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A Critical Analysis of Blade Runner as a Resource for Speculation on the Possibilities of New Media and Cyberspace

blade runner poster

Humanity has a complex and sometimes concerning relationship with technology and the roles it plays in our lives, and this relationship has been examined in an array of cultural forms and contexts over a long period of history. Technology not only provides us with new tools for communication and expression, but continually-evolving social contexts for our daily existence (Lunenfeld 2000, p.1). From the conception of human engagement with technology, there has been concern about the potential for the end of humanity (Hansen 2004, p.14), and while this may seem like an extreme way of viewing technological progress, these fears remain today. Some of the most powerful arguments for and against the use of technology in our lives have been made in utopian or dystopian texts. Film has, for many decades, been a vehicle for bringing these arguments to mass audiences; both in terms of their historical context and its possibilities for the future. Technology or new media has, at different times, been shown on film as being the saviour or the downfall of humanity, or sometimes both simultaneously. This essay will critically analyse the 1982 film Blade Runner in the realm of new media and technology as resources for speculation and possibility, and the science fiction genre of cyberpunk from which it was spawned, and show that it is a culturally-significant example of technology and humanity colliding in fiction.

Directed by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is partly based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The plot follows ‘blade runner’ Rick Deckard, as he hunts four renegade human-like androids, or ‘replicants’, who are on the run from authorities in a dystopian Los Angeles. The clash between “creatures engineered in biomedical laboratories and those who create them to achieve colonial ends” (Lussier & Gowan 2012, p.165) form the basis of the dramatic narrative. Originally released in 1982 to a poor showing at the international box office and mixed reviews, the film gained a cult following in the following decades, and, today, is “consistently listed as one of the most important science fiction movies ever made” (Latham & Hicks 2015, p.1). Hailed for its production design, showing a retrofitted future, Blade Runner remains a leading example of the neo-noir genre, is heavily indebted to the femme fatale and cyberpunk genres, and has been the subject of much scholarly debate and examination since its release. It is a difficult film to examine as it exists in so many states, having been re-released in 1992 with a ‘director’s cut’ label, and again as a ‘final cut’ in 2007 (Dienstag 2015, p.107), and latter versions of the film make increasing suggestions that Deckard himself may be a replicant. Despite this, it is a prominent early depiction of the questions posed by combining high technology and humanity.

An obvious question posed by Blade Runner and similar texts is one which concerns the point at which technology moves from being beneficial to humanity to being a threat. The complex relationship between the two principal characters, Deckard and Rachael, could be seen as symbolising the relationship between humanity and technology. At first they are highly sceptical of each other: Deckard because Rachael is not human, and Rachael because Deckard is a murderer (Dienstag 2015, p.108). At the start of the film, Deckard remarks “replicants are like any other machine” (Locke 2009, p.115), and when he meets Rachael, asks her maker “how can it not know what it is?” (Locke 2009, p.115). Immediately, Rachael challenges Deckard’s ideas about the difference between human and machine by asking him “Have you ever retired a human by mistake?” (Locke 2009, p.115). Deckard breaks the news to her that she is a replicant and a single tear is shown to fall down her face. In this scene, it is the machine which is shown to have emotion, while Deckard remains cold and detached. As the story progresses, the pair come to respect and rely on each other, to the point at which their lives become irreversibly intertwined and they escape to be together. In a speech delivered four years after the publication of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dick suggested that: “In a very real sense our environment is becoming alive, or at least quasi-alive, and in ways specifically and fundamentally analogous to ourselves” (Galvan 1997, p.413). Suggesting that technology is infiltrating our lives and changing our characters in subtle ways, Dick said we risk being reduced to “humans of mere use – men made into machines” (Galvan 1997, p.414). The film tempts viewers to imagine themselves in Deckard’s position and wonder if they would succumb to the same temptations posed by technology. The answer, in most cases, is likely to be in the affirmative.

