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Alan Clarke, Ben Wheatley, British Film Institute, Jim O'Rourke, Nick James, The Wicker Man

Ben Wheatley and Jim O’Rourke on Alan Clarke

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In October 2013, I was commissioned by Sight and Sound to do a piece on the late British director, Alan Clarke, as there was a likelihood at the time that his film, PENDA’S FEN, was to be re-issued by the BFI.

I interviewed the British director, Ben Wheatley, in Cardiff on November 29th 2013 where Ben was in pre-production on the new series of DR WHO (He filmed the first two Peter Capaldi episodes).

The interview grew as I was able to later include another party, the musician Jim O’Rourke (Sonic Youth, Wilco, Gastr del Sol). Jim is a musician in his own right as well as a music producer and self-confessed cinephile. It is thanks to Jim that a little over 10 years ago he was responsible for turning me on to Clarke’s lesser-seen works such as FUNNY FARM, THE HALLELUJAH HANDSHAKE, UNDER THE AGE, LOVE GIRL AND THE INNOCENT, HORACE, TO ENCOURAGE THE OTHERS and several others. Jim lives in Japan, so in order to involve him I sent him a transcript of the interview I had already done with Ben and he added his own comments.

The interview remains unpublished by Sight and Sound but the copyright for the material is theirs. The BFI are currently running a retrospective of Alan Clarke’s work at BFI Southbank in April and have plans to release a phenomenal DVD/Blu Ray Box Set of Clarke’s films in May:

https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=alanclarke&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::context_id=

http://shop.bfi.org.uk/directors/alan-clarke.html

My thanks go to Nick James of Sight & Sound for commissioning the article, Ben Wheatley, Jim O’Rourke, Allan Fish and to Sam Dunn at the BFI for his relentless and tireless efforts over several years in bringing Alan Clarke’s films finally back into distribution.

When did you first become aware of his work?

Ben Wheatley: I think it would have been when I was at school and it would have been Scum (1979). At the school I went to in London there was a lot of talk of people hitting people with pool balls in socks and that had actually happened in an incident at my school so that’s kind of how I heard about Scum. Then I actually came to see it when I was about 12 or 13 at school. Whenever there was bad weather we’d get the video decks out and watch things like Enter the Dragon (1973), the Rambo movies, hardcore karate movies or early Jackie Chan stuff. In my school they would show Clarke stuff and I saw Contact (1984) at school as part of a history course about Northern Ireland. Then I had to try to remember what it was called and try to track it down later. I think that’s a brilliant movie and I remember watching that and just sitting there sweating, terrified by it. I also would have seen Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987) and also Road (1987) because I remember having seen one of the original theatrical productions of Road at the Royal Court when I was a kid. So I was interested in seeing what they did with that and then when I saw it was Clarke, it was like fucking hell! I saw the version with Jane Horrocks, Ian Glen and Ian Dury. It was pretty amazing. A friend’s mum worked at the Royal Court and we were basically just this load of oiks. She said she’d give us free tickets for whatever we wanted, so I saw quite a lot of stuff around that period. I also saw Carol Churchill’s Serious Money, Bennet’s Kafka’s Dick and The Emperor, so all that sort of thing. But yeah Road, blew my mind at the time.

Jim O’Rourke: If I remember correctly, it was Made in Britain (1983) that I saw first, and at the time I probably associated it with other films I saw at the time like Quadrophenia (1979) and the like. Although I spent a good deal of my childhood in Ireland and London, I never saw any of his films as they happened on TV, and they really weren’t readily available in the States. I had read a lot about Elephant (1989), and was definitely looking for that. Around ten years ago when the first commercially available DVD’s were released, I became quite ravenous about finding his stuff. I even bugged someone I knew who had a friend who worked at the BBC to copy anything they could, and it worked!

Clarke was a master of the “social realism” drama and not afraid to show violence at often it’s most brutal, a statement that could easily be leveled at your own work, Ben.

