Four stars and two walk-outs: The world premiere of High Tide

Last Friday night saw the world premiere of our feature film High Tide at Taliesin, Swansea. It was an incredible night: we had live music (from the shimmering and wonderful Circe’s Diner), free drinks, a stringent dress code and of course we showed the finished film to an audience for the very first time. And this was as terrifying, bewildering, and ultimately as joyous as we ever hoped it would be.

After a year of some pretty difficult, dark moments for both Jimmy and myself, I must admit that I was holding back the tears when the BBFC certificate flashed on to the screen at the beginning of the film; a mixture of pride, relief and the realisation that this really could be the start of the next chapter, if you’ll forgive the clunking cliche, of our lives. I wish I could be more eloquent than I’m currently being about all of this but the night ended up at an after-hours drinking establishment in the posh end of Swansea and my increasingly middle-aged constitution is only just beginning to recover. I don’t think I have been up at 3.45am for about twenty years (having not first gone to bed) and it may be another twenty more before I am physically able to do it again.

We recorded some audience vox-pops just as people were leaving the cinema in a deliberate attempt to garner more publicity for the film. They were then shared with the small part of the world that is interested in all things Long Arm and we’ll be hammering them further this week as we build towards the cinema release. I do realise that this was the homiest of home crowds but people’s reaction to High Tide seemed to be overwhelmingly positive (and not just because we’d given them free booze before the film began) and as such I’ve embedded the video below if you want to have a look.  Do watch out for some particularly high praise from Hollywood’s Robert Pugh.

As the evening progressed and things got a little fuzzier I was asked by several people how I was feeling to which the obvious answer was that I was feeling pretty amazing (and a little drunk) but thinking about it now it does feel that the premiere was something of an inflection point in this whole process. After several years of micro-managing the entire project, from the early ignorant days when we managed to inadvertently upset a lot of important people with our clumsy amateurism right up until Friday afternoon when we were pushing a trolley of drink into the venue (something that I am sure Scorcese does before all of his premieres), it was time to let High Tide stand alone and be judged by its audience  with the two of us reduced to the status of cowering, powerless bystanders.

I’ve written before about the moment that a writer, metaphorically, slaps his or her new work on the table and says to the crowds, right, judge me on this. It is a terrifying and essential moment and one that the novelist David Mitchell likened to lying on your back, handing the audience a sharpened stake and egging them on to take their best shot. This is what we did on Friday night and very quickly we were afforded a lesson in the brutal process of judgement. There was a heady warmth to the early part of the evening as the free drink flowed and friends were reunited after many months absence (I hadn’t seen several of the cast and crew since the end of the shoot); Jimmy and I introduced the film from the stage, we thanked lots of the people that had helped us reach this far, there was generous amounts of applause. Everything felt wonderful.

Then the film began and after about ten minutes a woman got up out of her seat. Well, she must have been off to the toilet after quaffing too much prosecco on an empty stomach. So we thought. But a few moments later her husband likewise lifted himself from his seat and, with an air of some embarrassment, slid himself out of the row and mumbled that the film “really wasn’t our cup of tea”. I don’t know who this couple were; those invited to the premiere had some connection to the film so they weren’t complete strangers. Maybe they’d given us money (and presumably therefore now think that their donation had been squandered for which I can only apologise a little insincerely) or maybe they were friends or relatives of the cast, who knows?, but whatever their connection they disliked the opening of the film sufficiently to stand up and walk out in full view of everyone in the cinema.

I don’t mind at all that they did, in fact I am glad that they did. Art is always going to be divisive; one person’s David is another person’s big block of borderline pornographic marble which would be better served on their kitchen worktop rather than as one humanity’s finest ever artistic achievements. There are also some, deeply troubled and unhappy, people who don’t like Zoolander. High Tide is deliberately slow in its opening twenty minutes; we ask a lot of patience from our audience and then reward this patience in the second half of the film. But frankly, it is not to everyone’s tastes. And that’s fine. That’s good.

Perhaps, more than the BBFC certificate, more than the TV crews, the dinner suits and ballgowns, the sparkle and the fizz, two punters walking out of the premiere is proof that as filmmakers we have reached the level of professionalism that we’ve worked so damn hard over these past few years to achieve.