The film also explores the difference between what defines humanity and technology (Locke 2009, p.113). The most obvious answer is the ability to feel emotion, or most importantly, empathy. However, the suggestion that artificial intelligence has the potential to become ‘human-like’ while humans themselves become increasingly less so is perhaps one of the most interesting areas for speculation within the film. The predominantly human traits of community and togetherness are more apparent in the replicant world of Blade Runner than in Deckard’s lonely existence – they fight to survive together and mourn when one of their group is killed. Batty, leader of the replicants, is, at times, playful and amiable, despite the certainty of his impending doom. Batty exhibits a sense of high culture and “proves his humanity by demonstrating that he is physically, intellectually, and even morally, superior to everyone else in the film, humans as well as slave” (Locke 2009, p.120). At the film’s climax, the exemplary and human-like behaviour of Batty, as he dies on the rooftops fighting the blade runner (and also saving his life), sees him transferring his freedom to Deckard (Lussier & Gowan 2012, p.165), and Deckard, as a result, is free. Deckard realizes that similarities between men and replicants “run deeper than their differences and that they are in fact the same type of man, ‘brothers’, regardless of any distinction between human and android” (Locke, 2009, p.138). Deckard comes to grips with his own humanity by falling in love with a replicant and deciding that he wants to live his life with her.

Blade Runner Roy Batty

Writers have also, at different times, used an analysis of the themes in Blade Runner to explore issues affecting vast numbers of people in the world today. Workman likens themes in the film to issues of a medical nature, comparing the replicants’ desire to not die an early death to that of people with fatal diseases. “Almost all of us shall feel the pain and frustration that comes from living with the knowledge that we will in some sense die prematurely” (2006, p.95), he suggests. It has also been argued that Blade Runner uses the relationship between technology and humanity to make political statements. The film’s humanization of its replicants is a “compelling statement against exploitation and domination” (Dienstag 2015, p.101), although this could be tempered with the argument that it is necessary for humanity to control technology to prevent technology from controlling it. Dienstag (2015, p.108) argues that Blade Runner shows us that to “live freely in any regime, we must understand the dangers of representation, even if, in a large state, we must continue to make use of it”. If the success of democracy relies singularly on representation, it risks being dehumanized, much like the initial relationships in the film (Dienstag 2015, p.119). Furthermore, Brooker (2009, p.79) proposes that the ‘final cut’ of the film constructs it as “a fictional world with some parallels to contemporary transmedia franchises”, as it creates a narrative path with several possible routes.

Blade Runner is an early example of a film containing cyberpunk elements, as defined by Bukatman’s definition of cyberpunk as being particularly concerned with the “interface of technology and human subject” (1993, p.54). Mead (1991, p.350) describes cyberpunk as depicting the type of radical technological change seen in Blade Runner as an opportunity to positively change the “perceptual and psychic definitions of what it means to be human” (Mead 1991, p.350). Deckard fits the description of an archetypal cyberpunk character perfectly: he is a “marginalized, alienated loner who live[s] on the edge of society in [a] generally dystopic future, where daily life [is] impacted by rapid technological change, an ubiquitous datasphere of computerized information, and invasive modification of the human body” (Person 1998, online).

Despite its roots lying in the cyberpunk genre, Blade Runner offers so much more thematically. It considers political, moral and technological issues, has stood the test of time and is more popular today than when it was released, unlike many early cyberpunk works. Many of these set out to demythologise technology and failed, but, interestingly, Blade Runner found a greater number of fans as time passed and technology – especially the Internet and robotics – evolved and flourished. It also influenced films featuring similar android or human-like robot storylines which are still popular in cinema in the 21st century (such as The Terminator series of films). In this way, it could be argued Blade Runner contributed to expanding our ideas about the limits of technology, and how it interacts with humanity, in exciting and possibly concerning ways.

Blade Runner also sits thematically within the postmodernism movement, and adopts and puts creative spins on many of its assertions about society and technology, although it has also been argued that the differences between the 1982 and 1992 versions “thus establish a foundational tension that fuels both modern and postmodern interpretations” (Begley 2004, p.186). Jameson explains that “cyberpunk offers privileged insights into contemporary culture providing a cognitive space through which we can understand the postmodern condition” (1991, p.96). Harvey (1990, p.323) suggests that “Blade Runner hold[s] up to us, as in a mirror, many of the essential features of the condition of postmodernity”, while Clayton (1996, p.15) explains that “[s]ince its first release in 1982, Blade Runner has been taken by critics as a vision of a particular historical epoch, the period many people today are calling postmodernism” (1996, p.15). The film rejects the idea of social progress and promotes pluralism in the form of multiple, co-existing realities, while the human-replicant bond between Deckard and Rachael “manifests a form of hybridized love” (Lussier & Gowan 2012, p.165). This bond becomes a crucial plot device for the film, as well as contributing to the “continued relevance of Romanticism for postmodernism” (Lussier & Gowan 2012, p.165). The film’s depiction of Los Angeles is of an orientalised, post-modern, noir-ish city that is an archetypal cyberpunk landscape, offering the viewer at a glimpse at both a high level of technological advancement and increasing social breakdown. A dark, despoiled environment, dominated by the towering pyramid of the Tyrell Corporation headquarters – a metaphor for the class system depicted in the film – is the setting in which the story plays out. The postmodern cityscape depicted “shares the attributes of the globalised, transnational, borderless space” similar to the notion of cyberspace (Yu 2008, p.46).

