Tag Archives: Al Joshua

Set The Thames on Fire goes LOCO with Noel Fielding, Sally Phillips and Sadie Frost

23 Apr

 

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The flooded, dystopian London of Set The Thames on Fire

“I saw the script, which called for me to play a transvestite, paedophile drug addict, and thought: ‘typecast again’!”

This is Noel “The Mighty Boosh” Fielding in the Q&A session following the UK premiere on Thursday of Set The Thames on Fire, answering how he came to be in a movie that comes on like Withnail and I directed by Terry Gilliam by way of Peter Greenaway and set in a dystopian retro-Dickensian London in which the Thames has burst its banks.

The BFI Southbank is an unexpectedly conventional setting in which to see one of the most original, daring and visually ravishing British debuts in years. Set The Thames on Fire was opening the LOCO comedy festival, and that was peculiar too, since despite boasting Noel Fielding and Sally Phillips in the cast, and having moments of the blackest humour, it’s as much tragedy as comedy: “An agony in three acts”, as it rather grandly announces at the start.

“I’ll turn you into a glove puppet next time!” Fielding calls out to a man in a gimp suit escaping from him in terror, in his key scene. “I’ll wear you like a fucking suit!” In pigtails and a frilly petticoat over fishnet tights and a gigantic white codpiece, Fielding is equal parts terrifying and hilarious; but at the Q&A, leaping down the aisles in silver boots to offer the mike to questioners, so clearly wanting to be centre-stage that the film-makers eventually invited him up to share the platform – “You might regret that, I’m very drunk” – he is simply hilarious.

Sally Phillips was also in the audience. Playing a fortune-teller whose father used to run the town, before the hateful, bloated, perverted Impresario took over, she gives the film its moral heart and emotional charge. She’s a revelation. In one scene she recalls Bob Hoskins in his magnificent long closing close-up in The Long Good Friday.

Sally appreciated the challenge of a non-comedic role. “I was expecting to play the whoreish landlady,” she said, of the part which went to the film’s co-producer, Sadie Frost. “But Ben [Charles Edwards, the director] swapped us round. I was astonished by how confident and comforting he was to work for in every area – and what an incredible-looking film it is from one so young.”

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Makers of Set The Thames on Fire interviewed, left to right: writer/composer Al Joshua, director Ben Charles Edwards, producer/actor Sadie Frost, and comedian Noel Fielding; LOCO co-founder Jonathan Wakeham standing, right.

Sadie Frost, too, was happy to big up her young director. “I’ve known Ben a long time,” she said, “and he’s so comfortable directing the cast and crew. No one’s made me into a muse before – but he did! I’ve been in every short film he’s made. We [at Blonde to Black Pictures] saw talent in him but thought he needed some discipline, so we said if you jump through this hoop and that hoop we’ll make a feature with you.”

The hoop project, however, worked only so far. Ben’s never been afraid to bend a few rules to protect the film he wants to make. “To get it commissioned,” he said in answer to a question about the film’s spectacular look, “I stood in front of the  producers and just lied! I said there would be just six special effects – I think in the end there were more like 104.”

Al Joshua, who wrote the screenplay, based the main characters of Art and Sal on himself and Ben – they shared a flat together in east London years ago. A brilliant musician who had previously achieved cult success with the band Orphans & Vandals, he also took over duties as composer when the original score commissioned failed to match the film’s romantic but decidedly off-kilter tone, by which time he had only a couple of weeks to come up with the whole thing.

“Some of the melodies had been in my head a long time,” Al said. “But I didn’t even have a computer , so Ben gave me an iPad with his rough cut on it, and I sat there with a guitar and piano. Music has to pull the whole thing together. There’s a main theme that reoccurs in different forms – there’s a waltz at one point, piano at the end – and which sums up Art’s character.”

Al proved even stubborner than Ben when it came to protecting his vision. “I turned up to the derelict studio where he and the musicians were recording the score,” said Ben, “and said I wanted to hear it, but Al put a padlock on the door and wouldn’t let me in!”

Somehow, it all came together far better than all involved dared hope; Sadie revealed she is in the final throes of negotiating a distribution deal that would give Set The Thames on Fire a September release.

It’s not, perhaps, the easiest sell: the main character is gay, it’s peopled with bizarre grotesques, and it has more uses of the “c” word than the BBFC may appreciate. But when so many low-budget British films re-tread the same old gangster, horror or kitchen-sink clichés, it’s incredibly refreshing to see one that aims for the stars. This is one of the most startlingly original and ravishing films to come out of Britain since Ben Wheatley. Judging by the rapturous response of the packed house at the BFI Southbank, there is absolutely an audience for it.

Show it, to paraphrase Field of Dreams, and they will come.

 

 

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Online at last: watch Rudy Law in Suzie Lovitt

15 Jun
A then eight-year-old Rudy Law stars as Suzie Lovitt

A then eight-year-old Rudy Law stars as Suzie Lovitt

At last! A short film I helped out on a few years ago has been put online for free viewing on Nowness.com. Suzie Lovitt is a quirky, avant-garde, ravishingly shot film starring a young Rudy Law, son of Sadie Frost (who produced the film) and Jude Law.

