Saturday, 28 November 2015

The Railway Carriage

Director: Ross Adgar
Writer: Ross Adgar
Producer: Ross Adgar
Cast: Dean Sills, David Chambers, Geri Preston
Country: UK
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: online screener

I seem to be getting sent a lot of non-narrative films recently. Or at least films which are so obtuse in their storytelling as to be effectively non-narrative. I don’t mind. I’m not some reactionary old duffer who believes that a film must have a beginning, a middle and an end (in that order), although I can’t deny I do like a good hero’s journey. Even if it’s just the old climbs tree, falls out of tree, is he alive (comedy) or dead (drama) hero’s journey.

The Railway Carriage is ten minutes of imagery which is probably meant to be allegorical or metaphorical or symbolic but comes across more as hallucinatory. We have an old church, containing a few candles and a metronome. And we have an old-fashioned railway carriage (empty, stationary) containing a framed photo and an old-fashioned portable radio. The photo is of the two teenage children of our protagonist, John. The radio carries a news story about a father (presumably John) abducting his children from his ex-wife and killing them.

In some way, this railway carriage and this church are the same place, in that when John steps out of the church we cut to him in the carriage and vice versa, although naturally our initial assumption is that there is an edit there and he has travelled between the two. Like I say: hallucinatory. The two children appear intermittently in the carriage, dressed as they are in the photo.

Eventually John wakes up somewhere else, although I’m not sure whether that’s meant to be a return to reality or more of the dream. If the former, it raises the unanswered question of why he has a metronome on his bedside table, which is an odd thing to have. (As indeed is a very collectable vintage radio.)

The Railway Carriage is competently and sincerely made, but I’m afraid that it left me cold. Does it just represent the anguish in the head of a man who has lost – either literally or metaphorically – his children? That’s the only interpretation I can come up with, but that’s a bit clichéd and obvious. There must be more to it than that, surely. And: apart from being a nice location, what is the actual significance of the railway carriage? Or indeed of the metronome?

I’m not looking for pat, simplistic answers, but that’s probably because The Railway Carriage didn’t really raise any questions. A film like this should make the viewer think, but it only makes me think about this film - What does it mean? – instead of making me think about the subject of the film, whatever that might be.

The Railway Carriage bills itself as a horror film but that doesn’t come across. Dean Sills (Blaze of Gory, Cleaver: Rise of the Killer Clown, Xmas Creep Tales) delivers a solid, largely wordless performance as John but he seems only confused, not frightened. The film is dreamlike but not nightmare-ish and I really couldn’t say in what sense it could be considered ‘horror’ except in the very basic sense that (a) our protagonist doesn’t know what’s going on, and (b) there are references to two kids being killed.

Writer-director-producer Ross Adgar set out to tell his story in an ‘unconventional way’ which is very laudable, but conventions exist for good reason. Conventions aren’t clichés, they’re tools that allow a storyteller to tell a story without getting bogged down in details and allow audiences to concentrate on what's important. If you leave out the conventions you’re working without your best tools.

Rarely am I completely ambivalent towards a film, but I’ve watched The Railway Carriage twice now and it has just washed over me. I felt no involvement, I took no interest, I found no empathy. Sorry. Nevertheless, it has been picked up for a couple of festivals and Ross Adgar shows definite promise. But for his next film he needs to explore how cinematic conventions can help and support him, if used skilfully, rather than aiming for something abstract which renders itself inaccessible and hence unsatisfying.

MJS rating: B-

Birth of Generation X-Wing: box-outs

These box-outs accompanied the SFX article '1977: The Birth of Generation X-Wing', originally published in 1999.

Box-out 1: Contemporary Reviews

The first ever reviews of Star Wars were in two daily Hollywood trade mags on 20 May 1977, which both considered it “magnificent”. “Lucas combines excellent comedy and drama and progresses it with exciting action in tremendously effective space battles,” gushed The Hollywood Reporter, while Variety deemed it “the kind of film in which an audience, first entertained, can later walk out feeling good all over.” When the movie actually opened, the Washington Post called it “the kind of sci-fi adventure movie you dream about finding, for your own pleasure as well as your kids' pleasure” while the New York Times lauded “the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made.”

Time called it “the year’s best movie”; Analog thought it was “a galactic Gone With the Wind”; Box Office magazine said “few fantasies have been made with such a sense of humor”; and Films in Review commented “it offers an amusing blend of past and present, combining fairy tale with science fiction, medieval hocus-pocus with modern gadgetry” while noting that “except for one bit part, Princess Leia is the galaxy’s only female”.

Screen International admitted: “The story is so-so, with written-down dialogue which emphasises the strip cartoon nature of the characters and situations. But it is this very simplicity which is the secret ingredient in the successful formula.” Film Review summed up the whole phenomenon with: “There has never been a film like Star Wars - not for sheer fun, mindboggling spectacle and overwhelming popularity.”

Of course, a knee-jerk reaction was to be expected from some quarters. The Listener pondered: “Star Wars is great good fun and cleverly made, but what is there about it that has created this hysteria? It can only be its marriage of sci-fi knowingness with something it is hard to resist calling religious nostalgia.” A typically clinical review in the Monthly Film Bulletin said: “It could scarcely be termed science fiction at all, but… a simple space adventure, now overlaid with sterile nostalgia and multi-levelled movie puns.” Time Out employed no less a person than JG Ballard to review the film: “It is engaging, brilliantly designed, acted with real charm, full of verve and visual ingenuity,” he wrote. “It’s also totally unoriginal, feebly plotted, instantly forgettable and an acoustic nightmare.”

Film Comment offered two opposing reviews. On the one hand, Star Wars was: “an antimodern message in an ultra-modern wrapper: what could be more stylish? What could be more fun?” On the other: “The survival chances of Star Wars are slim. No matter how one looks at it, George Lucas has not only made a movie which is mindless where it would be mind-boggling, he has made a movie which is totally inept.”

“I cannot see what all the fuss is about regarding Star Wars,” said a hilarious letter in the May 1978 Film Review. “There were better space stories over 40 years ago in such publications as Boys’ Magazine, of which I have many copies.” The following month, the nation’s dullest 14-year-old wrote to say: “I just don’t know how adults can sit and watch Star Wars. I went to see it and I thought it was a very boring film.” But first prize for missing the point must go to Take One magazine which mentioned “the disastrous casting” and “the bad acting” before concluding: “There is no sense of wonder or magic in the film.”

Box-out 2: Star Wars released

The first place outside the United States to see Star Wars, in late June 1977, was (somewhat bizarrely) the Philippines, and by the time the film opened in Britain, it was also already playing in some European markets. SF lore has it that Star Wars opened in London on Boxing Day 1977, then opened nationally one week later on 2 January 1978, the same day that the first episode of Blake’s 7 was broadcast.

However, a study of trade papers from that time shows that the UK premiere was actually on 27th December. Star Wars opened on that date in two West End cinemas, the Leicester Square Theatre and the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road, where it took a record-breaking £117,690 in its first week. (The previous London opening week record-holder was Jaws, which took £90,655 at four cinemas.) Other SF films showing in London that week included: Dark Star, Demon Seed, Escape to Witch Mountain, Futureworld, The Giant Spider Invasion, Godzilla Vs the Cosmic Monster, The Island of Dr Moreau and Flesh Gordon!

Star Wars continued to play exclusively at these two cinemas for over four weeks, with police clamping down on touts who were selling the £2.20 tickets for up to 30 quid a throw. Then on 29 January it opened in twelve major cities around Britain, followed by a further 16 cinemas in Greater London the following week.

Two other science fiction debuts in Britain in January 1978 were Blake’s 7, as mentioned, and Doctor Who’s chamois-clad assistant Leela, who made her first appearance in Chris Boucher’s story 'The Face of Evil.' The first season of The New Avengers was drawing to a close on television, while the second season was already in production. Depending on your ITV region, you could also be subjected to Logan’s Run, Man from Atlantis, The Six Million Dollar Man and/or The Bionic Woman.