In conclusion, it can be said that Blade Runner’s many narrative and thematic complexities offer ample opportunity to explore the world of new media and technology as resources for speculation and possibility. The relationship between technology and humanity is at the core of the film, and, in essence, the film tells the story of one individual’s gradual acceptance of the changing parameters of how technology and humanity interact and operate together. How this happens is a complex tale with many elements open to interpretation. The ability for artificial intelligence to show humanity, while humans simultaneously become increasingly dehumanized, is perhaps the most interesting subject presented by the film, and worthy of further examination. The system of master and slave is turned on its head by the very suggestion that machines may have the ability to show humanity. By being saved from death and set free by Batty, has Deckard been set free by technology, or set free by humanity? It’s an interesting question which leaves plenty of room for speculation and possibility.

References

Begley, V, 2004. ‘Blade Runner and the Postmodern: A Reconsideration’, Literature/Film Quarterly, Volume 32, pp.186-192

Bukatman, S, 1993. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction, Duke University Press, London, p.54

Clayton, J, 1996. Concealed Circuits: Frankenstein’s Monster, the Medusa, and the Cyborg, Raritan, p.15

Dienstag, JF, 2015. ‘Blade Runner’s Humanism: Cinema and Representation’, Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 14, pp.101-119

Galvan, J, 1997. ‘Entering the Posthuman Collective in Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”‘, Science Fiction Studies, Volume 24, pp.413-429

Hansen, MB, 2004. New Philosophy for New Media, MIT Press, p.14

Harvey, D, 1990. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, Blackwell, p.323

Jameson, F, 1991. Postmodernism, or, The Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, Durham, p.96

Latham, R & Hicks, J, 2011. ‘Blade Runner’, Cinema and Media Studies, Oxford University Press, p.1

Locke, B, 2009. ‘White and Black Politics versus Yellow: Metaphor and Blade Runner’s Racial Politics’, The Arizona Quarterly, Volume 65, pp.113-138

Lunenfeld, P, 2000. The Digital Dialectic: New Essays on New Media, MIT Press, p.1

Lussier, M & Gowan, K, 2012. ‘The Romantic Roots of Blade Runner’, Wordsworth Circle, Volume 43, p.165

Mead, D, 1991. ‘Technological Transformation in William Gibson’s Sprawl Novels: Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mono Lisa Overdrive’, Extrapolation, Volume 32, pp.350-60

Person, L, 1998. ‘Notes Toward a Post-Cyberpunk Manifesto’, Nova Express, online, accessed 22nd April 2017: https://slashdot.org/story/99/10/08/2123255/notes-toward-a-postcyberpunk-manifesto

Workman, S, 2006. ‘Blade Runner’, BMJ: British Medical Journal, Volume 332, p.695

Yu, T, 2008. ‘Oriental Cities, Postmodern Futures: “Naked Lunch, Blade Runner” and “Neuromancer”’, MELUS, Volume 33, p.46

Lavazza Italian Film Festival Opening Night – Palace Barracks, Brisbane – 1/10/15

se dio vuole

FROCKS were thrown on, champagne and espresso coffee thrown back, and giftbags hungrily snapped up at the opening night of the Italian Film Festival at Palace Barracks cinema on Thursday (1st October).

A four-screen showing of box office hit Se Dio Vuole (God Willing) entertained a large crowd of Brisbane’s cinephiles, on an occasion when everybody in attendance got into the Mediterranean spirit, whatever their origin.

