Monday, 29 October 2007

Slightly Obscure and Underrated Film List #1 - Old British Films (PART ONE)

Snappy title, eh? I was inspired by Andy’s list here to do something similar. I didn’t want to repeat any of Andy’s choices, so no The Innocents, Dead of Night, or Went the Day Well? Bah!

##SPOILER ALERT! - spoilers for SABOTAGE and WITCHFINDER GENERAL ############

1. Seven Days to Noon - Tense 1950 thriller about an unhinged scientist who threatens to blow up London with a stolen nuclear bomb as protest against the arms race. Similar in it’s matter-of-fact, almost documentary tone and style to the later The Day The Earth Caught Fire. Filmmakers The Boulting Brothers, (who are best known for their comedies and the superb 1947 adaptation of Brighton Rock ) seem to have a lot of time for the motives, if not the methods, of the mad scientist, sympathetically played by Barry Jones.

I first saw it years ago as an afternoon schedule filler, and I’ve never seen it written about anywhere before or since. It certainly deserves to be far better known than it is, so if you ever see it hanging round the afternoon schedules, then spare it a few hours of your time. You won’t regret it.

2. Quatermass Xperiment - The late, great Nigel Kneale disliked Val Guest’s adaptation of his classic BBC SF series about an astronaut who comes back infected by an alien parasite (and he hated Brian Donlevy as Quatermass) The big, bruising American heavy Donlevy may be miscast as the eponymous scientist, but Guest does a great job. Again similar to Seven Days’ almost documentary style, he makes great use of the still bomb damaged London, and there‘s a chilling performance from Richard Wordsworth as the doomed astronaut.

For my money, (controversy alert!) it’s Hammer’s best film. See also their versions of Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit; and it’s also worth checking out what remains of the hugely influential BBC series. Incidentally, an old ex library copy of the TV script of Quatermass and The Pit was the first script I ever read.

3. The Small Back Room - A minor Powell and Pressburger classic - Conway’s got Blimp, the swine and I was tempted to go for A Matter of Life and Death, or Black Narssisissis,* but they‘re not obscure or underrated. This is yet another b&w thriller, this time about an alcoholic bomb disposal officer battling with his demons, and features one of the greatest ticking bomb climaxes.
For more obsure Powell and Pressburger fum, see also
One of Our Aircraft is Missing or the lovely and strange A Canterbury Tale.

* not actual spelling.

4. Sabotage - Talking of ticking bombs, Sabotage is a Hitchcock thriller based on Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. Hitch has a lot of self referential fun with the dastardly foreign terrorist and his innocent English wife living in a cinema, with the audience laughing at comedy violence on screen while “real” violence occurs behind it. It’s famous for the scene where a small boy unwittingly carrying a bomb on a bus, and the bomb actually goes off. (This was 1936 when the idea of people blowing up London buses was strictly fantasy.)

(The 39 Steps is not obscure or underrated at all, but it virtually invented modern action cinema, and stands up brilliantly.)

5. Witchfinder General
Hammeresque in it’s portrayal of ye olden times, but far more morally complex than Hammer’s films, and far more modern in its concerns. And it‘s also a lot gorier! Witchfinder General is a truly horrific horror film, partly because the monster, Matthew Hopkins, played by an unusually restrained Vincent Price, is all too human (and a real historical figure) It‘s mans inhumanity to man (and woman) that is the big bad here, not some fictional creature of the night.

The ending, where the hero brutally hacks Hopkins to pieces kills and ends up as twisted as he is, is still uncomfortable viewing, even if the “violence begets violence” moral has entered the mainstream now.

Okay that got a little out of hand, for a simple list! (*coughs* displacement activity.) I’ve done most of Part Two too, but I really should do some writing, so I’ll spare you that for a few days!