BW: Yeah I think that the thing about his stuff that always struck me was that I didn’t ever feel the same kind of way about any other kind of film. I mean other stuff around like The Wild Geese (1978) and Star Wars (1977) and all these kind of things. There was plenty of stuff that was violent but there was nothing that made you feel so sickened and guilty about it as his stuff.  It felt like it was really happening to you and you felt afraid by it. I think the only other time I had seen that was maybe Scorsese’s stuff or maybe Ghosts of the Civil Dead (1988).

Like Mean Streets (1973)?

BW: Well I was thinking more like Taxi Driver (1976) or Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967) and that really affected me but that’s what its supposed to be about where you’re portraying it in a way that isn’t realistic and I recognise that from life, where I’ve either seen violence or been involved in it and it didn’t feel like movie violence. That’s why I felt it was a type of filmmaking that made more sense. I suppose Cathy Come Home (1966) has that kind of element to it and things like Ladybird Ladybird (1994) made me feel like that. There’s something more sensational but less polite about Clarke, he wants you to feel it as well as understand it. A lot of the films are just a warning not to get caught in the cogs of society or you’ll get ground up. It seems to be a recurring theme, that the machine was uncaring and that there may be these people full of faults and problems but they were still human.

At the time, Clarke’s work was often criticised for looking too much like a documentary (Scum, Christine, Contact in particular). What is your opinion on this?

BW: It depends where the criticism comes from, does it come from people who are worried about people tuning in half way through thinking it was real? I don’t think it’s a criticism that stands up now, I mean if it was for purely aesthetic reasons then it’s down to different tastes. Its like all the asinine comments by people saying that films shouldn’t be shot handheld because its amateur. It depends from what perspective they are saying that, because films look very different from each other all the time. I mean its like The Battle of Algiers (1966), is that a shit film because its shot like a documentary?

People’s experience of real life is through handheld devices like news cameras, camcorders and phones. So if you shoot stuff in that mode then the people believe its more real and a way into the drama as opposed to sitting back and thinking its like a Hollywood film. I understand why he shot in the way that he did because he was trying to make you believe and get rid of that controlled artificial feeling.

JO: I am actually surprised to hear that, at that point there’d been a considerable amount of film and TV that adapted that ethos, you could even look to The French Connection (1971) to see that it had become part of mainstream filming. Maybe there was a backlash against that that I am unaware of, but of course also Mr. Clarke was making films for the BBC, and i can’t pretend to be knowledgeable enough of all BBC productions in the 70’s to get a picture of the standard operating procedure, but it seems like the criticism of someone just looking for a criticism. It definitely would make most viewers unsettled, as there is nothing to fall back on, so to speak. Christine (1987) and Contact could see how he was really pushing into an almost rarefied hyper-reality, those films, like Elephant, really don’t put off a documentary like feel, but much more like an aestheticised quality. The hand held camera of his earlier films implies a cameraman, but the steadicam implies omniscience.

Personally I think the comment about them looking more like a documentary is a compliment to Clarke’s ability as a director to make his dramas look “real”.

BW: Exactly. All that people want, and who are these people? They set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner of art. Who are they and what have they done? It’s like bring me the shame-faced people who gave bad reviews to Nic Roeg’s films throughout his career.

In 1972 Clarke directed “To Encourage The Others” and “Under the Age” both for the BBC. TETO was based on the book and play by David Yallop and the evidence it contains twice forced governments to re-open a murder case long since closed and finally in 1993 lead to the granting of a posthumous Royal pardon to Derek Bentley. Under the Age features a transgender barmaid and openly touches on the subject of homosexuality (decriminalised only a few years earlier). Clearly both groundbreaking and challenging works at the time.

JO: I would imagine so. To Encourage The Others is actually one of my favorites of Clarke’s films. Not being subject to British laws, but being there a lot at the time, I was unaware of such barbaric laws, so it is all the more fascinating how much of it I saw in the British films and TV shows I knew at the time. There is definitely a kind of “problems picture” quality to Under the Age, but I didn’t know it was as radical as it was.