An introduction by Masterchef contestant Georgia Barnes was followed by a screening of the comedy drama, in which a respected but arrogant senior surgeon and atheist (Marco Giallini) is devastated to learn his only son (Enrico Oetiker) intends to become a priest. Determined to bring down the young father, Don Pietro (Alessandro Gassman), who he believes has brainwashed his son, he goes undercover while his family falls apart around him. The question is will he manage to block what he sees as the worst path his son could take, or see the light himself?

A funny, quirky, and at times politically-incorrect film, Se Dio Vuole provides a light-hearted look at the generation gap, religion and family in modern Italy.

Satisfied by our movie experience, all that was left was to polish off the rest of the Italian-style wine, beer and ice-cream to the sounds of the in-house band, for 2015’s Italian Film Festival to be declared well and truly open.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival runs until October 18.

For Scenestr

Film review: The Postman’s White Nights (Russia, 2014)

the postmans white nights

A remote Russian village is the setting for renowned director Andrei Konchalovsky’s latest film; the sometimes melancholy, sometimes funny, but always captivating The Postman’s White Nights.

A cast of almost entirely amateur actors stars in a tale of life in a dying lake community, in which the line between script and real life is frequently blurred. Adrift on a sea of loneliness, poverty and vodka, a hardy band of colourful characters have a single link to the outside world: their charismatic postman (the excellent Aleksey Tryapitsyn). Puttering along in his tiny boat, the reformed alcoholic delivers mail, bread and pension money, and when he’s not struggling with his own loneliness and despair, is feebly lusting after old schoolmate Irina (Irina Ermolova), who is set to sell up and move to the city. As a way to become closer to Irina, he strikes up a friendship with her young son Timka (Timur Bondarenko), but the race is on to win Irina’s heart before she finds a job in town.

After his boat engine is stolen, the postman’s identity is gone, and he sinks lower than before, having been told it could takes for a new one to arrive. Just as a conclusion seems certain to come, the film abruptly ends with a long shot of the main characters sitting together on a boat crossing the lake, the postman having failed to get a new motor. It’s a finish that only confirms what is made clear constantly throughout: subtlety underpins everything about this film. From passing reminisces about an abandoned schoolyard to hallucinations about cats and drunken ramblings about longing for a long-demolished orphanage – instances that pass in seconds each – this is a bleak tale of a time, people and place forgotten by modern Russia, yet exist in countless similar villages across the great expanse of the world’s largest nation.

the postmans white nights

Exquisite shots of lakes, fields and sunsets which make up the remote, northern Russian environment are a major highlight in a somewhat grim tale that still manages to retain a level of humour and beauty in the everyday interactions between its characters.

The film bagged the Silver Lion award at the Venice International Film Festival, but was withdrawn from the running for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film due to what Konchalovsky described as the overrated “Hollywoodisation” of movies. Whether this was a good move or not is open to discussion, but one thing is certain: Hollywood’s loss is the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival’s gain.

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Film review: Last Cab to Darwin (Australia, 2015)

last cab to darwin

BRISBANE’S finest and trendiest film buffs were present on the red carpet for the city’s premiere of the new film by director Jeremy Sims, Last Cab to Darwin, on Sunday night (12th July).

With Sims and star Michael Caton present at Dendy Portside in Hamilton, there was a buzz in the air to welcome what looked on paper to be a promising new addition to Australian film.

In a brief introduction to a packed house, Caton and Sims discussed making the film, with Caton joking about the quality of motor homes the actors and crew stayed in during their seven weeks on the road. “If you dropped the soap in the shower there was no way to pick it up,” he admitted, to peals of laughter.

Sims acknowledged the long process of getting the film funded and made, before Caton cajoled the audience with “If you enjoy the film tell your friends, and if you don’t, shut up!” Cue lots more laughter.

He needn’t have worried, though, as Last Cab to Darwin is an absolute corker of a movie, and can proudly take its place among the pinnacles of Australian film.

Michael Caton, Jeremy Sims (L-R)
Michael Caton, Jeremy Sims (L-R)
Caton plays Rex, a Broken Hill taxi driver, who, having been told he has stomach cancer and has but three months to live, sets off on an epic cross-country trip to Darwin to take advantage of the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws. In doing so, he leaves behind his sometime-lover and Indigenous neighbour, Polly (the wonderful Ningali Lawford-Wolf), and his mates, who like him, have never left town.

