Tag Archives: festival

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.

 

 

The future is now. Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder

17 Sep
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2001: A Space Odyssey, to be re-released as part of the Days of Fear and Wonder festival

It’s sci-fi, Jim, but not as we know it. The BFI today released full details of their festival Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, and I have to say I’m impressed. Normally we in London get all the cool pop-ups, all the hot-tub/rooftop/secret cinemas, but this festival does a fine job spreading weirdness right across the land.

Want to watch sci-fi down a North Welsh mine filled with trampolines? Follow clues through the streets of Glasgow to find a screening of Escape From New York? See Mad Max 2 in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in Belfast? Watch eco-dome sci-fi film Silent Running at the Eden Project? Catch a starlit drive-in show at the Herstmonceux Observatory and Science Museum in East Sussex?

There are over a thousand screenings and events in over 200 locations around the country, including three months of programming at the BFI Southbank. The search function has just been added today to the BFI website.

My mind is blown. I was a sci-fi nut as a kid, though films were pretty sparse. The queue for Planet of the Apes stretched several times round the block. Star Wars made me vow to be involved in movies when I grew up. After I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I made a point of tracking down all the B-movies name-checked in the Science Fiction Double Feature song (which, in some kind of dream/reality confusion worthy of Father Ted, Patricia Quinn sang to me and a handful of other party guests in Kim Newman’s kitchen last summer).

By now, a lot of the science-fiction I loved has become ancient history. Take 2001: A Space Odyssey (re-released in a digital transfer on Nov 28), or the comic 2000AD. We’re living more than a decade in the future from those once far-flung predictions. We may not quite yet be commuting to work on jet-packs, but we will soon be in driverless cars.

Sci-fi has emerged from the fringes to become not only the dominant blockbuster form, but its visionary cinema of ideas is being celebrated by the BFI in their biggest and most ambitious festival ever. Truly, the Geeks have inherited the Earth.

Blondie go Atomic at Kew The Music festival

10 Jul

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You may know Debbie Harry as a singer, the first modern female pop star, architect of a string of hits including six UK No 1s across three decades with her group Blondie. But it was a different side of her we saw at the launch of Kew The Music last night in Kew Gardens: Deborah Harry the performer, an actress with 54 credits to her name on IMBD. A favourite of cult directors, her roles that stick in my mind are Union City, Videodrome and Hairspray, in which she was not just “good, for a singer”, but plain good.

After a sadly lacklustre and broken-voiced support performance by Hugh Cornwell, his old Stranglers songs sounding naked without Dave Greenfield’s swirling keyboard arpeggios, Blondie came on to the strains of an old Russian song, the intro of demagogues, and launched immediately into a blistering rendition of One Way or Another. As we know from her hit, she’s not the kind of girl who gives up just like that, and a week after her 68th birthday Harry’s voice was astonishingly good: not merely intact, but stronger and more melodious than in her heyday, hitting both low and high registers with ease.

The songs were not carefully reconstructed museum pieces, but living, breathing things. Firebrand guitarist Tommy Kessler gives them a new lease of life, though occasionally straying into the sort of Guitar Hero territory that would have seen him strung from the nearest lamppost in Blondie’s punk heyday. Demented human beat factory Clem Burke still whips up a storm on the drums at nearly 58. But it’s Deborah Harry who is Queen of F***ing Everything.

Wearing a bright red dress topped with vines, like Mother Nature at a ball – presumably in homage to Kew Gardens, unless Harry wears this sort of thing all the time – she prowled the stage like a panther about to escape its cage. Every song was told like a story, and delivered like the actress she is: singing with passion, playing with the words, dropping frequently into speech. Throwaway classics such as Hanging on the Telephone and The Tide Is High were mixed with creditable new songs such as A Rose By Any Name and I Want To Drag You Around, building to epic versions of Union City Blue, Maria and Atomic, the latter so yearningly beautiful on the simple chorus, “Oh your hair is beautiful/Tonight/ Tonight” that it almost made me cry.

The whole thing ended, precisely on the final note of the encore, with fireworks over the green-lit Glasshouse. They couldn’t possibly match the ones struck on stage.

Blondie tour America in September/October. See http://www.blondie.net/