BW: It was all risky that stuff and if you look at what goes on now; where’s Alan Clarke, where’s Dennis Potter – they don’t exist in our modern world at all. It’s such a sad state of affairs when you look back to that period and they were so adventurous. We’ve got plenty of other types of TV from that period we’ve got game shows and talent shows, we still have all that but we haven’t got any of that sort of agit-prop theatre stuff. I guess because at the time and because of the focus, there were fewer channels so you really were speaking to the nation and addressing those issues but you could make that stuff now and people wouldn’t watch it.

Because there’s too many channels so too much choice?

BW: It’s not too much choice, you’ve got choice but if you don’t like bad news you can turn over and watch sport. You don’t have to watch theatre on TV anymore but back then it was like, what else are we going to do? Plus you had to get up out of your seat and turn it over!

Do you think it is just a sign of the times that everything seems to be reality television and is that really what people want? Although arguably in the US that’s where some of the best TV drama is being made like BREAKING BAD, HOMELAND and HBO dramas

BW: I wonder, I mean television in the US is different but if you’re talking about mainstream cinema that goes on national release you’re right but it’s a bigger thing than that isn’t it? American Independent cinema is pumping out like 500 movies a year, which we’re never ever going to get to see outside of film festivals. Then there’s Festivals like Karlovy Vary where you see all the European stuff that you’re even less likely to get to see. I mean there could be masterpiece after masterpiece being made out there.

Even with the really good HBO stuff, its still all genre stuff like DEADWOOD is still a cowboy show and THE SOPRANOS is still a gangster show.

Although we’ve got film directors like Soderbergh and Campion going back to making drama for television, nothing as yet still seems as edgy as the type of dramas that Clarke was making

BW: It’s different though because the turnover was a lot faster, Play for Today’s were ephemera so you’d bang it out and it was done and then move on to the next one. You didn’t have any of the risks, any of the pressures of returning characters and storylines. You’d make it then move on.

It’s dangerous to broadly say we live in terrible times but the shame of it is that the way BBC should be run is that if something is a commercial success then it should become an ITV show. If you look at it in broad strokes and what they should be doing is making stuff that no one else will make but as soon as they do that they get criticised for making stuff that no one watches and wasting the licence payer’s money, so they cant win.

I really liked it when they got rid of people like Dave Lee Travis and others from Radio 1 and brought in all this fresh new blood. But everybody was like, why are you doing this? It’s not what its for, its not about being popular, its about certain types of music for certain types of people and I think its the same for the Television side, they should get back to taking risks because they are in the privileged position to take those risks. I mean I watch Strictly Come Dancing, I’m not ashamed to admit I watch it with my family and enjoy it, so I’m not snobby about these things. They just don’t balance it out with the other stuff. A big brassy show like that should be on ITV.

JO: But, to some degree, at least in the States now, like you mentioned Soderbergh, I think part of the reason is because these are the only outlets for them to make something that is even somewhat close to the kind of films they want to make. There was definitely a stigma to working in television in the past, I mean for instance, people would speak badly of someone like Curtis Harrington because he moved into television, but that was the only work he could get as the economics change. And the economics are directly tied to the kind of work you can make, whether we like it or not.

TO ENCOURAGE THE OTHERS was shot on multi-camera colour video for the court scenes, colour 35mm for the re-enactment of the crime that opens the film and then uses a rapid montage of B&W stills to illustrate and differentiate evidential re-enactments. This has been compared to Peter Watkins forensic style documentary approach, another director you have recently been compared to yourself with your film A Field in England (2013).

BW: I think both Clarke and Watkins are kind of influences but I’d say that both are more precise political filmmakers than I am. I like their stuff and I use elements of it, but its a different era and different to the kind of thing that I’m involved in. We’re interested at coming at it from slightly different positions.