Either that or we should try to make better films.

Some people, however, have liked High Tide very much; who wouldn’t want to receive a review like this?  Or indeed a four star review in this month’s Total Film?

But let me end this entry with a piece of music that was playing as we arrived at Mozart’s in Swansea for a night of merriment after the premiere. The Breeders’ Cannonball is a stonewall early 90s classic and I dedicate it to star of High Tide and all-round superstar Mr Sam Davies who I bored with my thoughts on this song for a lot longer than was polite.

A fat, ten song nostalgia bomb that has nothing to do with filmmaking (until I scrape together a tenuous link right at the death)

Facebook will be the death of us all. It won’t be long until our collective insecurities, voyeurism and hubris will be cranked up to such obscene levels that we rupture at the seams and explode in myriad clouds of brilliant blue and stained, mucky white. This will then be shared with the world on Facebook.

(Naturally, this post will also be publicised on Facebook).

However, amongst all the nonsense and one-upmanship there are occasionally moments of interest on the old blue and white bastard. A few weeks ago people were sharing their lists of the ten songs that they liked the most. I think the phrasing may have been more elegant than this, songs that defined them perhaps, but this was the gist. I was “tagged” and asked to contribute my own list to be read by a few desperate souls and then forgotten about. And I really meant to get around to it. But I failed. Until now. And given that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands this holiday (I am currently sitting at one end of a long table in a house in the middle of France, nursing a cheese hangover, whilst my French housemates sip coffee and talk about I am not sure what but IN FRENCH) and given that the only thing that I allowed to say about our forthcoming feature film High Tide is that I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING UNTIL MID JANUARY) I thought I might crack on with my list. But in long form. A bit like Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs but not as good.

So here goes.  Actually, before I leap off into the seas of whimsy I’d like to lay a few ground rules for myself:

1. Be honest. Don’t invent choices to make yourself look cooler than you are. As Ben Folds (sadly omitted from the following list) correctly sang: there is always someone cooler than you.

2. Don’t fret about the order. Life is too short. These are the ten songs that mean the most. Their sequence is unimportant.

3. In a recent interview on American television (they have that there) Michael Stipe said that he “despises nostalgia”. So for the first time in recorded history I am forced to contradict the wisdom of Stipe. I am sure no good will come of this and I will soon be begging his forgiveness and complimenting him on his beard.

SONG ONE
SIT DOWN by JAMES
1991 version

For many of the artists featuring on this list it was a tricky task alighting on just one of their songs, however in the case of James the choice was virtually involuntary -it had to be Sit Down. That is not to say that they didn’t write a host of other excellent songs, Come Home, How Was it for You? (about shagging), Laid (also about shagging), Sometimes, Just Like Fred Astaire, and even their most recent album La Petite Morte (a reference to, guess what, shagging) is also really good. However, Sit Down so perfectly captures a moment of time that it is rendered timeless. It is both of its moment and for all time. Not many songs achieve this.

It is structured in the most conventional of ways – verse, bridge, huge, repetitive chorus, verse, bridge, huge repetitive chorus, middle 8, huge repetitive chorus, end, plus Tim Booth’s vocal is far from his best – he’d yet to really experiment with the falsetto noodling that would become his trademark and yet this relative simplicity is why the whole thing works so damn well. The song is a perfectly designed sonic athlete, with no waste, no flab. It is Blake’s Tyger – a creature of such poise and efficiency that it is proof of the existence of God. Not that I am claiming that Tim Booth is divine. Ace, but not divine.

I had a tape of a set by James recorded from Radio 1 in the early 90s. They had been touring the world with Neil Young and playing acoustically (I can’t remember why) but it was a superb set. Their acoustic sound honestly revealed their folky roots and the songs in this exposed form had a depth that had sometimes been obscured on the albums. Once it came to the inevitable version of Sit Down, Tim Booth introduced the song as “an old English folk song” and I can’t think of a better description.

