My Week In Media

London

Blast From The Past

Back in a Soho studio today for the first time in ages – subterranean, chilly, scruffy and a bit wonderful – for a radio show about books and old Soho with producer/writer Des Burkinshaw, who also whipped up a terrific theme for an imagined Bryant & May series. I’d forgotten how much I missed the Soho life, although Soho itself has changed dramatically – half the shops have gone and there’s hardly anyone about. The former film/TV/schmutter/art neighbourhood now mostly consists of chain restaurants, so that anyone coming here must wonder what the fuss was all about. Where are the spivs and skivers who featured in Soho films like ‘The Small World of Sammy Lee’ and ‘Night and the City’?

I remember writing ‘Soho Black’ and feeling that in its own way every word of the novel was true – this is what it had been like to be in Soho then. I was once asked to describe my typical day to a Young Person newly arrived in a Soho job and he stared at me with a slack jaw, amazed that it could have been possible. The life had been absurdly, surreally glamorous, although none of us had even noticed it at the time. Of course it nearly killed most of us – but we knew when to get out. 

Sunday For 7 Days

The other night I went to the pictures and saw ‘A Quiet Place 2’, a passable CGI-monster franchise-builder that serves until better films come out. What depressed me most were the accompanying trailers; for a hitman revenge thriller, a car-crashing action film, a swimwear model-type who becomes an assassin and a serial-killer body-swap film with camp stereotypes, plus sequels, sequels.

This is the best Hollywood can manage? Next up is another swathe of Marvel superhero films and a two-year-old 007 film, plus some cartoons. Hollywood cinema has locked itself into an unbreakable demographic hell aimed at 16 year-old slow learners. Over the next two years, we’re told, it will all be about the IPs. Asset-stripping every minor character from every film and cartoon to give them their own franchise. I went home and watched a double bill of films set in the Weimar Republic. It sounds niche but they involved adult themes and there were no truck chases.

Remake My Day

Europe makes a hit film, Hollywood decides to remake it; what could go wrong? When we make decisions about how to adapt stories, how do we choose the right way to go? Is it pure instinct?

I watched ‘Tailgate’, a Holland-made thriller about a young family who suffer a road rage incident with the wrong driver. The story takes a very different path to ‘Duel’ or ‘Relatos Salvajes’, and turns on the hot-button topic of toxic masculinity, as the couple is pursued at a menacingly low key passive-aggressive pace into the suburbs, and must face up to the flaws in their marriage that have brought them into this conflict. It’s smart and suspenseful.

Hollywood has remade it as ‘Unhinged’, with portly Russell Crowe driving a young mum and her son off the freeway, and although the stakes are raised every single suspense beat is spectacularly missed. Out goes any truth or insight into the relationships, in comes the mass destruction of trucks, cars, pedestrians. The psychology has been replaced by trashy violence because the makers are scared they’ll lose viewers if they get too subtle. First rule of adaptation; if you can’t trust the material, do something else. 

I’m often asked why Bryant & May have not been adapted for television. The various writers who’ve attempted it played safe and wrote the stories as straightforward procedurals. I’ve always wanted someone to surprise me by upping the ante on the craziness of the books, not lowering it. No luck so far.

 

 

 

18 comments on “My Week In Media”

  1. Stu-I-Am says:

    About that lack of “responsible” scripts for a B&M series (TV or film): permit me to again ask, why haven’t you written any ? No time ? Little interest ? The production deal(s) somehow precluded that ? It’s not as if you don’t have experience scriptwriting.

  2. Joel Ivins says:

    it always makes me a little sad when areas that always had a strange, sometimes dangerous life of their own are sanitized and destroyed. the hollywood remake debate always makes me a little nauseous. i remember seeing all three “girl with the dragon tattoo” movies and loving how they were shot, the storyline, the actors…and then seeing the remake and it being like a pale, shallow copy. even with daniel craig who i think is beautiful and enjoyable in movies when i see him. hollywood is scared of new thoughts and ideas and just simply wants to make money. i myself enjoy the super hero movies, mainly because growing up in a small, small minded desert town, comics and library books were my only escape (couldn’t go to the movies till we were 18) and i view them with a sense of nostalgia. i live back in that same town and getting internet is an expensive and confusing matter so watching anything “foreign” (which i’ve always associated as “way better”) is challenging.

  3. Helen+Martin says:

    Never give up, Chris. There’s always a chance.
    There have always been concerns about so-called copycat killers when nasty methodologies turn up; I am wondering about racial hatred and its attendant violence, especially after a young man drove his pickup into a family of five waiting to cross a roadway in suburban Ontario. The family are Muslim and the only survivor is the 9 year old son. He has yet to learn of the loss of his sister, both parents, and a grandparent. Was he copying a film or those terrible sidewalk murders in France and Toronto?

  4. Stu-I-Am says:

    Ah, the flickers. An endlessly debatable subject, especially American cinema. A friend was bemoaning just the other day about the distinct lack of romance and other than gratuitous sex, for that matter. in films these days. In the modern blockbuster, as the film writer R.S. Benedict put it succinctly: “Everyone is beautiful. And yet, no one is horny.”

    But, in an age of “hookups” and “friends with benefits,” I’m not surprised that movies aimed at their target audience age range of 18-24 have little time for romance. You would have thought, however, that there would at least be some action among action heroes what with all those superpowers. I seem to recall that there was a modicum of romance even in early superhero comic books, especially those featuring Superman and Wonder Woman.

    One I recollect, if I’m not mistaken, had Superman saying he loved Wonder Woman just before a nuclear reactor was about to explode. Better late than never I suppose. I suggest, rather than hoping contemporary films rediscover romance or sex, you look to the “weepies” of the ’30s and ’40s, at least for romance and especially for a good hanky full of unrequited love. Perhaps one harbinger of a new or rehabbed era will be the return of the cinema of desire.

  5. Brian says:

    For anyone looking for the Netherlands film admin referred to, Tailgate, you will find it more easily by using its original title of Bumperkleef.

  6. admin says:

    People often ask why I don’t write the scripts myself. I’m not a traditionally trained scriptwriter, so I don’t hit the beats commercial TV requires. The bigger problem is time; scriptwriting is a full-time occupation that requires many more meetings than novel writing. It’s exhausting and requires diplomacy and tact. Not exactly my skill set!

  7. Roger says:

    …on the other hand, script-writing can be easier, more enjoyable and more profitable than “proper” writing. An elderly gentleman I knew made a very good living writing scripts for films that were never made. He said he’d thought of not bothering to actually write a script, just to see if anyone noticed.

  8. Brooke says:

    @Helen. How ghastly…I just read news via The Conversation.
    As I continue studying agnotology, I’m coming to the conclusion that there is, unfortunately, one factor leading people to commit these acts of violence against Others.

  9. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin I suspected as much about you not writing your own scripts — except the missing tact and diplomacy in your ‘skill set.’ Tact and diplomacy prevented me from suggesting this, of course. Having personally navigated the circles of Hell for a couple of films, I can more than appreciate your reluctance. One circle, in particular, was a ‘Barton Fink’-cum-‘Day of the Locust’ experience with what used to be called a ‘chase’ film (the very genre you make mention of with ‘Unhinged’) for a major production company.

    It started with a phone call from someone talking through at least one cigar. No ‘hello, this is…’ but right into, ‘Are you the writer of… ?” (Pause. Sound of shuffling paper) (Title withheld to protect the innocent). ‘We’d like you to come out here and do a rewrite.’ No mention of who ‘we’ are or, in fact, who ‘he’ and ‘here’ were. I did manage to eventually sort out that ‘he’ was the head of the production company and ‘here’ was Los Angeles and specifically, Beverly Hills.
    To make a long and gory story shorter, suffice it to say it went from worse to ‘are you havin’ a laugh ?’ After a gestation period rivaling that of an elephant, it did get made — all 50 chase sequences and crashes and with stellar dialogue like ‘Watch out!’ and ‘Look out! He’s comin’ for us again.’ And the capper to all of this mayhem was that I wound up in arbitration (and prevailed) for the writer’s credit with the director’s brother-in-law who he hired for a script ‘polish.’

    I’ll leave out the part about various and sundry would-be actors constantly asking for a part in the film. They clearly hadn’t heard the classic description of the status of screenwriters by one of the Warner brothers, who used to call all writers — even William Faulkner, who was once under his command —’schmucks with typewriters’ (‘schmuck,’ politely, is a derisive Yiddish expression for a bumpkin, an idiot).

  10. Des Burkinshaw says:

    It was great talking with you, Chris. Your hour-long interview show (including your interesting music choices!) goes out at the end of June or first week of July – The Museum of Soho on Soho Radio’s NYC + Culture channel. I’ll keep you all posted. Was good fun talking Bryant & May for so long. I’m sure most people on here will want to tune in!

  11. Stu-I-Am says:

    As an aside (about SoHo), I recall a family violin from the late 19th c. luthier Charles Chanot whose shop was at 157 Wardour Street in SoHo, in a building apparently still standing.

  12. admin says:

    There were lots of music shops; in Gerrard St (Chinatown used to be French) there was a musical instrument shop that can be seen in the film ‘A Touch of Class’, and the mosaic steps of the London Chinatown Restaurant still read: Hotel de Boulogne.

  13. Peter+T says:

    I remember the music shops. There were also a lot of guys with very big overcoats, big enough to hide a couple of sawn off shotguns and a few coshes. It all seemed part of the fun. Looking back, I wonder why they didn’t carry violin cases?

  14. SteveB says:

    If the model-turns-assassin film is Anna, I quite enjoyed that!
    At least it wasn‘t turgid and pretentious – It was like watching half a dozen episodes of Hustle end to end

  15. Paul C says:

    An old fashioned music shop in Newcastle in the1970s employed a very elderly lady in the classical music department who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. She was well known for asking customers to hum the music they were looking for and then she would disappear into the cavernous back rooms and emerge with a record then play it on the loudspeakers. She was invariably correct to the delight of the customers. A great old character straight out of an Ealing comedy.

  16. Helen+Martin says:

    Paul C, I wonder how many people went in with tunes to test the lady’s knowledge.
    Peter T, my husband reminds me that the violin cases were to hold machine guns, which are awkward to hide, while shotguns are easy to hide under those overcoats and they are more readily to hand.

  17. Ian Luck says:

    Part of the fun of visiting Soho in the past was running the gauntlet of the strip joint touts. We once took a good friend to the Raymond Revue bar (don’t bother looking for it – it’s not there now) for his 30th birthday. No trouble, and we had a pleasantly tacky evening. His wife wasn’t best pleased when she found out where we’d taken him, but you’re only 30 once.

  18. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Ian Luck ‘…you’re only 30 once.’ Clearly, you have been misinformed.

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