Meanwhile, the first radio series of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was being recorded, and a new writer called Orson Scott Card was receiving acclaim for his debut short story, 'Ender’s Game'. Scariest of all, the BBC had broadcast an SF pilot on 13 December 1977 which convinced them that it would be worth making a whole series of Come Back Mrs Noah!

1977: The Birth of Generation X-Wing

In 1999, shortly before the release of The Phantom Menace, SFX asked me to research and write an article about the original release of Star Wars in 1977. I spent a day combing through the archives of the British Film Institute, checking the facts in original trade mags and this was the result. (The one instruction I was given was that I had to start with a reference to the Ash album 1977.) Written as a look back at how things had changed in the intervening 22 years, this has now become a fascinating time capsule in its own right of a time just before the prequels opened, when hopes were high...

Accompanying the article were two box-outs on contemporary reviews and the film's UK release.

If a band released an album called 1956, on which the first sound was the whirring of Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet, you might think they were a bit eccentric. If the album was called 1963 and started with the sound of the TARDIS, you might think the band were a bit sad. But if a band (such as, say, the popular beat combo Ash) released an album called 1977, kicking off with the distinctive sound of a TIE fighter, it would not only be seen as acceptable, but actually be deemed cool and played to death in the SFX office. Which it is, and has been.

Because it’s Star Wars.

All of which probably doesn’t totally encapsulate the significance of George Lucas’ little space opera in the grand scheme of things, but it’s as good an example to start with as any.

Very simply, it is impossible to overstate the importance of Star Wars in the history of cinema, in exactly the same way that it is impossible to overstate the importance of the Beatles in popular music. Like the Fab Four, Lucas’ film was not only a watershed in its own medium, but sent ripples throughout the whole of popular culture which still lap on the shore to this day. Just as you can instantly tell if a record was made before or after the Beatles, you can instantly date any film (not just SF) to pre- or post-Star Wars. And in the same way that Decca famously turned down those lovable moptops (D'oh!), so Universal passed on the chance to make George Lucas’ second film (D'o-oh!!!). Fortunately, Alan Ladd Jr at 20th Century Fox had the perspicacity to see something in Lucas’ idea and gave him the backing he needed - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, it is not strictly true to say that nobody expected Star Wars to be a hit. Admittedly, when the film opened on 25 May 1977, George Lucas was in a diner across the street from the Chinese Theatre and wondered what the long queue was for (he probably assumed it was for Rocky, Annie Hall, or the Mohammed Ali biopic The Greatest). He and his wife were planning to be in Hawaii when the film opened and had forgotten that the actual premiere was on the Wednesday. But let’s face it: Lucas would have had an ego the size of the Death Star if he had thought, “I bet they’re going to see my film.”

Percy Livingstone
However, when Screen International asked movie executives about their expectations for the coming year, five months before the film came out, Percy Livingstone (Managing Director, 20th Century Fox Great Britain) had this to say on his company’s line-up: “Who could fail to be impressed by a schedule that includes movies like Gary Kurtz’ and George Lucas’ Star Wars, a majestic visual experience of extra-ordinary worlds?” A letter in the same trade mag the following week said: “The big movie for me for 1977 will be 20th Century Fox’s spectacular science fiction epic Star Wars.” So there was some expectation of success, but obviously not of success on the scale that the film achieved. What there was none of was hype. No big press build up; nothing. The film’s release wasn’t buried, but neither was it particularly trumpeted. Certainly not to the extent that, say, The Greatest was.

And yet Star Wars was a hit literally from day one. Though the reviews were on the whole superlative, they only started to appear as the film opened and could not possibly have directly influenced its record-breaking opening weekend (neither could word of mouth, obviously). It can only be deduced that there was a huge unspoken need among the public for a film of this type, which nobody except Lucas, Ladd and co. had picked up on - and even then quite possibly only by accident.

Star Wars opened in 21 American cinemas and on its first day grossed $215,443 at a ticket price of $3-4 each. By the end of its first week, Star Wars was playing on 42 screens and had taken $2,898,347. One week later, playing at 45 cinemas, the takings had risen to $5.2 million; a fortnight after that, on 157 screens, $13 million. At the end of June, by which time the film was playing across America at 360 cinemas, the gross was $20.5 million, already nearly double the film’s cost.

Explaining the success of Star Wars would take more than a few pages, but the key seemed to be the way that every aspect of it blended the old and the new. The story and characterisation were of a sort that had fallen out of favour with film-makers and could only be caught in TV screenings of old movies from the ‘30s and ‘40s, yet the movie was not presented as anything retro, but as something bang up to date. The technology used to make the film included cutting edge, innovative techniques, yet it also employed seemingly outdated ideas such as Vistavision (running 35mm film sideways to gain greater definition).

Though Ben Burtt’s sound effects gave the film an aural ambience never heard before, and Dolby stereo was a new concept to many audiences, John Williams’ score was an unashamed return to the sort of symphonic film music which by 1977 had completely died out. Even before the soundtrack album’s release, 20th Century Fox Records were saying that they expected the LP to be “a very, very big one” and were pressing as many copies as they could.

And what of the merchandise? George Lucas certainly didn’t invent spin-off movie merchandise - just consider the enormous range of Mickey Mouse ephemera sanctioned by Walt Disney in the 1930s - but he reintroduced the concept, fully aware that there lay the source of much of his income. Under the headline “Star Wars Product Bonanza”, the Hollywood Reporter on 8 June predicted “Although there are no projected figures on how much money merchandising will bring in from Star Wars, the amount will be astronomical, and possibly the largest ever for a motion picture.”

For the ordinary punter, Star Wars was simply like nothing that had ever been seen before, like nothing that had ever even been imagined before. With 22 years of post-Star Wars imagery in our minds, it’s difficult to imagine/remember (depending on age) what science fiction was like before this film. There were undoubtedly some pretty good SF films made in the early- to mid-1970s; indeed, given how small the genre’s output was at that time compared to the post-Lucas deluge, the overall standard was probably higher. Films like Logan’s RunSoylent Green, Silent Running, A Clockwork Orange and the Planet of the Apes sequels had (and retain) their own charm, but it was notable that the 1977 Worldcon did not award a Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo because nothing received enough votes (Star Wars romped home in 1978, of course.)

1978 Hugo Award
The overall trend was clearly Earth-based future societies, and pretty grim ones at that - as indeed in Lucas’ own THX 1138. Space operas - especially feel-good space operas - were scarce, and there was a very good reason for that. Take a look at Dark Star, released almost simultaneously with Star Wars. The eponymous spaceship zips into the screen, sits there, and zips out - because it couldn’t do anything else. Think of the Enterprise in the original Star Trek: almost always seen in orbit, and from the same angle. The Discovery in 2001 didn’t seem to be moving at all, which is very realistic but hardly thrill-a-minute stuff. So imagine what it was like to suddenly see spaceships that whooshed and whizzed and zoomed and went ack-ack-ack-ack at each other. This is what spaceships are supposed to do (actually it’s not, but never mind) but you never thought you would actually see them do it. Today, this sort of thing is seen constantly in Star Trek, Babylon 5 and whatever piece-of-crap-with-stock-footage-from- Battle-Beyond-the-Stars Roger Corman has managed to knock up this week, but in 1977 it was unique.

Suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of the sci-fi action. There were a few SF films already in production, notably Superman, Norman J Warren’s Prey, and two Disney flicks: Return from Witch Mountain and The Cat from Outer Space. But the market domination of Star Wars meant that studios around the world rushed through anything they could find that could be slotted into the space-based trend. The first two productions of note were the Italian Star Crash and the Japanese Message from Space, although one must admire the British entrepreneur who simply picked up a 1976 Hong Kong film set during the Korean War and rush-released it as Sky Wars! Not wanting to be left behind by their own success, Fox immediately gave the green light to Ridley Scott’s Alien. And by the end of June, the Hollywood Reporter was announcing that the second season of The Muppet Show would feature a weekly sci-fi serial called Pigs in Space. Star Wars had definitely arrived.

