07 June, 2010

Michael Armstrong on David Bowie & Hanger Attacks: FFW2010 Day 2

On Saturday afternoon at FFW2010, the Screentalk with Michael Armstrong was preceded by a screening of The Image, which stars a young David Bowie in his first role. In this video clip, Michael talks about his working relationship with David, and how the filming was beset with difficulties.

The writer-director in our midst is a prolific and eloquent story teller -- indeed, the ‘conversation’ was almost a monologue -- and I was genuinely fascinated by what he had to say.

When asked about his influences, Michael told us he was enamoured with fairytales, folklore and mythology from an early age. He believes that “the only carnal sin [in art] is to bore.”

Michael was fervent on the issues of actor training -- “Acting is a craft, as skill… [a part] is not something [actors] can ‘make they’re own’” -- and the screenwriting business today -- “They now start the screenplay with the merchandising” -- neither of which received high praise from a man who is well-versed in both.

The decline of the British Film Industry during the 1970s, combined with the Eady Levy tax on box office receipts, meant that British films needed to fill a quota, so new production companies were given opportunities, and “horror was their best bet…independents gave opportunities to young film-makers, which was a very exciting time.”

Today, however, “[the film industry] is very nepotistic and based on networking…it’s like television, it’s very cliquey, and if you’re not part of the clique you’re an outsider.”

“The problem in the UK has always been investment, and that falls on producers. The good ones go to America. We lack film-thinking, creative producers based in the UK.”

Michael told the story of the making of Mark of the Devil, which had some audience members crying out with laughter. The original script included some ghastly character names amidst an unnecessary proliferation of S&M torture scenes and unintentional plot metamorphosis. On top of which, the filming in Germany with translators gone AWOL meant that it was a real Tower of Babel production.

Perhaps surprisingly, Michael describes himself as a very anti-violent man. His aim in making Mark of the Devil was to “make people feel sick…to show the crassness and unpleasantness… One tends for a comfortable life to put these things aside… This film shows the cruelty of what man is doing to man.” He told us about screenings of the film in America, which were accompanied by nurses waiting to attend to fainters, and vacated auditoriums smelling of vomit.

So I wasn’t going to stick around for the film itself, and decided instead to go and watch the zombie-tastic 28 Weeks Later. I asked our resident horror expert, Sarah, what she had managed to watch that day amidst all the hobnobbing.

First film of the day for Sarah was The Giant Spider Invasion, which was “very kitsch, got big laughs, and was a good warm-up for Birdemic…a giant furry spider on wheels with some horrendous acting.”

Sarah attended the two director-accompanied films on Saturday evening: David Gregory’s Plague Town, and James Nguyen’s Birdemic. Both guests were affable in the bar before and after the films, staying to chat and discuss their offerings with FFW attendees.

“David was a guest at the Museum ten years ago when he brought a double bill of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left, so it was like welcoming an old friend. The film had some spectacularly creepy touches – he has clearly learned from the masters throughout his career as horror documentary film-maker.”

Birdemic was, by all accounts, the star of the show but for all the wrong reasons. Audience members were inexplicably given coat-hangers on their way in, which was clarified when characters attempted to fight off killer birds with this as their chosen weapon. It certainly invited some great audience interaction in the style of Rocky Horror.

Sarah tells me there were cheers and howls of laughter, however the director absolutely believes it’s a romantic thriller and is quite surprised it’s been taken on at horror festivals. He is currently in talks with Hollywood about doing a sequel, which he hopes to bring to our screens in 3-D! You heard it here first.

Day 3 is the next and final blog about the Fantastic Films Weekend. Look out for a video clip of Stanley Long’s Screentalk, and closing reviews from Sarah, and the Festival’s Artistic Director, Tony Earnshaw.

If you want to hear more from Michael Armstrong, please visit the National Media Museum podcasts page, where you can listen to or download an audio podcast of the event.


Anonymous said...

The main influence of "The Image" is clearly Polanski's "Repulsion" & you can see that influence again in "Screamtime"'s second story. It's a pity that Armstrong had bad experiences early in his directing career as he showed great promise, not unlike his friend Michael Reeves.

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