I discovered James, like most people at the time, via this song. Sit Down was the gateway drug to a very pleasant addiction to their music. A lot of my friends at the time suggested that the only reason that I chose to be a James fan was that I could walk around Exeter wearing a t-shirt with my name emblazoned on the front and for this not be a problem. There may have been truth in that. However, there was something about that font with its type-writer “a” and the image of the enormous daisy (especially when worn in combination with cherry red DMs) that made me deliriously happy. There was a satisfaction that even though I was a spotty, slightly awkward and arrogant teenager, I belonged to a tribe that gave me great strength. We wore daisies. And we were happy.

I will happily admit that when James played in Torquay and the whole audience sat down during Born of Frustration Sit Down then I cried real tears and supposed that life really couldn’t get much better. And who knows, I may have been right.

Continue reading

A High Tide trailer released. At last.

For the past year and a half I’ve been using this blog as a forum for a whole manner of stuff and nonsense. Regular readers will be all too aware of my frequent forays into whimsy and nostalgia and some people have been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed reading it. Most have just remained silent on the matter. I have tried wherever possible to stick to the theme of film and filmmaking or at least creativity in general and when I’ve failed in this then I have at least apologised.

However, this blog was conceived initially as a means to document the often-insane and always-exhausting process of making a independent feature film. And I think I’ve largely succeeded in this; if you read back over the archives then you will see the various triumphs and disasters that myself and my partner Jimmy have celebrated and endured, rendered for you in overly-verbose and meandering prose. In truth, some of the posts have been removed from public view because they managed to make some important people cross, albeit not deliberately. Maybe one day I will collect them all together in order to present a coherent and complete chronicle of what has been, and continues to be, an unforgettable process. But we may need to run it past the lawyers first!

Anyway, this is all prologue to what is for us a hugely significant moment in our adventure. We finally have a trailer for our feature film High Tide. We are also in the midst of various meetings about how this film will be shown to the world but for the moment I have to be annoyingly coy about the specifics of these. However, yes we do have a trailer. And you can see it here:

We’re jolly pleased with it. I think it does give a decent flavour of the film; you get to see some of the stunning locations we shot in plus there are snippets of the acting performances of Melanie Walters and Samuel Davies both of which hint, utterly accurately, at the wonderful work they do in the film. Having sat many, many times in front of the footage we shot I can say in all honesty that not only do the pair achieve great things in their portrayals of their characters, repeated viewings of a scene at three in the morning do not diminish their power. I take this to be a good sign.

We are also delighted with how good our composer Matt Harding’s music sounds on the trailer. We’ve long been fans of his work and were delighted when he agreed to contribute to the film but it is particularly pleasing now that we can hear his music illustrating the images. Again, having seen cuts of the complete, film it is heartening to find that his music, just like the work of any great composer, has become part of the essential business of telling our story. I can’t now imagine some of the images without their accompanying music. Again, this seems to be a very good sign. There is still some way to go but we are closer than ever to being able to show this film to the world. What the world will think remains to be seen but whatever the reaction we are very proud. And let’s face it, if the world doesn’t like it then we’re just going to assume the world is wrong and has no taste whatsoever.

If you are interested then we now have an expanded section about High Tide on our website and because you are all lovely, here is a still from the film which is not in the trailer. Just to prove that we really do have ninety minutes of footage, not just a shiny two minute trailer. Thanks as ever for being interested enough to read this far.

2Shot_FacingBeach -000000

Samuel Davies as Josh. Melanie Walters as Bethan.

The High Tide party scene: twelve months on

As I sit in a quiet house watching a large amount of rain throw itself to the ground with alarming gusto, I can’t help but reflect that exactly a year ago today I was rushing around a garden in Wales setting up for what was to be both the busiest and most remarkable day of shooting on our feature film High Tide.

Jimmy and I both watched near-complete drafts of the film yesterday in preparation for a short ADR session next week (and there I go waving around acronyms like ADR without a care in the world – ADR or Additional Dialogue Recording means getting your actors back to rerecord dialogue that was imperfect on set. Many films, particularly those with huge special effects sequences, are almost entirely composed of ADR work, but for High Tide we need only record a small amount. Gosh what a thrilling piece of parenthetical filler.) and one of the highlights of the whole piece is the twenty or so minutes we spend at the party scene that we shot that day.