And once it had arrived, it stayed. The Star Wars trilogy created more instantly recognisable icons - names, images, characters and ideas - than any other film or films before or since. In fact, more icons than almost any other story, with the possible exception of the Bible. Can there be anyone under the age of about 50 who doesn’t know Princess Leia, Darth Vader, R2-D2, Jabba the Hutt, Yoda or the Millennium Falcon? Surely everyone recognises a lightsabre, or an X-wing, or an Ewok. You don’t know what a Wookiee is? Get out of here, man! Science fiction has created other widely recognised iconography, such as the TARDIS or Mr Spock, but these images took time to ingrain themselves on the public consciousness. Darth Vader and co. were known all over the world within weeks of Star Wars opening.

Above all, Star Wars established in the public consciousness an idea of what science fiction was: all dogfighting spaceships, rebels battling empires, eccentric robots and aliens with funny heads. For better or worse, when Joe Punter now thinks of 'sci-fi' he doesn’t imagine Doctor Who or Thunderbirds or The Day the Earth Stood Still or Dune or The Time Machine. He thinks of the Millennium Falcon.

At the same time, Star Wars created the concept of the 'event movie', or at least The Empire Strikes Back did, because people were looking forward to that film for three years. Even beyond the films, the Star Wars franchise has continued to break new ground. Before Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy was published, spin-off novels were ephemeral paperbacks, often written by hacks or pseudonyms. Suddenly, hardback spin-offs by respectable authors were topping the New York Times bestseller list.

Even in the late 1980s, the closest the franchise ever came to the doldrums, when there had been no new film for several years and the novels had yet to appear, Star Wars and all it contained were still prevalent throughout popular culture. In books, on records, in other films, on TV and radio, in comics and magazines: reference to Star Wars was common currency. It was a shared experience not just for an entire generation, but also for everyone who was too young to see it in 1977/78, but caught it on TV or video.

Over the past few years, with the books, the comics, the Special Editions, and now the run-up to Episode One itself, interest has built up to fever pitch. Lucasfilm’s management of the publicity has been magnificent, just teasing us all enough to get us hooked, and then gradually increasing the momentum with more and more photos and interviews. If we’re not all screaming for The Phantom Menace the week before it premieres, it will only be because we will be catatonic with anticipation by then.

But therein lies the great question: can Star Wars hit the same note again? One generation on, will audiences go crazy for The Phantom Menace the way they went ga-ga for the first three films? At the most basic level: will Jar-Jar Binks become as famous as Chewbacca? You see, it’s all changed. No really, it has.

Here are some of the things that were around in 1977 and are now no more: 8mm films (Star Wars in your own home, drastically edited to 15 minutes!); eight-track cartridges (the Star Wars soundtrack in this format is now worth several pence); supporting films (The Empire Strikes Back played with the less-than-thrilling Paws in the Park - can anyone remember what they saw Star Wars with?); theatrically released pornography (it is unbelievable how much porn dominated the mainstream cinema trade in the late 1970s); ladies who stood at the front during the intermission and sold choc ices; the intermission; Saturday morning matinees. Oh, it were all fields around here…

And here are some of the things we have now that we we didn’t have then: home video; home computers; the internet; satellite TV; cable TV; digital TV; laserdiscs; CDs; CD-ROMs; DVDs; CGI, SFX; THX; multiplexes; and a 16-year wait between Star Wars films. All of these will have some sort of effect on how The Phantom Menace is released, and how it is perceived. Twenty-two years ago, the only film mags were shallow little publications, providing studio-sanctioned news to the dwindling hordes of obsessive film-fans (“UK cinema audiences reach all-time low,” reported Screen International in April 1977). The only specialist SF mags were the fledgling Cinefantastique and the last death throes of Famous Monsters. There was no large-scale, organised SF movie fan-base, and a visit to the cinema wasn’t the universal pastime which it is now or was in the 1950s.

There is much more expectation now - even more than there was for Empire or Jedi - and the new movie has a lot to live up to: not just in comparison with the original trilogy, but also against other films. Everyone is wondering: will the new Star Wars film make more money than Titanic? Maybe, maybe not. The awful thing is that, even if it does better than every other film ever made except Titanic, it will still be deemed to have failed in some way.

But The Phantom Menace cannot bomb, simply because of what it is. Think of how successful the Special Editions of A New Hope, Empire and Jedi were. When we filed out of the cinema after the very first UK preview of the revamped Star Wars in May 1997, the overall mood among journos and fans was: “Erm, was that it?” Yet all three films topped the movie charts around the world, and the only people who didn’t buy them on video the moment they appeared were those who were still recovering from spending £100 on the Star Wars Chronicles book. (And can you think of any other topic you could compile a book on which would sell out in weeks with a cover price of a century?)

So yes, we all bought the lovely boxed set of the Special Edition videos, even though most of us had bought the remastered originals which were released only a year or so before. (And some of us still had the original rental tapes which we bought for £80 in the early 1980s!) And we will all go and see The Phantom Menace as soon as it opens (in fact a lot of people will see it on bootleg video in the two months between the US and UK premieres; one of Lucasfilm’s few planning slip-ups). We will buy the books and the toys (and the computer games and the CDs and the duvet covers and the Thermos flasks…), and then we will probably go and see the film a second time, maybe a third.

And when Episodes Two and Three come out, we will do it all over again.

Because it’s Star Wars.

Now see the two box-outs:
Box-out 1: Contemporary Reviews
Box-out 2: Star Wars released

Wednesday, 25 November 2015


Director: Keith R Robinson
Writer: Keith R Robinson
Producer: Keith R Robinson
Cast: Kelly Wines, Lucy Clarvis, Jordan Murphy
Country: UK
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: DVD (101 Films)

Writing, directing and producing a feature-length film is an achievement in and of itself; one not to be sniffed at. When that film is selected to play at a festival or, even better, receives some form of distribution, that’s a tremendous validation that all the hard work was worth it. You have to admire anyone who has, from scratch, ended up with their name on the back of a DVD sleeve in a branch of HMV. Keith R Robinson should be very proud.

Having said that, my duty as a film reviewer of this parish is to let you know about not just the content and themes of a movie but also its quality, both overall and in specific aspects of the cinematic experience. In short, you want to know whether it’s worth parting with your shekels for a particular film. And in the case of Silverhide, even if you’re buying it for a couple of quid in a closing down sale at a branch of That’s Entertainment (say, for example, purely hypothetically…) the answer has to be no. I wouldn’t recommend you to buy it, or to spend 72 minutes watching it, because – with all due respect to Keith R Robinson and his cast and crew – it’s absolute rubbish.

Which is a shame. I was quite excited about this one. The film’s release through 101 Films in April 2015 had passed me by, possibly because I had it on my master-list of unreleased British horror films under its production title of Pounce. I’m a sucker for a good werewolf movie. And while this isn’t actually a werewolf movie, it’s a wolf-monster movie and that’s close enough in my book.

But honestly this is terrible. It’s one of those films where there’s almost no chemistry between the cast because for the most part they’ve been filmed in different locations and/or on different days. There’s no attempt at characterisation. The threadbare, half-hearted plot is barely deserving of the term. The dialogue is clunkier than a Tonka toy falling down a flight of stairs. The performances are ripe, the direction vapid, the design almost non-existant, the camera-work not much better than the average holiday video and the sound recording and mixing is so bad, alternating between too loud and too quiet, that one has to seriously consider the possibility that someone had the mixing desk upside-down.

The ‘Silverhide’ of the (re)title is a type of wolf with some unexplained property in its fur which renders it invisible in moonlight, which the military have been testing since they captured it in the 1920s. Is it worth going on, or shall we stop the review right there? Because frankly that précis, combined with the preceding paragraph, ought to be enough for most people.