A touching story, told with humour, compassion and tact; Last Cab to Darwin is based on real-life Broken Hill man Max Bell, who was diagnosed with cancer in the 1990s.

Along the way, Rex not only confronts his fears about death, love, loneliness and family, but meets a range of characters who play a part in his choice of final destination and help him decide if what he is doing is right. Mark Coles Smith is exceptional in his role as Tilly, an Oodnagatta native who dreams of being a professional footy player but battles demons of his own, while Emma Hamilton is superb in her role as an English nurse who has a soft spot for Rex, and screen legend Jacki Weaver plays the Darwin doctor at the end of the line.

Caton, best known for his role as the lovable rogue Darryl Kerrigan in candidate-for-the-most-quotable-Aussie-movie-of-all-time The Castle, is a revelation in the lead role. Scenes which could have been brutal or harrowing are enriched with boyish charm and dry humour solely by his presence. He’s the type of actor who can say more with a flicker of his eyelids than many can in a series of lines, and this performance must be up there with his career best.

Music by Brisbane’s own Ed Kuepper and awe-inspiring wide shots of the inner-Australian landscape are the icing on this particular cinematic cake, meaning Last Cab to Darwin comes highly, highly recommended.

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Film review: Project Almanac (USA, 2015)

project almanac feature

THERE are two ways you can go when making a movie about time travel.

The first is to do a bit of research into the science and at least have a stab at including some form of explanation about how it’s done in your movie (see Interstellar). The second is to throw the scientific journals out the window, say “to hell with it” and simply have fun with the whole idea (see Back to the Future, Bill & Ted and a million others).

Project Almanac is most certainly in the second category, but while the idea of a found-footage movie starring four relatively-unknown American early-twenty-somethings playing 17 year-old schoolkids who chance upon plans to build a time machine may seem painful, the reality is somewhat different.

Seventeen year-old David Raskin (Jonny Weston) has followed in his dead father’s footsteps by aspiring to be a scientist and inventor. Needing to get a scholarship to attend a prestigious university, he roots around his father’s old spare parts for project ideas and finds a video camera containing footage of his seventh birthday. Watching it with friends Adam (Allen Evangelista) and Quinn (Sam Lerner), and his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner), he spots his 17 year-old reflection in a mirror on the video. They find blueprints and a mysterious mechanical object in the basement, and in a montage that would do Team America proud, they build the machine (don’t ask – it’s something to do with car batteries and hydrogen).

So far so good. After a few test runs involving sparks, bright lights, blatant product placement and not much dialogue beyond “Woo, yeah! Did you see that?” the fun begins. With the class babe Jessie (Sofia Black D’Elia) along for the ride, the quintet use time travel to pass exams, win the lottery, avenge bullying, get backstage passes at Lollapalooza and generally become the cool kids in school.

However, it’s not long before everything turns to crud when the gang realises that the tiny things they change in the past have huge consequences for events in the future – David and Jessie not getting together, their school football team not winning the championship and a huge plane crash being the main three, seemingly in no particular order of importance. It’s only when David realises he has to go back in time by himself to confront his father, destroy the blueprints and still work out how to get the girl that the climax is reached.

So, does the dodgy plot or unnecessarily cheesy love story ruin Project Almanac? On the whole, no. It’s a harmless bit of fun with decent acting by a young cast, and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, mainly courtesy of excellent supports Evangelista and Lerner. Just don’t think about the science.

PROJECT ALMANAC IS IN CINEMAS NOW.

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Directors of Good Vibrations: “It felt like it channelled a bit of the original spirit of that gig”

richard dormer

TORN apart by the violent sectarian divide known as The Troubles, Belfast in the 1970s was the last place you would have expected to see a musical revolution.

Enter Terri Hooley: founder of the Good Vibrations record store and label, which helped kick-start the bomb-ravaged city’s punk scene. The film of the same name tells the story of Hooley’s life and the bands his determination inspired, as directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn explain.

