through the way in which I edit a small section of his life as a boy. It is all in there, his entire existence, if only I can reframe it, highlight it, show it. For him.'

Mathematische Directed by Cecil Franck Produced by Cecil Franck, Tomas Duhbyoose Written by Cecil Franck Starring Jens Franck Franck Filmproduktion 55 mins Release Date: UK/US: None (shown on German television in 1973, and at Stuttgart's ContemptArt since 1995) Tagline: 'Still Here.'

1. KINO magazine, April 2005

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

LANDFILL (George Eliott, 1974)

Locals debate the meaning of a quarry in a poor small town in the Midlands. It is 1969, and the swinging sixties, a media hologram only filled in with hindsight, hasn't been seen here. A gargoyled sexless rock'n'roll bled through years too late, however, leaving a residue of shabby Teddy Boys with fists. A town of scared people looking anything but, hard-minded and shut down. This is not the quiet inarticulation of Leigh or Loach; the abstract murders herein hover like reanimated carrion, where bacon-faced sons seek only a swifter nip of spite in a nonsense world of hypercolours. Flick-knives hide behind lead-in lines and 'penny-for-the-guy' smiles, and devils hang signs in the centre of town, unseen in plain view. Landfill takes a paving slab to notions of British Realism, creating a slim but swampy Anglo gothic shorn of manors and barons. No Billy Liar fantasies of escape here; they know there's nowhere to run. The youths are distressed geographers, circling their homes. Our notional hero, a tough bundle of sticks named Smithy, chases down frustrated a philosophy, but it only appears to us in fragmented voiceover, dribbles of poetry:

'England. You're free to destroy the borders, but you can't see 'em. They're not big red lines. Counties don't interlock together in some miraculous patchwork, fitting exactly, as I thought when I was younger, meeting exactly at the edges. Rather, there are spurs and burrs, overlapping edges that rut like horny stags, and dead ends that don't match up, tunnels to nowhere. You ever notice how many walls in this town don't hold anything in or out? You can walk along them but they don't go anywhere. They're just endings. The grassy mounds, piles of rubble, even shops that no-one goes in. If you can even imagine a hero being here, you can just see him walking in and knowing that this is the kind of place that sporting hope ignores, and that this is where he gets cornered without his sixgun.'

Gangs fight over ownership of the night in various places, Smithy is enlisted. The prize location: the quarry, where bad things happen to children, and it is always their own fault for being there. Over the landfill site the dug-out soil stands as a semi-permanent hill, Mount Crud. The locals christen it, laugh at it, climb it, tut at it's grim appearance on their horizon, but it becomes evident that it represents far more than municipal decision-making and ugly waste-management. It is totemic, a vibrating hulk; at night the distant motorway hums, but so too does Mount Crud, as if when it was lifted from below the topline it brought with it deep messages that it articulates solemnly. A local copper breaks a leg chasing some kids up it, and some locals say the eyesore is a nosesore and earsore too, breaking out in itchy spots. Everyone wants to move it, everyone is desperate to fill the quarry in, but it doesn't happen. Superstition, once attached, is difficult to shake from even the flintiest of shins, and after a while most repeat, as if in the same voice: I don't know much, lad, but I know we aren't going to see the end of Mount Crud.

From the pile of filth some evidence is plucked: veteran lensman Herb Alcott began his career here, and stays his post with vigour, even if the camera flinches at the noxious fumes and racist countenances of certain characters. Child actor Bon Johnstone grew up to be the guitarist in post-punk brutalists The Pressure Group, whose seminal album 'We Are Not Against The Anti-Counter-Revolutionary Resistance' stayed perfectly unbought for years. Other faces are recognisable, turning up in all manner of British films and television, but no-one remembers their names. Their faces glisten briefly in the murk, a deja-vu. Director George Eliott stole her name from a local writer (but with a final, sarcastic extra 't', hovering like a provocation to pedants) who changed her name to be taken seriously by appearing to be a man; this gesture, in 1974, had the opposite effect, looming like a parochial blasphemy, something that Eliott the second clearly invited.

Landfill sank inevitably into the gloom upon entry, thrown into cupboards during the week of its release and into skips six months later. All is refuse, now and forever.

Landfill Directed by George Eliott Produced by Lew Grade, George Elliott Written by Simon Prince, George Elliott Starring Bon Johnstone, Eric Rudge, John Jules, Lucy Pine, Amanda Richards Red Films/Central Productions Release Date UK: Oct 1974 US: N/A Tagline: none.