I mean, people do realise that ‘moonlight’ is just reflected ‘sunlight’, right? It’s not a thing. I wouldn’t mind if this was a supernatural wolf-man fantasy but this is presented as a horror/sci-fi mash-up so I’d like at least a bit of the ‘sci’ please. More to the point, how has this thing been around since the 1920s? Since there’s no suggestion that the British Army has a breeding colony of silverhides, that leaves the possibility that it’s a 90-year-old wolf, which would be pretty arthritic and toothless by now, I would imagine.

Our principal characters (in the loosest sense of the term) are Siobhan (Kelly Wines, who also helped with make-up), Laura (Lucy Clarvis: Curse of the Witching Tree, also in a Rebecca Gosnell horror short called Wolf) and Marty (Jordan Murphy). These three dull twentysomethings work for a magazine about the paranormal, and I can’t help thinking that might sound more believable if it was a website.  Their plan (once again I use the term in its loosest possible sense) is to camp somewhere near an air base in the Welsh mountains, where they have a tip-off that something “way, way above top secret” will be tested in the small hours of the morning. Siobhan spends the entire film in an underground bunker, allegedly unused since the 1980s (and the only actual ‘set’ in the whole film). There is no obvious reason why she should be in there, nor why Laura is on her own in their tent, nor why Marty goes wandering off on his own. Furthermore, although they have three radios, Marty has left his in the car. So he’s an idiot and deserves everything that’s coming to him.

Most of the first half of this mercifully short feature is taken up with pointless, dull, badly written, boring conversations between any two of these nerks. We learn nothing about who they are, what their goals are, or why they think sitting in a tent on a Welsh hillside near a heavily defended military establishment is a good idea. We learn only, through astoundingly clunky exposition, that Siobhan’s father was some sort of Government scientist who was forced into committing suicide (shades of the David Kelly affair). And that Laura and Marty are a couple and that the former is pregnant. We learn about the pregnancy first from Laura telling Siobhan that her and Marty’s “circumstances have changed” then because that leaden, clichéd infodump might be too subtle for some people, from Marty actually telling Siobhan (after returning to the tent to find Laura missing) that his girlfriend is pregnant. And then, because there might be some people in the audience who are really, really hard of thinking (or, charitably, have just lost the will to live and stopped paying attention), we’re shown a magazine in the tent that’s actually called ‘Pregnancy’.

Many doctors advise pregnant women to spend their nights on drafty, damp hillsides, apparently.

Intercut with this we have shots of soldiers wandering around in the dark. According to the credits there’s three or four of them, but we literally only ever see one at a time, and since they’re all dressed identically and only ever converse with a radio voice back at some unspecified HQ, for most of the film it seems to be a single soldier, responsible for guarding this entire area. Guarding against what? Well, if he’s guarding against characterless paranormal magazine journalists, he’s not much good at his job. Occasionally the soldier says things like “Everybody move out!” in a risible attempt to convince us that he has a whole (silent) squad with him that we just haven’t been shown.

There’s also a photographer somewhere else on the hillside who, in a thrilling prologue, we saw taking a photograph of a sheep. And there’s a guy in a suit, because both Laura and Siobhan reckon they’ve been followed by men in suits. Wow, that’s spooky. Except wait, no, lots of people wear suits. This is not the stereotypical MiB get-up, this is literally just a guy wearing a normal suit, like you might wear to work. He will become significant near the end when he joins Siobhan in the bunker and I’m sure you can’t possibly guess who he turns out to be. (The photographer is in the bunker too but he simply disappears from the scene for about ten minutes so Siobhan can have a bland, badly written conversation with her dad (oops – spoiler!).  The actor is John Hoye who was in Heathen and was apparently casting director on POV.

It’s all “You must tell them. You must get the message out,” etc. Tell them what? What message? You have precisely zero proof of anything and even if you did, so what? The Army is testing a new technology based on a magical type of animal fur on an arthritic hound. I mean, what are they even testing? Just take some of the fur and study it in a lab. Or say the hell with it, kill and skin the beast and just fashion a coat, boots and hat out of its hide. Who cares how it works?

Of course, normally the Silverhide is kept safe behind a big fence that runs across the hillside (instead of in a contained environment like a paddock or something, you know, like the wolves at the zoo). Tonight there’s a storm – one of those storms that has lightning and thunder but no actual wind or rain – and a bolt of lightning has hit the metal fence and thereby somehow let the animal escape.

Oh man, I’m getting tired of typing about this tripe. It’s just dreadful. The only two things it has going for it are a surprisingly good wolf-head prop and tight, fast editing of the attack scenes. Which unfortunately cancel each other out. Designed and built by David Foxley of Fox Zumbi Dark Arts FXs (who also did the make-up effects on Writers Retreat) the development of the wolf head from initial sketches to finished prop is documented on this Facebook page.

Keith R Robinson doesn’t even have the excuse of this being his first feature. He partnered up with US executive producer Jay So in 2005 after the latter found a couple of Robinson’s scripts on script-sharing website InkTip. In December 2009 it was announced that he had wrapped his feature debut (as director, writer, producer and editor) This was The Unwelcome, based on the famous Enfield poltergeist case, which according to my records had a VOD release in May 2012, although I can now find no trace of that. It’s possible that I confused it with the Marysia Kay/Eleanor James picture Aggressive Behavior which was shot as Unwelcome. Or maybe not.

Shot in April 2012, Pounce premiered at the Freakshow Horror Film Festival in the States in October 2014 (under its original title) and hit UK shelves (retitled) six months later. Bizarrely, in July 2015 Foxley's wolf head was featured on the front cover of Fortean Times, illustrating a story about a supposed werewolf incident in Germany!

I really don’t like trashing any British horror film like this but Silverhide is just so poor. It manages to be both overambitious and underambitious at the same time: seeking to tell an epic story of Government conspiracies, clandestine military operations and deadly monsters through a series of lacklustre scenes in which characters we neither know nor care about trade wooden inanities. Please, Keith R Robinson, do something different with your next film. Work on your script a bit more. Think about your limitations and try to turn them to your advantage instead of just blundering through them and hoping no-one will notice.

Also, and I mean this as genuine advice to both Keith and other film-makers, don't put your possessive name above the title, as in Keith R Robinson's Silverhide (the on-screen title here). Honestly, unless you are actually a 'name' - you know, a name like Craven or Carpenter - that just makes you look like such a knob.

One final point. On the movie’s IMDB User Reviews page, among all the one-star excoriations, someone named 'Andy Read' has posted four copies (on the same day) of the same hilarious ten-star review (his only ever IMDB contribution, which doesn't look at all suspicious). If ‘Andy Read’ isn’t Keith R Robinson, he’s clearly someone who knows him: “Gee, these armchair filmmakers… It's easy to criticise when you've never done anything yourself isn't it?” is a bit of a give-away. He tears into the other User Reviewers for allegedly expecting some big Hollywood blockbuster, claiming the film has been misleadingly packaged to make it look more than it is.

But dude, Andy/Keith, it hasn’t been misleadingly packaged. No-one could pick up this DVD and mistake it for anything except a low-budget indie horror. And that's what people are expecting to see when they pop the disc into the machine. Just, you know, a good low-budget indie horror. “This is a low budget film made for cult fans and schlocky horror aficionados” he rants. Yes but the cult fans and schlocky horror aficionados hate it, not because it’s not a blockbuster, but because it’s boring and badly made. “It should be being packaged as a GRINDHOUSE movie – for B Movie fans” he yells, making strategic use of the old caps lock to emphasise his point but betraying that he has absolutely no idea what ‘grindhouse’ means. It doesn’t mean any old horror movie and Silverhide is about as far away from the ‘grindhouse’ genre as it’s possible to get without actually starring Judi Dench.

Any sympathy I may have had for this little film evaporated when I read that ridiculous ‘User Review’ which effectively cancelled out the good work of the genuinely impressive wolf head. So sorry, Silverhide, you’re going at the bottom of the heap.