Having the wonderful Sam Green and the Midnight Heist play live in the garden was a real treat (especially for the neighbours) and the general good grace shown by everyone ensured that the day was a success, even if Jimmy and I did have to spend the dying moments of the evening rushing around like crazy things in order to get everything shot by the legally-binding working curfew. Most people were a bit drunk by then; we were very sober!

Anyway, I don’t want to chunter on about it so I think I will curtail my reminiscings there. Thanks to everyone who was involved in the day and thanks to anyone who cares enough to be patient for the release of the finished film. It is coming, I promise you.

Here are a few images and videos from the day:

party2 party1 2013-08-08 15.43.27 2013-08-08 20.02.28-3

 

 

 

 

Boyhood and the exquisite pleasure of now

I don’t remember a point in the last ten years when I saw a particular film more than once in a cinema. I must have done so since the new millennium but I am struggling to think when and what it would have been. This contrasts with my heady and unhealthy student days of the late 90s when I would regularly visit the wonderful City Screen in York to see some obscure piece of art-house fare. And if I liked what I saw, as I often did, then I would frequently go again the next day. This was less to do with a raw passion for the cinematic medium but rather I had little better to do, or at least could spare a few hours to sink into the not-overly-comfortable seats and disappear. And plus it was really cheap. I remember I saw a screening of Der Himmel uber Berlin on two consecutive days; the first time with a pal, and the next trying to impress some girl (who was so resolutely unimpressed that she fell asleep within ten minutes). I also saw Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour uncut 70mm rendition of Hamlet THREE times in that cinema because I found it utterly wonderful and, as the two regular readers of this blog will know, I do sort of LOVE Kenneth Branagh with a singular passion. Plus Hamlet as a text is, you know, pretty alright.

However I really can’t think of a time where such multiple cinema visits to the same film have occurred this century. That is until this past week when I’ve had the utter pleasure of seeing Richard Linklater’s Boyhood being twice projected onto a large screen.

Boyhood-poster-I-

I’ve written before about mine and Jimmy’s adoration of Linklater’s Before trilogy and so I was very much coming at this as a fan; despite this I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what was, hyperbole aside, one of the most moving, humane and unpretentious pieces of storytelling I’ve ever seen.

The premise is brilliantly simple: Linklater filmed the same set of lead actors for a couple of weeks every year for twelve years and thus when edited together the audience is able to watch them grow. The eponymous boy is Mason who we first meet lying on the grass outside his primary school and whom we leave on his first day at university. The effect is almost overwhelming as we are confronted by the sheer speed with which time passes, the bewildering consequences of choice, both good and bad, the twin pride and terror of parenthood and the astounding capacity that we have to survive and even thrive in the most trying of circumstances.

Boyhood-Ellar-Coltrane-Ethan-Hawke

Linklater’s direction is, of course, sublime and on second viewing I was able to enjoy shot after shot of his typically unfussy style. There is one shot during Mason’s high school years in which he talks to a classmate who bumps alongside him on her bike. They talk, they walk forwards and the camera stays one step ahead of them moving backwards. No cuts, no singles, just a backwards tracking two-shot that seems like it had to be done in one take. You can see this shot again and again in the Before films and it is suggestive of a director utterly confident in his own craft. A scene requires two characters to have a conversation so Linklater just lets the camera do only what is necessary to allow us to witness what is being said. Anything else would be artful and extraneous.

I am no film academic and if you want a near-definitive account of Linklater’s work then look no further than our pal Professor Rob Stone’s excellent book: The Cinema of Richard Linklater – Walk, don’t Run. Rob is clearly a man of vast intelligence and insight (as well as being pleasingly ready to take the piss out of Jimmy’s levels of personal hygiene) and he writes with a rigorous passion for Linklater’s work and succeeds, through a jealousy-inducing series of interviews with the man himself, in exploring the films in comparison with each other as well as illuminating the many and diverse films that have influenced him throughout his career. It’s a great read. I recommend it heartily.