In other news I’ve got onto the shortlist for Metlab, got an interview a week Monday, so big up to Lucy for spreading the word on that. Still not heard from South West Screen - the Digital Shorts interviews are Wednesday and Thursday - so not looking hopeful for that…

Monday, 22 October 2007

Tuesday, 16 October 2007


Just found out I've got through to the semi finals of the British Short Screenplay Competition, matching last years achievement. :) Only one of the two scripts made it though!

Still waiting for the SWSSDC...

Saturday, 13 October 2007


Sent my Digital Shorts Proposals and Metlab submission out this week. Waiting for the results of them and Red Planet, Southwest Screen Screenwriter Development Competition (why do schemes from public bodies have such unwieldy titles?), and (most of all) BSSC.

Meanwhile I’ve decided to concentrate on feature specs for the rest of the year. No more amoeba-ing! Looking at the UKFC First Feature Film Develpment Programme (see what I mean?) reinforced that I need a good sample script, so I’m gonna spend the winter working on my low budget RomCom Buddy Movie Once Again, and Mega budget Fantasy Epic Dragons. They’re both several drafts in - I first wrote Once Again about ten years ago - Both need radical rewrites, but I‘ve got a plan, so I’m confident that I’ll nail ‘em with theses drafts.

James L Brooks in the latest Creative Screenwriting Magazine says “Does anyone do the first draft without hoping that it‘s the last draft?” and he’s been doing since the 1960’s! But isn’t that true of every draft? If a draft is a mountain you have to climb, you don’t want to think that at the top you’ll find… a dim, distant view of the next mountain. (Which I suppose is why it’s so tempting to pitch your tent and insist you reached the highest peak you can?)

I could go on (readers giving you feedback = sherpas, Outline = a map, etc) but the mountain metaphor started over at t’other faraway’s place here, and she tells a far more interesting tale.


Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Throwing Rocks

There’s a saying that’s obligatory in all screenwriting books - put your hero up a tree and throw rocks at them. Fair enough, as far as it goes, but does this hold true for all genres?

Well, it’s funny you should ask…

In horror films a thing of unspeakable horror throws rocks at scantily clad women, who are tied to the tree. (in psychological horror, the rocks are implied.)

In action movies the hero throws a never ending stream of rocks and quips at the baddies, then the tree explodes in a fireball as he jumps to another, bigger tree.

In crime movies the protagonist stands at the bottom of the tree wondering who’s been throwing the rocks (In sophisticated crime movies, the protagonist stands at the bottom of the tree wondering why they’ve been throwing the rocks)

In serial killer movies the audience get off on the protagonist throwing rocks at people in trees.

In gangster movies the protagonist climbs the tree, throwing rocks at anyone who get in his way until he gets to the top. Then he falls off.

In blockbusters huge CGI rocks are thrown at a protagonists in huge CGI trees.

In man on the run thrillers the baddies throw rocks at the hero until he can’t take it anymore, and throws them back.

In conspiracy thrillers in turns out that the Sinister Government Agency/Evil Corporation was behind the whole rock throwing thing all along.

In film noir a dame seduces the protagonist into throwing rocks at her husband. Then she throws a rock at him.

In dramas the protagonist tries to climb the tree whilst throwing rock at himself, until he realises this is a stupid thing to do. (In tragedy the protagonist doesn’t realises this is a stupid thing to do, and falls out the tree.)

In family drama the protagonist tries to climb the tree while her family throw rocks at her.

In comedy… see drama, except the rocks hit the protagonist in an amusing way.

In romantic comedy the protagonist throw rocks at each other until they realise that they’re made for one another. Then they get their rocks off.

In kids movies the protagonist learns that friendship is more important than throwing rocks.

In westerns a man tries to put his rock throwing days behind him.

In Sci fi the rocks are the silicon based lifeforms.

In Fantasy the rocks throw themselves at the hero as he seeks the magic tree.

In quirky art house movies the protagonist falls in love with a rock. (In non quirky art house films, they sit in a strangly shaped tree talking about rocks (and occasionally taking thier clothes off) for 3 hours. Then they fall out the tree. )

Over to you - any alternatives/additions?