MJS rating: D-

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

interview: Terry Gilliam

This is simply one of my favourite interviews that I have ever done. I spoke with Terry Gilliam over the phone in February 1996 as part of SFX's coverage of 12 Monkeys. He was an absolute joy to talk to: completely open and honest and very funny. If there's one person I'd interview again like a shot it's Terry Gilliam. This was posted here in November 2015 to celebrate Terry's 75th birthday. Lord Gilliam of Python, we salute you!

How and when was 12 Monkeys first pitched to you?
“We shot about a year ago, so it was about a year before that. It was smuggled to me by a guy at Universal who said I ought to read it because it was the kind of dangerous, interesting stuff that nobody else in their right mind would make.”

What made it stand out?
“It was very complex, very intelligent, very funny, very dark. As much as anything, the ending intrigued me, plus the idea of somebody seeing their own death was very poetic and interesting. I didn't immediately leap to do this film because I was working on a couple of my own projects, and also Tale of Two Cities. For a variety of reasons, these other projects all died, and Chuck Roven, the producer of 12 Monkeys, was a very tenacious guy who wouldn't let go. He kept dragging me off to meetings with David and Janet Peoples, and just kept pestering me until I had to say yes.”

Was the initial script very different to what ended up on screen?
“I don't think so. Obviously details are different and certain things are probably simplified, but it's basically that. It's those characters doing those things, saying most of those lines. As a film develops it always takes on a life of its own, and for me it was always a matter of keeping in touch with David and Jan to see that we weren't going astray from what they intended. They seemed to like what we were doing, so on we marched.”

How involved were you with casting the film?
“Totally. That's a key part of making a film. If you get the casting right, then your work is quite easy. That's what I do.”

What made you go for Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt?
“They were two quite separate problems, because we'd reached a point on the film where I was trying to do it more cheaply. I didn't want to get involved with big stars, because they tend to raise the price of things. The studio were rather nervous about the film because they thought it was too intelligent, too demanding, too complex, all those things. They insisted at one point that we have a star in the lead role. Well, I listened to their suggestions and walked away from the film for a few weeks, because I said, 'This is crazy.'

"Then I got a call from my agent saying that Bruce was very keen to do this thing, and I'd met him before, and liked him. So Chuck Roven and I set sail for New York and had an evening with Bruce, talking through what I felt the film should be, and my fear of superstars. How I wasn't interested in Bruce Willis, superstar, but Bruce Willis, actor intrigued me a lot. We got on and we all seemed to agree on what we were talking about doing here. So I said, 'Fine, Bruce is great.' So at that point the film was in motion and happening.

"The fact that Brad was very keen to get involved was totally separate and was basically the icing on the cake. He was very determined to be in the film. I wasn't certain whether he could pull it off. It was such a crucial part and it was so different from anything he'd tried before, I was understandably nervous. But he came to London and we had dinner and I really liked him. I thought he was incredibly determined and earnest. I thought, 'Now we're playing safe by having someone like Bruce in the film, let's play dangerous by having somebody like Brad in the film.' What I like when I make movies is trying to shift people's perceptions of the world, and part of the world is superstar actors, so if you can change people's view of what they are capable of, that's as interesting as anything else.”

Like having De Niro with his head in a bag.
“Yes. You take somebody that everybody thinks. 'Oh, he's that,' and then you shift it. I'm determined to continue to concentrate on doing this, because everybody gets very lazy and wants the world neatly packaged for them, and I don't like that.”

One name I was surprised to see was Simon Jones. I thought, 'My goodness, where's his hair gone?'
“Age comes to us all.”

Is that the first time you've worked with him since Meaning of Life?
“Was Meaning of Life after Brazil? I can't remember. He's in Brazil as the arresting officer at the beginning who sets the whole thing going by arresting Mr Bottle. Simon's married to a lady named Nancy Lewis who looks after Python in America.”

The same names do seem to crop up in the cast lists of your films.
“These people won't leave me alone. They keep bothering me, begging me! If I'm going to come round for dinner, I've got to at least return the favour somehow.”

On a lot of your films you have the same cinematographer, Roger Pratt. How much do you think he contributes to the look of your films?
“I find it very hard to separate me from Roger and vice versa. We just work very easily together. We talk about ideas and ideas just flow. He's a brilliant cameraman, and we're good friends, so we don't spend much time arguing theory or anything. We just go, 'Let's make that moody, and that should be light and beautiful,' and off Roger goes. It's really hard to know how it works. I really honestly don't know, I don't even think about it. We just go to work in the morning and make pictures, and Roger's brilliant. We always talk it through and we always have a plan of how we're going to light something, but it's all done fairly pragmatically. Roger's very fast as well, so I'm seldom waiting for him.

"What was interesting when we did Brazil was that he was playing around using warm and cold lights in the same shot, which people weren't really doing at the time. That created a very distinctive look. It actually became very much like German expressionist painting, using colours in those ways. That worked very well. On this one, we didn't do that the same way. You just look at the scene and think, 'We'll put a light over there and another one over there,' and do that. It's not much more theoretical than that. We both just happen to see things in a different way.”

How do you feel about the term 'Gilliam-esque'?
“I don't even know what that means!”

It's a 'look' that some films have, where you say, 'Oh, it's very Terry Gilliam.'
“I can only think that applies to wide-angle lenses, over-busy frames, tons of stuff in there. I suppose there's a quirkiness in my stuff; things I've taken so seriously that you can't find things to giggle at. I like the idea of making images that are so complex that people have to go and see a few times to get the full benefit.”

The last Gilliam-esque film I saw was The City of Lost Children. Have you seen that?
“Yes, I'm friends with Jeunet and Caro. I think they're great. Part of it is that we come from the same background. They come out of comic books as well. So they've got cartoonists' viewpoints when they look at things. I'm sure that's where the similarity comes from. I think the Coen brothers, in a strange way, have it as well. That's probably because they come from Minnesota, and that's where I come from as well, so it's obviously in the water there. I like pushing the limits of what you can do with lenses and how you frame shots. We went fairly crazy in 12 Monkeys with Dutch angles. Seldom is the camera actually level.

"But there's an intention behind that; it's not just because it's a silly thing to do. It's to try to disorient the audience in a sense as the characters are disoriented. Nothing is quite level, nothing is quite what it seems to be. In fact when it does go normal, to me those are the interesting shots, because suddenly, after all these strange angles, to go 'klunk!' and it's level and flat and it's reasonable. It always jumps off the screen when it happens, at least it does in my stuff.”

12 Monkeys is based on a short film by Chris Marker called La Jetée.
“A lot of people are spending a lot of time on that one. The press releases didn't even include it, because it's inspired by it, rather than 'based upon'. What it's taken is the idea of somebody being sent back in time, somebody with a dream that turns out to be their own death, and finding a woman that he falls in love with. That's it. That's not anything to be sniffed at - those are all good and wonderful ideas - but I think that what David and Jan did was write something much more rich and complex. It's about many more things than La Jetée was.”

What did Chris Marker think of 12 Monkeys?
“He's in Paris. I've seen two faxes from him and he really likes it. His approach to the whole thing was that he wasn't interested in selling the rights but he was a big fan of David's writing. So he said, 'Here's La Jetée: if it's a starting point, an inspiration for you to go off and do something, then go and do it.' But nobody went out of their way to try and make a remake of something in any way.”

Have you been pleased with the response the film's had so far?
“No, it's disgraceful. People liked it. I hoped they'd hate it. I was making it just for me. No, it's great. Everybody is very pleased with the way it's going. What's nice is that it's actually got people discussing things. They argue. I keep getting report after report of people going to dinner parties and arguing over what that meant or what it didn't mean. Do five million people die or do they live? That's part of the intention, to get people talking again.”

Do you consider yourself an American film-maker or a British film-maker?
“I don't know. I'm a Gilliam-esque film-maker is what I am. It's kind of nice not being either one or the other.”

Do you find that your films are received differently in different parts of the world?
“They're probably liked most of all in France. I seem to be as popular as Jerry Lewis, which is terrifying. I think what it is; they're probably films about America but from an English perspective. I can't quite escape being American yet I've lived most of my life now in England. So I have this slightly skew perspective of things.”

Presumably this went quite smoothly. Did you have any worries that it might turn out like Brazil or Munchausen?
“Yes, those scars are still fairly visible. I'm very careful when I get involved in projects since those days. Both Fisher King and 12 Monkeys went exceedingly easily, and it's because I step very carefully into these little pools of piranhas. But the things I've been wanting to do seem to have required American money. Most of the other projects I've been working on seem to fall into that trap. There is a certain point in a budget where you can't get enough money from the rest of the world so you need to go eventually to Hollywood. It's quite interesting, because the last two, Hollywood came to me. And when they come to you then you can set the terms much more easily than when you go begging cap in hand.”

Looking over the stuff that the Pythons did together and since, it does seem that for six people you've got into an awful lot of trouble. It's almost like you're looking for trouble.
“No, it's just that we think we know what we're doing. And we want to make our own mistakes; we don't want to make somebody else's mistakes. That's where everybody goes wrong. Every time we get in a situation where we've done some work, however silly the work is, we're very serious about it. And if somebody starts fiddling with the work, then they're in for a fight! That's all that happens. What's interesting now is that, because of earlier fights and Brazil and all that, people are very wary around me. Those things have paid off in the long term, because people know I'm serious about what I do. The kind of people that come knocking on the door are much more intelligent, they've got more interesting projects, and they all know they've got to be serious about what they're doing. If we're going to work on something, it's got to be done for the right reasons. I don't like making films to please studio executives and marketing researchers.”

Although there is a bit of humour in 12 Monkeys, your films seem to have moved away from being actual comedies. Is this a conscious decision?
“No, I've just probably become old, bitter and twisted. It's just that these are the things that have intrigued me, that have come along at a certain point when I'm thinking about certain things, and are good expression of these ideas. Fisher King was pretty funny. All of them, no matter how humorous they are or aren't, there's a darkness in there that intrigues me. Brad's very funny in 12 Monkeys, and even Bruce has got some nice lines, but they usually come at very inappropriate and dangerous moments or disturbing moments. Of late I've been obsessed with death in one form or another, so that's why death seems to figure in the films.”

Everything you've done has some sort of fantasy aspect. Can you ever see yourself doing something completely realistic, or will there always be fantasy in there?
“I think it will always be an element because I think that's realistic - to have fantasy added to your life. I don't think the two things are separate, frankly. And I don't think I'll ever make naturalistic films either, because that doesn't really interest me. Naturalistic films give the impression that this is truth or reality and it's not. It's artifice as much as Ace Ventura is artifice.”

I found this quote where you said: "Oftentimes reality seems more fantastic than what is considered reality." But I can't help feeling if I was going round the world spending n million pounds making Baron Munchausen, my reality would be pretty fantastic. Do you think it's also true for the punter in the street?
“I think you make reality or fantasy what you want. It isn't about money. It's about choosing how you see the world. I was probably even more fantastically oriented when I was younger with no money, than I am now. I think I'm probably getting more realistic. It's always been the passport to a happy reasonable life, even if you've got nothing in your pocket. I thinking building the big sets of Munchausen is not reality at all; it's like a nightmare, that's what that is! All of that is very realistic. This whole idea of the director being the boy with the biggest toy and having the time of his life, it isn't really like that when I'm working on the films. I wish I could do something else because I'd never describe them as fun for me, it's always just hard work.”

Was it more fun when you started out on Holy Grail?
“Yes, it was more fun then because there was a gang of us, but the more you take on responsibilities for all of the stuff, it just becomes harder. This is not complaining about this, it's just a fact, just the way it is. Probably I make as few films as I have because when I finish one I tend to not want to make a film for a while. The whole thing is too painful. But then unfortunately I'm able to forget all the bad bits and I foolishly sign up for another one.”

Your scripts that have been published are full of doodles. Do you still draw on your scripts?
“Oh yes. What was interesting on 12 Monkeys is I actually didn't storyboard at all, for the first time. Normally when I'm storyboarding, ideas come out of the actual act of drawing. Your hand is drawing something and it's enjoying itself. The next thing I know, I've drawn something that I wasn't intending. So it's useful in that sense. Doodling is a way of letting part of my being express itself. Then I look at these things occasionally weeks later and say, 'Well, that's a good idea!' or, 'That's absolute shit. What was I thinking?' It's interesting; I find that working on a computer with a computer graphics program it doesn't happen in the same way. My hand has been trained over a long time to draw. It requires the feeling of paper and the smell of ink to get a lot of the sensory apparatus functioning at full bore.”

Do you still consider yourself an animator?
“Nope. That's another guy. When I was an animator, I didn't even consider myself an animator. I was just desperate to be a film director. It just happened to be the job that allowed me to do something that was close to making films.”

There are two really distinctive fantasy film directors in Hollywood - Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam - and you both came out of animation. Do you think that was an important part of your career?
“I think so, because I learned a lot doing it. It was an interesting means of expression. Once you start working in animation, and you become aware of single frames and what they mean, that's a very different approach than most directors have. Most directors don't realise the power of a single frame. I did a thing in 12 Monkeys, where we wanted Bruce to react to a thing but we didn't have it. So I just took another shot of him, looking away from something, and just reversed the shot. Now he looks to the bad guy and reacts accordingly.

"But it's partly being an animator that makes me think like that: 'There it is. All I need is that kind of movement. It doesn't matter whether it goes forward or backwards because I can make the film go any way I want it to go.' I do that a lot. I cut single frames out of things sometimes - it gives little kicks to things. Also with animation you have that freedom of doing almost anything you want, so that builds up a certain arrogance, a confidence or need to express yourself in certain ways. Fellini was a cartoonist, he was never an animator, but there's been a few people have come out of cartooning as well, not just animation.”

Some filmographies connect you with a 1970 Vincent Price movie, Cry of the Banshee.
“Aha! I did the title sequence. there were a lot of Brecht-Durer apocryphal beasts and monsters flying around the place. I can't remember. It was a long time ago, and I'm not even sure if I've got a copy of it. Samuel Z Arkoff was the man that knocked on the door.”

The other thing I don't have any information on is a 1974 short called The Miracle of Flight. What was that?
“That was around the time of Python. I was animating for Marty Feldman's show, something called The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine. I was commissioned to do a half-hour or twenty-five minutes of animation, and one of them was this short film that I did which is all about man's inability to fly. It turns up occasionally at short film festivals and cartoon festivals.”

Do you still keep in contact with the other Pythons?
“Yes, even the ones that are still alive.”

Now that the Beatles have reformed, do you have demo tapes of old Graham Chapman jokes lying around that you could record over and release?
“That's something we've actually jokingly talked about, but it would have to probably be a cut-out of Graham that we could operate from the back. I don't think we're as desperately in need of money as the Beatles are.”

And you could probably produce a better record than 'Free as a Bird'.
“Without much difficulty.”

Most Python films seem to be by one Python with one or two other Pythons in, but none of the team are in your last two films.
“It's purely because the last two have been in America and about Americans. There's no ulterior motive at work here.”

A lot of creative people, when asked what they're working on, don't like to give details until it's actually in production. Yet your name seems to be forever attached to different projects, most of which...
“...Don't happen! It proves the point of why you should never talk about such things.”

Why haven't you learned your lesson then?
“Well, I have now, as of this interview! I'll shut up about what I'm really doing now, because all these other things are projects that I was involved with or talked about being involved in. What often happens, you find, is that somebody like a producer releases this 'info' before anybody has signed or agreed definitely, and then you find yourself making one more film that you're not making.”

Can I throw a few titles at you and find out the truth behind these? In 1992 you were going to do a version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
“Yep, I worked on that as scriptwriter for about six months, then I got bored with it. But I was actually working and I think I got paid $12,000, so I made big money.”