“We became involved in the film while there was just a brief outline written by Glenn [Patterson] and Colin [Carberry], the writers,” says D’Sa. “They had originally come up with the idea. We knew a bit about Terri Hooley through the music scene he was involved in, and we knew of him as an extraordinary man who had lived through extraordinary times. I think what really appealed to us about the story when we came across it, was that we realised that this was just not a story about a local legend, but a really universal story about someone who was a light in the darkness during the worst of times for a lot of people. It was a story about music and youth in general; just that spirit of youth that won’t be downtrodden. This was a time when young people wanted to be going out, meeting people and working out they were, but it wasn’t safe for them be to be out, meeting their friends in town and doing those kinds of things. It’s a story about that compulsion, that determination to go out and live your life, despite whatever dark forces are closing down the city you live in. That was something we felt that audiences all over the world might respond to. We also knew it was an opportunity to tell something that was celebratory with that distinctive dark comedy wit that is born of this place. I think we found that we had the opportunity to show all of that in the story and to create something of a celebratory spirit that was perhaps going to be a new way of looking at it.”

The Northern Irish conflict is not widely known about or understood internationally, but ‘Good Vibrations’ is a story with universal themes, says Leyburn.

“I think there were a lot of things about this story that we hoped would have a universal resonance,” he says. “Especially in the times we live in today. There’s conflict all over the world, and there are kids and teenagers facing the same challenges as those in Belfast at that time. Our story is a positive one; one that we hope has been told with humour. There have been films about The Troubles in Northern Ireland that tend to focus on soldiers or prisoners or whatever. That is the story we’re telling; it’s just about a different thing. It’s about that spirit of resistance and people who refuse to be defined by the dark forces around them. We’ve been lucky enough to travel around the world to film festivals. It’s been played in South Korea, the Czech Republic and the list goes on. A lot of those audiences have connected with it, and there’s a resonance to their own recent histories.”

At 65 and retired, Hooley no longer owns the store, but was an active influence in the making of the film.

“To tell the story, Terri had to be on board,” Leyburn says. “The fact that he was able to get to know us was important to him and to us. I knew of Terri and his legend; I’d seen him around Belfast and bought records from him, but I didn’t really get to know him. Through the process of developing the script and the film I got to know him really well. Terri has a very unique way at looking at the world. He’s a unique story-teller, and tells stories that are very vivid and interesting. I think for us to get to know him as well as we did helped us to bring a bit of his verve for life and telling stories to the screen. Also, just for the spirit of the thing; he came to the set and there was always an open door for him. You can’t make a story about somebody who’s still around and shut them out; I think that’d be the wrong way to approach it.”

While the story is one of inspiration and punk rock, the directors were keen to paint Hooley in as realistic a light as possible.

“He’s obviously a flawed human being, as we all are,” says D’Sa. “He’s a very generous person, and that comes across in the film, and once he was happy for us to make the film, he was particularly generous about it. He trusted us to go and make the film. It’s not going to connect with everyone if you make someone appear like a saint, and we had to tell the story to be true to what we were trying to say. The first screening we had when we finished the film was for Terri himself. We sort of hoped it would be just for Terri and his close friends and family. We wanted him to see what was a potentially difficult portrait of himself in a way, and we wanted to give him a chance to see it without anyone there. Typically for Terri, he wasn’t worried. He did bring a group of close friends, but for Terri that tends to mean about 200 people. We watched it in a room full of people who had been there at the time, and of course we were worried about what his reaction was going to be, but at the end Terri was in tears and made a lovely speech; he was very gracious and said how much he had been moved by the film. He has travelled with us a lot, and come to screenings all over the world. I think it’s just typical of the person that he is that he’s felt good about supporting it and sharing his story with the world.”

Game of Thrones actor Richard Dormer plays the title role, and was an easy pick for the job, says D’Sa.

“From the very first stages of developing this film, we knew Richard was the actor we wanted to cast,” she says. “Not only is he a phenomenal, subtle actor, we knew he was going to be brilliant at inhabiting the role and soul of this character. He also understands the DNA of the place and the time. We did a pilot, and Richard kindly agreed to come and play the role in a few early scenes. That was job done; once we had screened the pilot to the financiers, any of their concerns seemed to wash away at that time, because they could see what they believed, and that was that he was going to do an incredible job. It’s a very dynamic, charismatic performance, but one which also allows you access to the vulnerability to of that character. We’re really glad he’s been cast in things like Game of Thrones and big movie parts, and it’s incredibly well deserved.”

richard dormer

The story culminates with a huge punk gig, organised by Hooley to pay off the label’s debts. Luckily, the directors were able to call on another Belfast band to help out.