As Rob explores with greater insight that I could ever muster, time does not really work in a conventional way in Linklater’s films. This is particularly the case in Boyhood which despite seemingly locked into a structure that forces its audience to confront time in all its unflinching and relentless forwards motion, paradoxically removes its characters from a temporal context almost completely. This is a film of the moment, a film of now. There is very little in the film that looks backwards and that which looks forward is only the usual cliche of expectation that others force upon Mason. What any of the characters really aspire to in the film is making sense of the current moment; that is all that really matters. No film I’ve seen in a long time is as preoccupied with the present. And it is all the more refreshing for it. The only false moment in the whole near-three hour wonder of the film is when there is a moment of narrative resolution for an immigrant builder whom we’ve seen, briefly, in an earlier scene. For me this felt like a misstep; a nod to the conventional story arcs that Linklater so successfully eschews in the remainder of the piece.

Anyway, I’ve started to use words like “eschew” so it is probably time to stop banging on. But I urge you to see Boyhood. I implore you so to do. It really is most wonderful.

There’s a line very near the end of the film in which a character says something approximating that in life it isn’t really a case of seizing the moment, it is more that the moment seizes you. I think that is utterly beautiful and no better epithet for the wondrous strange thing that is all of our lives. Just keep letting the moment seize you, says Linklater. And you’ll be okay.

p.s. I think I love Ethan Hawke just as much as Kenneth Branagh now. Even Ethan Hawke with a terrible moustache.

p.p.s. High Tide is VERY NEARLY finished. More news very soon.

p.p.p.s. We have been working some more on the screenplay for our second feature film. Jimmy is not letting me get away with anything remotely rubbish – my favourite comment from his recent edits – “is this a reference to old vaginas? If so, I don’t get it”.

p.p.p.p.s. It wasn’t. But now I kind of wish it had been.

A High Tide update (at last!)

I fear that this latest entry in to the world of blog may be a little more terse than I’d otherwise like. This is most likely a blessing for you but at the moment I am banging at the keyboard like a fat-fingered  Beethoven (with one millionth of the talent) and the words refuse to stick. I am tired. It has been a busy few weeks in one of my other lives as a maker of theatre and a show that I co-wrote successfully made it to the stage this week. And it was great. Really great. But I am suffering a little tonight as a result.

So let’s bash on with a a bit of a Long Arm Films update. It has been a more than while and we don’t want our many supporters to think that Jimmy and I have just been sitting on our arses playing Uno for the past six months. Although that does sound like a pretty decent idea.

After several more sessions in Dan’s edit bunker in the posh end of Swansea I can tell you that High Tide is pretty near finished.  And it is looking good. Really good. Don’t believe me? Well. look at this:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 21.33.51

That’s Sam Davies as Josh and Melanie Walters as Bethan.

Actually looking at it now, it’s a fairly low-res, grainy still that I’ve just grabbed using some keys on my computer. I am not allowed access to the actual, full-res digital files because I might spill tea or red wine on them so you are going to have to trust me on this. Jimmy and I now have a weekend to pore over this latest draft while the film itself crosses the Severn for some digital jiggery-pokery (and final, final tweaks) and sound mixing in the Bristol area before heading back to Wales for colour-correction. All of which should suggest that High Tide is very nearly, nearly finished. And that’s a good thing.

And at some point you should be able to see it. The specifics of which I will bring you as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, my new role is to write the credits for the end of the film. So then, that’s writer, director and credit writer – which makes High Tide such an indie film that it is wearing a checked shirt;  a yellowed, crumpled paperback stuffed into the pocket of its corduroy jacket while it whispers near-inaudible dialogue into the ear of a attractive student of philosophy with glasses and near-perfect breasts. With this soundtrack:

Which you won’t have heard of. But I love with a passion.

Anyway,  I am certain David Lynch does not have to write his own credits (but that’s probably because he’d scrawl them in the blood of a vixen or Kyle Maclachlan) but I am pretty happy with the job. Except that I have to spell everyone’s names correctly and remember who leant us a hairbrush and made us a coffee somewhere on Gower last August.

But I think I’ve got it cracked. Here’s the current draft.

