Over the decades, I have written several scripts of varying lengths. This will be the first feature-length venture. Oh boy! It's a challenge for someone more used to improvisation and short films that are elliptical compressions of documentary and poetry with a West London genetic time code.
As I look forward to a new challenge of constructing a cinematic story (we are only at first draft stage), I can see a lineage. The portrait of the artist as a young boy. I could harken back to 1970s and an early love of all things Gothic and Hammer. Here are the opening and closing lines from Tales From the Crypt. I wrote it as a 13 year old student in 1979.
"This tale begins when a group of people find themselves trapped in an underground passage, after being separated from a party that was being shown round an exhibition." One thousand nine hundred and fifty words later. "Silence falls on all the people, then they turn around and walk away. They walk up to a pit, fall into it. The pit is alight with fire."
I'm not sure how much is original here. But I can still feel the young author's hyperventilating ink: the excitement, the desire to frighten, defy elders. In another story, my teacher would write jokingly in the margins: Edgar Allen Gras or Bram Gras?
A massive influence was BBC2 horror double bills. These ran from 1975-83 and were a great introduction to classic fangs and Awhooooooooooooooooo! (a poor rendition of a Werewolf cry). They also juxtaposed old school with more contemporary horror. The films of George Romero really made an impact and sign posted more graphic developments in the genre. But there is still a charm to the suggestive qualities of films like Cat People (1942) and the sublime Brides of Frankenstein.
There was also my first cinema going in the late 70s and early 80s as I took in the silly craze for slasher movies. Well it started off promising but descended into copy-cat killings at the box office. However these poor offerings were being stored up while I navigated film theory at the University of Warwick and feasted on world cinema. Appreciating how horror and art have always been interlinked, invariably from a patriarchal perspective.
Only in the last few years, when researching the Elephant and Castle theatre and links between melodrama and horror, have I discovered the joys of Italian horror from the 60s and 70s. One case in point is Mario Bava, cinematographer turned film maker, able to conjure hypnotic and transgressive themes in the shake of a technicolour cocktail.
It's prudent for the artist slash author to reflect critically on what they are doing. So what can one possibly like in the horror genre? For me there is the common currency of its bloody tropes and how these get reinterpreted. Exquisite moments when you see the form transcended; for example, any number of scenes in Vampyr and the long tracking shot in Death Line. When a film ends with a bad taste in the mouth, but leaves all manner of subversive thoughts ricocheting around the the mind. For many viewers, experiencing horror becomes a test of endurance, the willingness to be outraged or shocked. I draw the line at recent torture porn movies. I have no heart for that. The gore or effects should always remain just the icing on the cake.
Note to self about taking risks - I will complete this horror screenplay, if it proves the death of me.
Critical reputation or not!
I have a childhood memory from the 1970s of watching BBC's quaint animated series, Mary, Mungo and Midge. Vivid are the sequences in the lift where Midge (the mouse) would materialise on Mungo's (the dog) nose and press the button to return back to their 8th floor flat in a tower block.
Fast forward to 2015. Residents of Grenfell Tower at the heart of Lancaster West estate are travelling up and down the service lifts; dogs included, but not mice. As they pass reception they find an artist at work sign. This is art in the context of other temporary disruptive sounds and sights as the tower is undergoing a major renovation.
A wall display of archive information charts the history of the estate from cult film Leo the Last to ex-footballer Les Ferdinand. But it is the blank canvas and expectant oil pastels that attracts the attention of younger residents. An artist has set the scene and engineered an atmosphere for fun and creativity. Many thanks to Elias, Mimi, Samar, Youssef and Wisal for conjuring this city landscape of reality (the buildings they live in) and fantasy (cosmic imagery). Mums are on hand, Fatima and Nadia, to provide additional encouragement.
This is the first sketch for designs that will hopefully be worked up into a 3x2 metre mural. I suspect the finished work will not look anything like this, but will probably incorporate simple elements of floral and architectural design made by the children. We are working towards sharing ideas and creating images. What art work would residents like for their tower block? Do they want an art work? Hopefully I can inspire them on this front. This is the beginning of my 4 month journey for an artist to become part of the community and vice versa.
In addition to this 2d work, residents will also be invited to help me make a film about where and how they live. The archive display has already resurfaced memories from long-term residents of what life was like before the estate was built in 1975. Those Mary, Mungo and Midge memories will need to be brought bang up to date.