Around the same time, you and Charles McKeown were working on Don Quixote.
“Yes, that's still in the works. The script marches on, but not to anybody's satisfaction yet.”

What about Watchmen?
“Ah, well that one, Joel Silver was trying to get me to do it. Again, I worked with Charles McKeown on that. We wrote a version of the script. Then Joel wasn't able to get the money together, so that died a death. However, I was contacted by the new owner of the rights in January this year, wanting to know if I was still interested. I think it's going to be impossible to make as a film, unless you make it a three and a half hour film, which most people aren't going to want.”

Another quote I found which surprised me was that when you were younger you were a big fan of the radio.
“Oh, yes.”

I bring this up because I know somebody at BBC Radio who is trying to get a radio series of Watchmen going.
“That's interesting. I actually think Watchmen would be great as a mini-series on television. Five or six hours, and you do it like the book so each character's got his own chapter.”

You haven't done any television for years.
“Not since Python. I'm not interested in it. I like the big screen.”

I was intrigued by your being a fan of radio because your stuff is very, very visual.
“But my theory is that radio is a great training ground for visualists, because you're only given aural information, so everything else you've got to invent. You've got to put costumes on them, you've got to put faces on them, you've got to do the shots. I'm sure that it was a great stretcher of imagination muscles when I was a kid. If you get the sound right and the voices right, it just conjures up whole worlds. Radio isn't alive and well the way it used to be, but at least in England it's still going.”

Let me throw a few more projects at you. The Minotaur; were you working on that with Michael Palin?
“At one point, yes, but not really seriously, but that's another project that's hung around, waiting for a decent script to be written of it. What I do with these things is I get excited about them, and I've worked it out in my head, and I get bored.”

Do you get bored easily?
“Well, certain stories, I become too familiar with them, and then I have to walk away from them. Quixote was one of those, and Minotaur's a bit like that too. I looked at it again the other day and thought, 'Hmm, this is a good story.' So maybe one ought to get to work on it.”

Were any of your completed films sitting around like this for a long while before being made?
Brazil was hanging about for a few years, and then finally came together. I had actually been working on Brazil before Time Bandits, but I couldn't quite get it all working together. So I thought, 'What I'll do, rather than writing this difficult film, I'll do one that all the family can come to see' And that was Time Bandits.”

Time Bandits, Brazil and Munchausen are sometimes banded together as a trilogy. In what sense are they a trilogy?
“Well ... in the sense that I lied about that! I was referring to Munchausen as 'the fourth part of the trilogy'. But in the sense that they are all in some ways autobiographical: you've got a boy, you've got a young man, and you've got an old man. All dreamers of one sort or another; all getting swept up in dangerous adventures as a result of their imagination.”

Somebody told me you were attached to do Godzilla at one point.
“I heard this too. I've only heard about this in interviews, never in reality. I don't know where this came from, but obviously somebody wrote it in a paper or a magazine somewhere and then it's been repeated, but nobody's ever approached me about this.”

Another one that may just be wishful thinking: were you ever approached about the Hitch-Hiker's Guide movie?
“I know Douglas and this sort of comes and goes occasionally, but it's never gotten anything more than saying, 'It's an interesting idea, but...' We've never worked out a script or anything.”

The latest rumour is Time Bandits 2.
“There's a company that bought out Handmade Films and all of its properties, and they were talking to us about doing one. Charles McKeown and I have an idea what to do, but we're waiting to hear more from them. We haven't heard anything for a few months. I don't know what's happening. It's one I wouldn't direct. I'd work with Charles on the script and godfather it basically.”

Are you looking at moving towards more non-directorial projects?
“No, it's just that I don't want to do that one. There are others that I want to do.”

Are there any other projects?
“You missed Hunchback of Notre Dame which I turned down last week. Then there was Tale of Two Cities. That was the one I was working on just before 12 Monkeys.”

That's not a particularly fantastical one.
“No, I was moving into new territory. But it did have the hero dying at the end! That one I worked on for quite a long time. It was going to be starring Mel Gibson, and at the very last moment he decided he wanted to direct again, and he directed Braveheart. So we were then floundering, trying to find a replacement. We needed a big star and the studio started pissing around, and I said, 'Bye!'“

All the things you've done or been attached to tend to be very big projects. Do you ever want to go back to doing some very little thing on a low budget with a few actors and two sets?
“After Munchausen, my joke was that I wanted to do a film about a schizophrenic but only half his personality. That was my little film. Well, Fisher King was my little film. That was only four people.”

But even that had a dance sequence in Grand Central Station.
“Yes, I know. This is my nature; I can't really do little films. This thing sort of springs forth and demands attention. But I like big films. I think they're things I'm reasonably skilled at dealing with. I have both the eye and the mind to deal with them, so I'll play it. My attitude is I'll play it as long as somebody gives me the money to play it, and when that dries up we can think about little films. But at the moment I can get something off the ground of a reasonable scale.”

Do you think you would have been happy making films 30 or 40 years ago when there weren't the special effects available?
“I probably would have done it. Effects have always been there. It's always been possible to do anything you wanted to do. It's easier to do certain kinds of things now. What's impossible to do now is to make Cleopatra or Fall of the Roman Empire, when you've got 10,000 extras all doing things. You can lay out big lengths of Scottish armies, like in Braveheart, but you can't really do those big scenes any more because nobody can afford those numbers of real people. It just changes.”

Do you think you'd have been happier doing that?
“There was always a side of me that wanted to make an epic. because I grew up liking epics. I thought they were just great; to see thousands of people just pouring over the hillside. I suppose that came from living in a small, rural community, but now living in a city I suppose I'm less interested in large numbers of people.”

[This final section was a regular part of SFX interviews, in which interviewees were asked to sum up each of their various works. It was called 'Gilliam on Gilliam'. - MJS]

“I ought to preface all this. I don't watch my films, so this is from memory.”

I had to cheat a bit because you've done seven films and we needed eight, so to lay it out neatly I've had to include the Python TV series.
“So you can't squeeze in The Crimson Permanent Insurance? That's my film.”

That's nine, that's even better. But let's start with Python.
“It was great because there were no rules. We were just out to make each other laugh, and that's a rare thing, where there's nobody breathing down your neck, saying, 'You're offending these people,' or, 'We need a bigger audience,' or, 'We're not getting our market share.' There was none of that. It was just the freedom of being six people, working rather hard, doing what we thought was funny and going for it. That was great. For me, it was non-stop work, seven days a week, trying to produce the animations. There'd usually be one or two all-nighters a week, so I'd usually be brain-damaged. The freedom was also based on the fact that we had to produce so much stuff. It takes the onus off you; you don't have to be good all the time, you just have to be able to fill up the time slot.”

You and the other Terry co-directed Holy Grail.
“That was interesting again because it was two keen, desperate people trying to be film directors, having neither of us directed a feature-length film before, and learning on the job. We did it in less than five weeks for very little money. It was done basically because we were so naive; we didn't know we couldn't do it. What was interesting was how, as we worked on it, it became clear that Terry and I didn't share exactly the same voice all the time. So I tended to step back. I also didn't really like trying to direct all the others, because I was just this monosyllabic animator, and they couldn't understand why I needed them to stand in holes, so their heads didn't stick over the matte line. I got tired of that, and said, 'They wrote the stuff, they can do it.' But it was still pretty extraordinary that we pulled it off in as little time with as little money as had.”

Have you ever met the SF writer Iain Banks?
“No, I read his stuff though. I've never met Iain M Banks either.”

When he was 16 he was an extra in Holy Grail.
“All the students from Stirling and elsewhere were there. It was wonderful.”

The next one was Jabberwocky.
“That was a sort of silly arrogance on my part; there were three of us from Python involved in it, and it was medieval, and it was comic, and to think that it wouldn't be compared to Grail was very silly and naive. And it was, and found not to be 'as funny' but it wasn't intending to be 'as funny'. But I think what I'd discovered by Jabberwocky was how nice it was not to work in the group and to realise that actors would do what the director said. This was an extraordinary leap forward, unlike Holy Grail, where the actors did what they chose. The great thing was working with Max Wall and John Le Mesurier. We gathered together some great comics - Warren Mitchell, Harry H Corbett - a pretty good collection of British comics.”