Bethan – Melanie Walters
Josh – Sam Davies
Tess – Claire Cage
Sophie – Charlotte Mulliner
Bloke in Shirt with Fag – Cousin Tom
Simon Le Bon – Mickey Flannel
Jennie Spinning – Rufus Waring
Man in Sauna – Sarah Cloud
Body in Sauna – Desert Orchid
Whore in Sauna – James Gillingham
Sauna Repair Man in Sauna – Alan Titchmarsh

DOP – Alain Prost
Sound – Dougie Donnelly
Gaffer – Janet Ellis
Edited by Dan in his bunker

Written and directed by Big James and Little Jim.

Sorted. Time for some sleep. More updates when I have them.

 

Words on film (it’s a global conspiracy actually).

There’s an odd disquiet in the air this evening as the sun wanes a grubby orange and London’s throaty roar thunders more angrily than ever; a noxious Last Post for a city slowly eating itself. Maybe I should just shut the window; maybe I should reign-in the hay-fever pills a little or maybe I should load up my fingers with words and tap out the bellicose rhythms of a linguistic war upon my battered keyboard.

Or maybe just get on with it.

I am bothered by the stats page on my WordPress site. I pretend not to be. I feign indifference like a recovering smoker shrugging at the pub on a Friday afternoon as a forgetful friend offers him a fag even though it’s been nearly seven weeks since he’s last smoked. He declines politely. He pretends not to care. He ignores the raging beast of nicotine addiction stomping around the wires and neurones of his brain – yes, he thinks, yes for the love of all that is holy and grand, please just let me smoke. But he says nothing. He smiles. He is fine. Really he is.

My name is James and I’ve given up smoking. This makes me simultaneously very happy indeed (and god, do I feel better for it) but also a tiny bit sad.

Anyway, this analogy began sometime in the late C19th and let me try to bring it some sort of, inevitably disappointing, conclusion. Yes, the stats page. I pretend to be immune to its charms but the last few days have seen the longest period so far during which nobody on the planet has read anything that I’ve published here. This blogging duck (a cricket metaphor, sorry American readers – hi Julia) was broken today by a single view of my (ahem) award-winning post about motivational quotations for writers from a reader in Djibouti. Which is a very hot country on the East coast of Africa. I know this because the internet has just told me. So anyway, time to tap my way back to a few more readers.

There’s a fair bit of Long Arm news on the horizon; something about a finished feature film, a trailer for said film; some exciting developments about our short Ex Libris and a draft of a new feature script that features a man called Spider and a lady who keeps a shotgun in her bra. However, none of these exciting headlines can be supported by much detail just yet although we do hope to expand on these themes in the coming weeks. We should be able to show you something exciting in roughly a fortnight. And I don’t mean Jimmy’s bum. Although clearly for most rational human beings, things just don’t get more exciting than this.

So to continue a theme that I began in my most recent post (which was published a blushingly large number of weeks ago) I thought I’d write a little about something very close to my lungs. Nicotine. No, not nicotine. I am over nicotine. Smoking is SO OVER. No I mean scripted dialogue. As ever I don’t profess to being any sort of expert on the subject but as a writer whose written more of the stuff than I have anything else, I do feel that I have a few observations worth sharing.

There are manifold challenges for the screenwriter as he or she sits down to write some dialogue for a scene. Not least the fact that people are rubbish at talking. Real people in real life spew a never-ending shite-stream of piss-poor construction and half-remembered cliches. To quote them directly would render your script utterly turgid and sound like the average chat on an episode of Masterchef –

“I’m going to give it everything to reach the next level and cook outside my comfort zone and nail these dishes like one hundred and twenty percent and if I go home today I will be just like gutted because this competition is the most important thing that has ever happened to a man or a woman ever”. 

No one wants to hear people talk like that (says the man who gets very upset if he misses even five minutes of an episode of Masterchef) and so writers are forced into playing a game with the audience in which they attempt to fill their characters mouths with words that SOUND as if they could be actual spoken at some point by a real human being but are in actual fact as highly constructed as an oil painting or a giant medieval tapestry. Oh I do love a giant medieval tapestry.

Great dialogue writing is really about how far you can push the characters’ language towards unreality before anyone notices or, more importantly, before anyone gets cross. Some writers are masters, absolute masters at pushing this tolerance threshold to a point so distant that it becomes irrelevant. Take Noel Coward for instance; no one in England has ever spoken with the spontaneous beauty of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter. Not even when England was black and white and we drank our tea from bone china tea-sets.  But the audience does not give a solitary fig (roll) because the language is extraordinary:

Alec: I wish I could think of something to say.