A year after The Wicker Man (1973), Penda’s Fen was screened by the BBC in 1974. David Rudkin’s script tackled subjects as diverse as religion, politics, censorship, homosexuality and paganism. It’s hard to contemplate what the impact must have been when this was first broadcast nearly 40 years ago. I’m interested to hear your own thoughts on Penda’s Fen.

JO: Penda’s Fen was startling for me when I saw it, because it was about the twelfth or so Clarke film I’d seen, and was the first, that I had seen to use, for lack of a better world, a representation of fantasy. I guess I had been swept up in my idea of Clarke-auterism to overlook that, just like a lot of other great directors, working within a genre can be bent, twisted, and reshaped to your own means, and this was the first time I had seen Clarke do that from the “inside” of the image, as opposed to how he approached the image.

BW: It’s less nuts than the Stars of the Roller State Disco (1984) or Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire (1985)! They’re just fuckin’ crazy! That’s the good side of all that stuff is that they can make something as crazy as all that and then just go out and say alright!

I saw Penda’s Fen quite late, what I liked about it when I read up on it is that Clarke said he didn’t know what the script meant either. I loved the fact that he said that as well. It is a film that you can see that he just went with it and he came to terms with it afterwards didn’t he? He started to understand it more afterwards and I watched it, thought about it a few more times and it resonated. It would have blew your mind watching it back then in 1974. I mean I’ve been watching old Dr Who episodes from that time and they’re like bad enough! It’s like that old Nigel Kneale stuff, you have to forgive it a bit when you watch it but its like going to the theatre and the framing and pacing of it are very slow and difficult and some of the acting is a little bit quirky but once you get in the door you’re alright.

Three years later Clarke made SCUM for the BBC, which they promptly banned then two year’s later in 1979 with writer Roy Minton, a film version was made with a few different scenes to the original TV version.

JO: Seeing the BBC version of Scum finally was a real treat. As much as I like the film version, I much prefer the BBC version. I feel it is a stronger cast as well. I actually wasn’t aware of the conflict with the Home Office, but what’s surprising anymore? One of the things I liked about Scum was the lack of sentimentality, with no escape route that films like this, or “issue films” in general offer. I remember in particular the scenes involving the slightly more nuanced boy who feels he has gotten through to one of his keepers. That’s a hard balancing act to achieve, these kind of scenes always risk having the words from the characters turn into a direct megaphone for the writer, especially in the case of the boy who seems to be a bit more philosophical about his situation. This is a nuance I think Clarke really excels at. I’ve never once felt preached to by one of his films, it’s a really rare gift.

BW: I don’t remember it being banned at the time; all I know about is the film. I only found out about the TV version during the “Banned” season on Channel 4 and The War Game (1965) etc.

Scum was originally pitched to the BBC as a trilogy of dramas focusing on Police training, Army Training and Borstal

BW: I’d like to have seen all of those. That’s interesting because isn’t that how Elephant was commissioned as well? It was to be three films and involving Danny Boyle. He directed one and produced another, and then there was a third one. I remember them being on TV. Scum was the film that made me feel afraid. Scum and Made in Britain are both kind of similar in that way in the pulling away of the scales to children, they’re like the Brothers Grimm – in like this is what will happen to you if you fuck about and you’ll end up in these institutions. It’s like a kind of unglamorous version of A Clockwork Orange (1971) isn’t it? I think in Scum its more that he goes in to borstal and they offer him the opportunity of becoming a monster to fit in with the system and he takes it, and then he rebels against that as well because he’s just too wild and then they beat the shit out of him. That’s the Carlin story and then there’s the character Archer, his story is more like the voice of the writer. It’s also like a cowboy movie isn’t it? I mean its Shane (1953) isn’t it? They push him and they push him and then he fights back.

JO: The thing I took from both Scum and Made in Britain, well most of Clarke’s films, is his interest in showing the circle of how the violence is institutionalized and self-sustaining. Despite the sense that someone might have that they are rebelling, they are rebelling in relation to a world they are no longer a part of, they are now part of a world that feeds upon it’s consumption and expulsion of violence, and how someone defines themselves by it.