“We had a lot of support from Snow Patrol, who are executive producers and financiers of the film,” D’Sa says. “It was really down to them that we were able to get 2000 extras. On our budget we couldn’t afford to do that, but the Snow Patrol guys put out a call on their fan site asking people to show up at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, dressed in appropriate punk clothing for a couple of hours filming. Of course, within an hour, we had our 2000 extras for the scene, and the treat for them at the end was that the guys would play a two-hour acoustic gig after filming. So, we all these extras in punk clothing, the entire cast and crew was there, and it was a really joyous experience that felt like it channelled a bit of the original spirit of that gig.”

GOOD VIBRATIONS IS IN CINEMAS JUNE 12.

For Scene Magazine/Scenestr.

Director Jon S. Baird: “I didn’t want to be a slave to the tapeworm, you know?”

filth director

JON S. BAIRD’S decision to write and direct a film based on an Irvine Welsh novel could be called a crazy brave move.

Based on the Trainspotting author’s book of the same name, Filth tells the dark and twisted story of crooked Edinburgh cop Bruce Roberton’s bid to secure promotion amid his descent into drug-ravaged, sexually-depraved madness.

“I was introduced to Irvine through a mutual friend at the book launch for Crime, the follow-up to Filth,” he says. “We were both pretty drunk at the time and the first thing I said to him was I think Filth is his best book, it was the first one I read and I’d love to do it, just as an off-hand comment. That was back in 2008. Someone else had the rights at the time, and I think there had four previous attempts to do it, all of which didn’t work for one reason or another. The first thing we said was that at its heart it should be a very dark comedy. The book is funny, but also so dark that we needed to give the film some sort of empathy with Bruce and we started that with comedy.”

The film stars X-Men’s James McAvoy in the lead role alongside Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell and Jim Broadbent.

“It was weird because before we cast James, he was probably the last person we thought was going to be Bruce,” Baird says. “We’d looked at his other roles and we thought he didn’t seem right. Then when we met him he just blew us away, he’s such a clever and edgy guy. Irvine has gone on record to say that of every character he has created that have been translated onto the screen, James’s portrayal of Bruce is the most like what he had in his mind, and there’s some pretty big company to keep there. That says it all really, if Irvine is saying that about you.”

Finding the middle ground between the literal filth of the book and that which is suitable for a film audience was an added challenge for the Scottish director.

“I didn’t want to be a slave to the tapeworm, you know?” he says. “I wanted to include it, because it’s such a big part of the book, but it was never a stress or anything like that. We decided quickly that we’re going to personify the tapeworm, we’re going to take the doctor from the book who is looking after Bruce’s physical ailments and involve him in more of a psychological decline. His conscience in the book is the tapeworm, and we added that to the doctor to make a psychiatrist. Irvine gives you the best characters and dialogue in the world, but he doesn’t give you the clearest of narratives, which was a challenge. If the book was sanitised too much I’d have been absolutely murdered, and if it was a literal translation nobody would have gone to see it. The litmus test was Irvine himself. He was the first person I showed it to, and thankfully he liked it, and that gave me confidence to go on. Obviously when you’re making the film, there’s a whole new challenge to bring it off the page.”

“The scene that James thought the hardest to shoot was the one with the young girl in the bedroom, but I wanted to give him as much reassurance that it wasn’t going to come across as harsh as it felt on the day. There’s always an element with Bruce that the joke is on him, and that scene could have been a hell of a lot darker. My favourite is the scene where Bruce and Amanda are on the staircase; the part where they’re arguing to-and-fro, and then they get to the bottom and there’s a big explosion of emotion and insanity. We could tell on the day we shot that by the crew’s reactions that this was a good scene.”

Working with Irvine Welsh has had some side benefits for a director relatively new to the business.

“Throughout the process we’ve became very good pals,” he says. “In the next few days we’re going off to Japan to do some of the press over there, and it doesn’t feel like a work trip at all; more like a boys’ holiday together. He’s became such a good mentor, for want of a better word. He’s 55 going on 15, and is such a sweet, self-effacing guy and very unlike what people think he’s going to be, myself included. He’s just a really solid human being, and I don’t know where all his stuff comes from to be honest. He gave a lot of emotional support throughout the process, but wasn’t massively involved – apart from writing the book obviously!”

FILTH IS RELEASED NATIONWIDE NOV 21.