Rudy liked to make up characters, and in particular liked to “channel” the character of a middle-aged dry cleaner called Suzie Lovitt. When director Ben Charles Edwards saw him “doing” Suzie, he knew he had to put Rudy’s rich fantasy inner world on screen. I helped out with redrafting and restructuring Ben’s initial script, though much of it was jettisoned on the day to let Rudy do his own thing. Just don’t take the stories of family life in it to be a true reflection of the Frost household – that’s all fiction! In other words, it’s not Rudy playing the part of Suzie Lovitt, but Rudy playing the part of another boy who likes to play the part of Suzie Lovitt. Very meta.

Rudy proved to be such a natural on film that Ben, Sadie and I developed another short specially for him. That’s Dotty, my favourite of all the shorts I’ve been involved in, and I’m incredibly excited to say that it too will go online on Nowness.com later this week – watch this space!

Ben Charles Edwards has since made his debut feature film with Sadie Frost and Emma Comley’s production company Blonde to Black, out next year. Set The Thames On Fire is like a darker version of Withnail & I set in a retro-Dickensian dystopian future London. This one is written by musician Al Joshua, and I have no vested interest in it beyond a cameo in a party scene, so you can believe me when I say that, having seen a (very) rough cut, it promises to be one of the most bizarre and visually striking films you’ll ever see.

To watch Suzie Lovitt, click here.

See my short, Dotty, for free! Plus: amazing new feature Set The Thames On Fire

6 Nov
Dotty, starring Sadie Frost and her son Rudy Law

Dotty, starring Sadie Frost and her son Rudy Law

If you’re in London this Saturday lunchtime, grab the chance to watch Dotty on the big screen – for free! Dotty is a truly lovely short film that I dreamed up and Ben Charles Edwards directed, about a troubled young boy growing up in Nevada in the ‘60s who forges a life-changing friendship with an eccentric lady in a mysterious trailer in the desert. I was very loosely inspired in writing it by Harold and Maude, and there’s a reveal at the end that still sends chills up my spine, thanks in part to a haunting Danny Elfmanesque score by Paul Honey.

Sadie Frost won a well-deserved Best Actress award in the title role from the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival (I flew over for that, see here), and the boy is touchingly played by her real-life son by Jude Law, Rudy Law. Dotty has screened in 20-odd festivals round the world already, and this is its second London outing, following Raindance. It’s showing as part of the Fringe! Queer Film and Arts Festival, now in its tenth year, together with four other shorts under the themed of “Growing Pains”. Tickets are free, but you should book them in advance here.

I can’t be there in person, sadly. I’m going back to my old Oxford college for its Careers Day, to give advice to students contemplating a future in journalism. That advice, incidentally, distilled to its essentials, is THERE IS NO FUTURE IN JOURNALISM! RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!

Set The Thames posterDotty’s visionary young director Ben Charles Edwards has since made his feature-film debut, with Sadie Frost, Emma Comley and Andrew Green as producers. I’ve seen some rushes, and it looks extraordinary (and not just because I am in it, briefly, playing a music producer in a huge quifftastic hat). It’s like a darker version of Withnail & I set in a retro-Dickensian dystopian future London, and it’s called Set The Thames On Fire. The screenplay is by the very talented musician Al Joshua, whose recent showcase gig  I wrote about here.

Check out the amazing pics for Set Thames On Fire on the new website.

The new folk hero: Al Joshua’s showcase gig at Ronnie Scott’s

14 Jul

Al Joshua press picAl Joshua, who plays a showcase gig at Ronnie Scott’s Upstairs on Tuesday (July 15) that you’d be foolish to miss, is one of the cleverest, funniest, charmingest, bolshiest, stubbornnest people I’ve met. He had a promising music career and strong cult following a few years back as Orphans & Vandals, but has been out of the limelight for a while – working on new songs, and writing the screenplay for Set The Thames On Fire, a dystopian sci-fi buddy movie directed by Ben Charles Edwards which finished shooting a couple of months ago.

A few years is a long time in the music biz. Al’s comeback gig at the Notting Hill Arts Club a few weeks back was attended only by his new manager and a few friends.

Yet it was one of the most mesmerising gigs I have witnessed.

How to describe Al’s songs? There’s a dash of Tom Waits, a sprinkling of Bob Dylan. But they sound raw and fresh and achingly lovely. Though delivered by just one man with a guitar sitting on a stool with a black rapscallion hat perched on his ginger hair, they don’t seem retro at all. These are songs of loss and longing, distinguished by a rare linguistic dexterity. Songs to be listened to. And, in typically stubborn defiance of the conventional wisdom about attention spans getting shorter, they’re mostly about ten minutes long. You wouldn’t want them any shorter.

Al’s signature tune, perhaps, is I Love You Madly. You can play it on Soundcloud here, but it’s especially hypnotic live – the phrase, when it comes, repeated again and again in urgent but subtly different ways like a mania, a mantra, a plea, a prayer.

His manager, an industry veteran with a strong track record, told me after the gig that he had had no desire to take Al on. He didn’t exactly seem like the most commercially lucrative prospect. But then he heard the songs… “And damn him, I just couldn’t not say yes.”

Click here for discounted tickets to Ronnie Scott’s Upstairs on July 15.

 

Despatch from Hollywood #3: the night I became Sadie Frost

15 Feb

ImagePhew! Yesterday was fun. I’ve picked up awards for magazine editing before, but never for film.

A couple of years ago, I stood on the stage of the Dolby Theater, where the Oscars take place, and yelled “You like me! You really like me!” over the empty chairs. I vowed to be back someday for real.

Okay, so it wasn’t actually my award, it was Sadie Frost’s. Her achievement in winning Best Actress in a Short is especially impressive given the competition, which, having watched ten hours of shorts at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, I can tell you was stiff. Sadie was up against not just Juliet Stevenson, but the ageless Lee Meriwether, as well as Caitlin Harris who is terrific as Vivien Leigh in Love Scene.

And okay, this wasn’t quite the Oscars. But it was still good to get up there, in Hollywood, in a rep cinema owned by Quentin Tarantino (the New Beverly), in front of a hundred-odd gifted film-makers and actors. I apologised for not being Sadie, since “I’m not nearly as pretty as her”, and on her behalf thanked Sadie’s son Rudy, the film’s producers, cinematographer John Hicks, and of course “the director, Ben Charles Edwards, who’s ridiculously young, handsome and talented – the bastard”. I hope the Californian natives understand British humour.

Set The Thames on FireAnd on that note, I’m delighted to draw your attention to today’s Hollywood Reporter article which officially announces that Sadie Frost will be producing Ben’s first feature film. It’s called Set The Thames On Fire, after a Tom Waits lyric, and he and the writer, the also hugely talented raconteur, flâneur, wit and songsmith Al Joshua, have been developing this project for a year or more. Last time I was with them, they showed me some amazing artwork for their modern-Dickensian, dystopian alternate London.

I had no idea till then that their buddy-movie project, which I always thought of as “Withnail And I in Shoreditch”, had spun off into fantasy. But with Ben, you always have to expect the unexpected. Fingers crossed they get the film – and the cast – they deserve.

More reviews from the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival tomorrow. Or maybe the next day, if I get distracted by the joys of LA and my feature deadlines!

Hollywood Costume: why clothes maketh the man

22 Jan
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Animal Charm: great costume design for our terrorista fashionistas

There’s an old expression that, to understand someone, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. This is what many actors do. Literally. They find the character through the clothes.

That’s why the V&A’s Hollywood Costume exhibition, which closes on Jan 27 (tickets sold out online but still available on the day), is such an eye-opener. “There’s no doubt costume is character,” says Martin Scorsese in a video interview. “You can feel the transformation.”

There’s Matt Damon’s grey clothes from Bourne: simple, utilitarian, designed to blend into a crowd. They made 25 identical outfits due to the abuse received in the action sequences. At the other end of the scale, there’s Marlene Dietrich’s exquisite dress for Angel, on which a score of embroiderers worked for two and a half weeks.

And, best of all, Indiana Jones’s outfit. “A cultural icon is born when the character can be instantly recognised in his silhouette,” says costume designer Deborah Landis. The designer has to bear in mind practical as well as aesthetic considerations: the famous beaver-felt hat was given a specially short brim to allow the cameras to see Harrison Ford’s eyes.

My own revelation came on the featurette I co-wrote with director Ben Charles Edwards, Animal Charm, starring Sadie Frost, Sally Phillips and Boy George. In the opening scene, Frost’s character is kidnapped by terrorista fashionistas objecting to her promotion of fur. (See trailer here: http://bit.ly/y78KML.)

We wrote the scene as “three women in balaclavas”. But when it came to filming, it was decided that these ex-models would wear something more daring: knitted balaclavas by Piers Atkinson were procured, with full make-up and attached wig. Stylish, provocative, more than slightly sinister, they became a defining image of the film.

It’s a timely reminder that even character, as Joaquin Phoenix pointed out in his gracious London Critics’ Circle Award speech this week (bit.ly/10D8sra), is a collaboration. Critics sometimes write as if the director is the only person who matters. They are the person responsible, of course, and it’s their vision, ultimately, that is being served. But they are only as good as their team: costume, lighting, cinematography, sound, score, editing, actors and, yes, writers.

One reason I predict great things for Ben Charles Edwards (talent, youth and fearlessness apart), is that he knows how to get the best from that team. When last we met, he was a whisker away from getting funding for his first feature, written by the brilliant musician Al Joshua of Orphans & Vandals. If so, it will be one to watch.