Psy-Warriors (1981), Elephant and Contact all deal with the subject of the troubles in Northern Ireland a very hot topic in Britain at the time. It would be unfair to label Clarke a political filmmaker but he did not shy away from filming important issues of the day, which perhaps could be argued courted controversy.

JO: Psy-Warriors is an especially interesting film I think, unlike Elephant and Contact, they offer some way in for the casual viewer, which most of his viewers were most likely. I’m actually curious if there were “fans” of particular directors for Play for Today or shows like that. I can understand how writers grew in fame because of most likely stage productions and the like, but I wonder how many people thought they were seeing “the new Alan Clarke”. Anyways, Psy-Warriors on first viewing strongly brought up memories of Peter Watkins’ Evening Land (1977) and The Seventies People (1975), if I’m remembering correctly. I guess it would still be a little off-center for most television films at the time, but I really like the, for Clarke, almost off putting coldness of it. I need to see that one again…

BW: He wasn’t afraid of being a political filmmaker and that’s the thing where most people don’t fucking go! The bombings were still going on when these were being filmed and when they were filming Elephant in Belfast. These people can find out where you are and where you live, everyone can. It’s like its both sides and the secret service, so perhaps he didn’t give a shit, but that’s how I would think about it now.

Imagine going to BBC and trying to get that commissioned now

BW: No, but then maybe the commission was about that. It wasn’t that he had an idea and took it to them, they may have said they want stuff like this, what have you got? So he went “well what about this?” Fine, then I’ll do it. When you see it, you can feel your hair on the back of your neck going up and then you come out the other side.

Do you find that as the film goes on you almost become desensitised to the violence/killings, which was perhaps part of the point of the film?

BW: It’s not so much that, its more that we are designed for narrative, so we look for stories in everything and its how you understand what people are thinking by looking at faces because you make up a story about it. But there’s no story in this. You’re desperately trying to find a story but there isn’t one, because there is no narrative. It’s that tit for tat stuff that is beyond understanding, its like you’re watching it and then it ends and you are like, what?! There is no punishment, like where is Inspector Morse?! It doesn’t get tied up and it never gets set up so that’s much more like a real thing.

JO: Yes, that is the key element, and sort of relates to what I was saying earlier, in that you’re using a certain set of rules, ways of watching, and when it doesn’t follow them, or give the desired results, hopefully the reaction should be an awareness of those expectations and a new way of seeing, which is what I think is really effective in Clarke’s steadicam films. Even with Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, the disconnect is invigorating.

It could be said that as we watch Elephant and as the scenes of the senseless killings continue we become less shocked by them, could be leveled at the characters of Jay and Gal in Kill List (2011) and the impact on us of their continual killing spree.

BW: I think its a different thing, I think you’d be more on it if you had used Scum as an example than Elephant, because you are so far back you are like an angel following or floating behind him and its a very different feeling from Kill List which is because its showing as a socio-realist documentary style you’re drawn into their story and you have protagonists. Its a different thing because you are with the protagonists and you spend time with them, so you sympathise with them and they do appalling things and then you feel bad about that. Elephant you don’t know who these people are, you never really see their faces. It’s a different set up. Carlin is more of a Kill List character because you follow him, you get to know him, you get to understand what his motivations are then he does appalling things and its kind of cool and the whole “I’m the Daddy now” scene.

There’s that weird structure within it, in the film, which doesn’t happen in the TV version; you’ve got that horrible rape involving characters you’ve never seen before. They up the ante and the horribleness of it but with nothing to do with the main plot.

Tim Roth and Gary Oldman would go on to direct films of their own, still only one a piece, which both seem very Clarke-influenced – The War Zone (1999) and Nil by Mouth (1997) respectively.

JO: I wish they would make more! I can only imagine how difficult it must be for them, despite the respect they have, to put together the kind of films they want to make. You can’t underestimate having someone in your life who not only teaches you about your craft, but instills in you the strength to hold to your convictions, which Clarke so obviously had. It is one of the greatest gifts someone can give you, that peek into the good and the bad that is to come, which is reflected in both their experience and in their character. I can only imagine what an inspirational man Clarke must have been, but as there are people all over the world held captivated by his work, and the feeling that they must share that with others, that’s as much evidence as you need of his strength.

BW: I think I remember reading Tim Roth saying that he went to America because he couldn’t find any directors like Clarke in the UK and that was it. There’s nobody else doing that kind of edgy stuff.

Christine, Diane (1975) and Horace (1972) all focus on varying aspects of troubled youths from drug dealing to incest to mental illness. All these are still every day issues today and yet, rarely topics openly discussed and certainly less so back at the time that Clarke was making them.

JO: Even if everyone who caused these problems tuned in and saw these films, or films like them, we’d still have these problems in the world unfortunately.  It’s a slow process, and in any endeavor, the hope is you get a few people to realize these things in their own life, the life of others. Even for Clarke, most likely, these films were his own way of starting to find a way to make these questions a concrete presence in his life. Christine is a particularly strong case, I never felt that Clarke was showing me this girl’s life, but also trying to make sense of it himself. This is a quality of his films that has never lost it’s energy, regardless of time and place. Technically, the steadicam really helps this, that lack of “author’s movement” really frees the viewer to become the author, in a sense.

The Firm (1989) is as much a film about football hooliganism and violence as it is about families and tribes

BW: There’s usually a cooler system underpinning Clarke’s stuff; there’s a machine that moves the characters around. There’s coldness in there. He’s always saying something. He worked within genre sometimes and then sometimes he just goes off and is very formalist and does his own thing. You look at Christine, as soon as he gets hold of the steadicam it’s almost like an art film in the same way that Elephant is.

JO: It might just be because I saw The Firm after I knew Gary Oldman, but I found it a bit more of a performance driven film than his others, even more so than Made in Britain. In this way, I read it more on a personal level, the Oldman character not just as indicative of the problems, but an insight into why those problems exist. The dynamic with his family, friends, work, the insecurity that underlies it all spoke to me more as England finding it’s footing in the world; the big family, after the 70’s when it had changed so much. So it is about family, but reaching out even more so, I think.

Clarke’ became almost synonymous with his use of the steadicam

BW: Isn’t there a steadicam shot in Scum? There are some very long shots that travel up and down stairs or it might have been something like an easy-rig. An easy-rig is like a rucksack basically with a harness, which has got an iron bar that comes over the top and then it’s got a hook on it. All our films are shot on that, so Laurie (Rose) always uses that. Actually Down Terrace (2009) isn’t shot on that but everything subsequently was on easy-rigs, so it’s like a poor man’s steadicam. You can do quite long shots, they’re not hand held and they’re not as silky like the steadicams. Clarke’s work has some of the best use of steadicam ever.

JO: Clarke’s steadicam work is still second to none. I am especially fond of Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, that is really remarkable. Technically, of course, Stars of the Roller State Disco is astounding, but in a way the opposite of that is what I find so remarkable about his use of camera, especially when it was in it’s infancy. With most steadicam shots, and crane shots for that matter, either highlight their disassociated omniscient stance, or worse, “hit the spots” showing small details for diegetic purposes, one after another, you can even sense the continuity person checking off the list as it goes, and this is a particular bane in films of the last 10-15 years for me, The fluidity of Clarke’s steadicam work is not the liquidity of it, but the fact that it never draws attention to it, which allows you as a viewer to fill the vessel yourself. Truly remarkable, and very much a political decision, I think.

A director who picked up on issues of the day

BW: It’s kind of like Corman, it’s taken from the headlines and it’s turned into them, or like Sam Fuller. To make a film like Elephant at the height of the troubles is so unbelievably ballsy. I don’t think there was anyone who was making movies that political or in the mainstream at that time except maybe Loach. The closest you get to it now is maybe Paul Greengrass United 93 (2006) is from the headlines and it has that feel to it. He’s a kind of cross over documentary/filmmaker and Bloody Sunday (2002) is very Clarke-ian.

JO: You had a lot of that in Japanese cinema in the 70’s, not so much now unfortunately, despite it being even easier and cheaper to make a film now more than ever before. That’s what sort of befuddles me, I’m looking for the Fuller’s of today. There seems to be quite a good deal of work like that coming out of Australia right now, and I like the way Philipe Grandrieux is making an active effort to engage with the here and now. In some odd way, he seems to have taken Clarke’s ideas to a new level.

As well as being a pioneer of the steadicam, he was fond of using varying lengths of camera lens, the close-up etc. As a director can you speak about the technical side of Clarke’s work?

BW: He also did the stuff which splits into two beats, because there’s other types of things like Baal (1982) and Psy Warriors which are both very theatrical. They’re shot very flat and like on a tableau. So he’s a very hard guy to quantify. He’s like that and its like Nic Roeg or Ken Russell, they are not people who you can really pick their styles apart and mimic them really. Maybe in bits but you never really get underneath the skin of what it actually is that he’s doing because there are too many elements to it and his choices are varied, like his political choices, they’re not always aesthetic choices.

In a way that Loach and Leigh’s styles are kind of an invisible style where characters almost disappear into the background of the film but Roeg and Clarke were more visible. In Loach and Leigh an edit is invisible and filmmaking is something you should never notice, you should be drawn in by the characters, where with like Russell or Roeg it’s like really in your face. Here it is, this is the story and this is the feeling and I think that Clarke kind of falls between those two.

What Clarke was doing back then technically was totally revolutionary, I mean its revolutionary still now. It’s a singular moment. From like Christine on it’s totally modern.

I see a parallel in your own film Down Terrace with The Firm, a crime film very much about gangsters and violence, but intrinsically about families.

BW: The thing that really surprised me about The Firm is when you realise he’s an estate agent and the arguments he has with his wife are much more violent than any of the rest of the film for me. That’s just horrible.

Drunken blokes bashing each other up over football, I mean who cares, but when you see that scene with the kid who has his mouth slashed open with the blade, its just horrible.

Then you see Oldman going back to his mum’s and up to his bedroom and smashing the bed up with the weapon. That’s when you feel the real ferocity of it, also its one of the greatest Oldman performances.

With the Down Terrace thing, the psychological violence is as important as the physical violence in it but we also knew we were never going to do like a shoot out in a spaghetti house like in The Godfather (1971) or something like that. It had to be about the violence that the people in the family does to each other and with their chums and that’s much grimmer and more affecting. The thing about Down Terrace and with Kill List is that a lot of stuff revolves around how you can relate to it. So when someone gets shot, you’ve no reference, you don’t care because it’s a TV thing or a film thing, but when someone who gets shouted at by their dad, you know what it is because it happens, Its happened to you.

Down Terrace was originally a script we’d written in the 90’s called Robin and Robert and it was for Rob (Hill) and Bob (Hill) to play the characters. Amy (Jump) and I had written it and it was about contemporary artists, it was like Gilbert and George. The family went back in history back to like medieval times like crofters or something but whenever the son had a child the father would have to retire and then there would always be a father and son, so that’s the story. So by the time we get to Down Terrace it had all got changed around but the core of the story is that the father is replaced because the son becomes the father and then when a new child is introduced the whole balance of power has to change because there’ll no longer be a baby anymore. The mother is the same, like fuck, we’re out, we’ll have to be retired and that’s why they fight against it. Its like the line “I much preferred it when it was just the two of us” and its partly to do with growing up and maturity. That was another thing about that film it was a small business and they just happened to do something else because you never really knew what they do. Its never really said what they do. Nefarious, but enough for them to kill people over it.

 

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