The next one was Time Bandits.
“The great thing about Time Bandits wasn't the making of it but was the fact that it was a huge success in America. It was made 15 years ago or more; it made almost $50 million in America, which basically opened the door to all these other things like Brazil. Because that kind of success breeds opportunities to take advantage of studios, and I did. I remember sitting down and saying, 'I'll write a film for everybody, for all the family.' The thing was the knight coming out of the wardrobe.

"The interesting thing about Time Bandits was again a kind of pragmatic approach. I wanted the camera to be at a kid's point of view the whole time. I wanted to be down with the kid. I didn't think I could find a kid that would sustain the interest of the audience all the way through it. So what do you do? You surround the kid with a gang who are all the same height as he is. That's how the dwarf Time Bandits developed. I remember one weekend just madly scribbling these things down and worked out a story effectively. then went down and grabbed Mike and off we went. It was very easy. That was again a time when we wanted to do something and it just seemed to happen very quickly.”

The script is full of flattery about Sean Connery, hoping he would be in it. Was that genuine?
“No, that was just our way of trying to describe who we wanted, with no thought that Connery would do it. It was Dennis O'Brien who was running Handmade Films then who was a very literal kind of character. So there it said 'Sean Connery' in the script, so he met Sean Connery and he asked him. Luckily Sean's career was in the doldrums then, so he signed up. But it was the furthest thing from my mind that we'd get somebody like Connery to be in it.”

Brazil is certainly your most critically acclaimed film.
“That's the most cathartic film as well. It was just kidding around with stuff, clearing the shit out of my system. The original script and storyboards were twice as elaborate as what we finally did. There were a lot more dream sequences. It's the precursor of things like Munchausen where I can convince myself and other people that we can do things like this for tuppence, and of course we never can. So it's that constant battle. It was great fun doing Brazil because we didn't get lost in it, not sure exactly what you were doing and what effect it was going to have. But we knew it was going to be shocking people. It was kind of like cinematic rape that we were offering to the public. People were really so split over that film. So many people just hated it, and then others just thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.”

Do you think they hated it because they didn't understand it?
“Yes. They see this visual cacophony pouring down on them, attacking them all the time. It's a very attacking film; it's not a restful film. A lot of people just didn't get it. It's very interesting how they revise their views as time goes on. I remember the nicest thing was going to Paris the first time, because they were the first people who really saw it and the first interviews I gave about it. Journalists came in and said was I interested in poetry because Brazil's a totally poetic film. To be given those kind of descriptions of your work is great: 'I'm an artist at last!'“

A Jean Cocteau influence. How do you think your career might have developed if you hadn't won the battle to get it released with the proper ending?
“I have no idea. I don't know if it would make any difference, I'd still plough on and make films. But at least Brazil had gone out to the rest of the world as we intended, and the American battle was just because they were fucking around with my film. I said, 'Put your name on it, and I'll go out and promote the film, but as long as my name is on it, it goes out the way I made it.' Taking the studio on in that way, and actually winning, it's kept me in good stead. At the time, we didn't think we were going to win, we were just going to go down screaming and fighting and going to take as many people with us as possible - publicly!

"It was actually a fairly depressing time, to say the least, but I remember the LA critics voted it Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Direction, and that was announced on the night of the premiere of Out of Africa, which was Universal's big film that year. For that film to win nothing from the LA critics and for us to win all the top awards was just extraordinary. It was well worth doing. I don't know if I've got enough energy to do it again, but it was one of those battles I'm glad I did.”

Okay, Crimson Permanent Assurance.
“That was an idea I had. I remember bringing it up when we were talking about the film, and the others thought I was going to do it as an animated feature and I said, 'No, I want to do it as live action.' It was meant to be in the middle of the film, not in front of the film. I finished it, and I had my own crew and my own studio making this little thing that kept growing bigger and bigger and bigger. And when we put it in the middle of the film, the whole film just ground to a halt. It was such a different kind of pace, and everything about it was different. It was a different kind of world. I was under pressure from the others to cut it shorter and shorter and shorter.

"I kept trimming it down and finally reached a point where I thought, 'This is ridiculous. If it's any shorter it's not worth having it, period. Let's just pull it out of the film. We'll have it as a supporting short, and then it'll reappear in the middle of the film, which nobody has ever had done before, where the short attacks the feature film.' It was a chance to take basically a cartoon idea and render it in live action, because I've always wanted to do that. And again it was getting a chance for people who don't normally get this kind of work: for 80-year-old men to be buccaneers; as were dwarves in Time Bandits getting a chance to be adventure heroes.”

And then Munchausen was kind of expensive.
“The reality of Munchausen is that it wasn't expensive. It only cost about $40 million. But we only had 23 and a half to make it! So the problem wasn't profligate spending, it was a silly budget that the producer convinced everybody we could do it for. I had storyboarded the whole thing; the numbers of extras, cast, everything was there on paper if somebody wanted to seriously budget the film. But he went through four accountants, because each accountant he would bring on would say, 'It's going to cost 60 million.' So he was fired. Another would come in and say, 'It's gone down to 50 million,' - he was fired. Eventually he got one that said, 'It'll cost what you got, 23 and a half' - so he stayed on. He was fired later.

"I had blithely decided that I was going to believe the lies about how cheaply we could do it in Rome because I wanted to work in Rome, and so marched in there. The thing was that it was one thing for me to believe the lies, but for the completion guarantor, the insurance company and everybody else to believe them was what was really silly. These guys, their function is to understand budgets and know what you can get for your money. But it was truly a nightmare. Every day it just got worse because the production was a complete disaster and nothing was ready. Everything was constantly being delayed. With a twenty-week shoot, in the sixth week, all the money was gone. But nevertheless, it was the kind of adventure that I suppose, if you're going to try the complete spectrum of film experiences, everybody should have one of these.”

Fisher King.
Fisher King was the work of a broken man basically.”

It was very much a departure for you.
“After Munchausen I was incredibly depressed, and this script arrived and I thought it was wonderful. it was simple, it was just four people, and it was a chance to prove to critics that I was interested in more than just the visuals of the film. Because I've always been interested in the acting and the characters, but people are so distracted by the look of my films, they don't seem to notice there's really good acting going on in front of the cameras. So this in many ways was a chance to get rid of the big visual pyrotechnics and just do something much simpler. The fact is it still looks pretty extraordinary. It was really nice just to work with actors as opposed to special effects technicians. Actors are really good fun. We'd rehearse for a couple of weeks and we really enjoyed.”

How would you sum up 12 Monkeys?
“It was actually closer in many ways to making Brazil, because I didn't know what I was doing half the time. It was one of those stories that was like the film itself. The director was the main character, wandering around, trying to make sense of a senseless world. Because we were getting lost in what scene we were doing, and where in the script that scene went, it was a very unnerving kind of experience. I actually didn't enjoy the work that much because we were all just exhausting ourselves trying to do something that was, from an actor's point of view, very different from what they've normally done. So most of my efforts were being concentrated on dealing with the actors. Taking actors and trying to make them do things that they don't normally do.”

Something we haven't covered is the Python CD-ROMs.
“Yes, in fact in the next room, the guys who did the first one are here with the second one.”

What's that like as a medium to work in?
“It's interesting because it's non-linear. That's nice, because a lot of my stuff is non-linear, especially the cartoons were. So it's fun to try and move and juggle things in different ways. On the other hand, you're usually in the hands of so many other people when you're doing it, because I still don't understand how the actual machinery works, just like I don't understand exactly how the machinery of a computer works, which I find very frustrating. For once I was in the hands of engineers and computer types who work out the problems in their own way. I've always in the past made sure I understood how the tools work before I did something. I find this a little more unnerving because I don't know how the tools really work."