Laura: It doesn’t matter, not saying anything I mean. 

Alec: I’ll miss my train and wait and see you into yours . . .

Laura: No. Please don’t. I’ll come over with you to your platform, I’d rather. 

Alec: Very well. 

Laura: Do you think we shall ever see each other again?

Alec: I don’t know. Not for years anyway. 

Laura: The children will all be grown-up. I wonder if they’ll ever meet and know each other. 

Alec: Couldn’t I write to you? Just once in a while?

Laura: No Alec please. You know we promised. 

Alec: Oh my dear. I do love you. So very much. I love you with all my heart and soul. 

Laura: I want to die. If only I could die.

Alec: If you died you’d forget me. I want to be remembered. 

brief_encounter

Swoon! Tears! Coward was a genius. And Brief Encounter, for me, represents perfection in film making. There is not one second that is misplaced or anything other than luminously brilliant.

Compare this to one of the more abject examples of dialogue writing that, for some reason, has stayed with me for well over a decade. Remember the X-Files? Of course you do. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI agents Mulder and Scully running around in the 90s with poor quality torches in search of extra-terrestials? It was ace. Remember the X-Files movie? The first one? Er, not so much. But I do. And I remember this speech with dizzying clarity:

Bartender:  So, whaddya do?

Mulder: What do I do?

Bartender: Mmm hmm.

(Mulder takes a sip from his new drink, puts it down and begins his tale.)

Mulder: I’m the key figure in an on‑going government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrial. It’s a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet. (he laughs) So, of course, no one believes me. I’m an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits it’s gonna be the shit‑storm of all time.

Oh dear. Oh dear indeed. To be fair a lot of the work required of dialogue in the average film is to get plot across to an popcorn munching, girlfriend snogging audience (not a problem in a Long Arm film of course due to Jimmy’s wholesale rejection of anything remotely resembling a story) but really, credit the audience with a soupçon of narrative literacy please. And poor David Duchovny. He had to sit for a day and repeat this speech countless times without ever being able to rip off his own nipples in disgust. This may have had something to do with the paycheque he was receiving of course.

And then of course there is Aaron Sorkin a man who, as regular readers of this blog will attest, I love more than I ever thought possible. In his West Wing pomp, Sorkin was untouchable as a writer of dialogue; at its zenith I’d suggest that it beats pretty much anything else I’ve seen on television. And I’ve seen Rentaghost. Again it is no more real than an episode of The Simpsons, in some ways far less real, but when the President of the USA chastises God for killing his secretary in a car accident IN LATIN then you either throw a grenade at the television in utter disgust or you just stand to applaud and marvel. And I did just that.

And yes Martin Sheen is a genius. And yes I now do want a cigarette.

But not every writer can be Sorkin. And nor should you even try so to be. I often get my work sent back to me by Jimmy with comments such as NO ONE EVER SPEAKS LIKE THAT. And OH PLEASE. And THIS IS LARGELY PISS. And for this I am grateful. Jimmy is a brilliant man. A man of images. A man of vision. And these little spats between us (and goodness, the making-up is always SO good) are indicative of an inescapable tension between the image and the word. Film is by definition a visual medium and for the first thirty-ish years of its existence got on very well indeed without any words whatsoever. Words bastardised the medium, diluted the purity of the form. And the two have been competing ever since. What are the greatest ever moments in film? The door to Michael Corleone’s office shutting on Kay at the end of the Godfather or “Here’s looking at you kid”? I guess it is a matter of taste.

Do we forgive Star Wars “It’s the ship that made the kessel run in less that twelve parsecs” or “Luke, run away, far away. If he can sense your presence here then just leave this place” just because you know, it is Star Wars? Well millions upon millions do.

But for some of us, despite its inherent friction with the genre in which it exists, there will always be a greater thrill from watching someone on a huge screen say something really, really cool.

“Go and never darken my towels again”.

And from Groucho to a pair of Swedish sisters who make lovely music. And no, there is NO connection whatsoever. But I’ve been listening to this a lot this evening and I think you should do so too: