Roger Corman: The Producer as Jackdaw Filmmaker

Battle Beyond the Sun
Battle Beyond the Sun

To paraphrase the title of his autobiography, Roger Corman is the director who made a hundred films in Hollywood and never lost a dime. Without access to the filmmaker’s accounts, it’s hard to tell if this statement is entirely true, but knowing the man’s reputation, it’s probably safe to say he at least balanced the books every few years. Credited with over 50 films as director and more than 400 as producer or executive producer, typical films in Corman’s oeuvre oscillated between thrift and excess (and often featured both).

While the director was reknowned for making films on the cheap – once famously shooting an entire semi-improvised film in a weekend (The Terror, 1963) after another (The Raven, 1963) wrapped early on the same sets – he didn’t recycle only locations but also entire sections of movies themselves. In the 1950s, Corman had toyed with science-fiction tropes in his films It Conquered the World (1956), Not of this Earth (1957) and War of the Satellites (1958), but in each case the unknown was represented by actors in rubber suitsand make-up and a few wobbly flying saucers. While the start of his technicolour Edgar Allen Poe sequence in 1960 would show that the director could be more adept with a larger budget, freed of monochrome austerity, his tin-foil aesthetic of the previous decade did little to inspire wonder (or terror) regarding life on other planets.

Watch the original trailer for It Conquered the World:

However, contemporary audiences did have an appetite for space opera and creatures from other planets, as exemplified by the trio of Oscar-winning sci-fi films produced by George Pal in the early 1950s – Destination Moon (1950), When Worlds Collide (1951), The War of the Worlds (1953) – that preempted the space race between America and the Soviet Union, which started in the summer of 1955. With the backdrop of the continuing Cold War, announcements by representatives of Eisenhower and Khrushchev of programmes to launch satellites into space cheered and intimidated Americans in equal amounts. Therefore, it’s safe to say that unadulterated Russian cinema of the time which showed the Soviet Union winning the race would be unlikely to find an audience in the US. But, with American sci-fi of the late 1950s looking increasingly inward – with Atom Age monsters providing a clumsy parallel with ‘Reds under the bed’ – there were few films that had the scale and breadth of vision of Pal’s films from the start of the decade.

Similar films were, in fact, being made in the Soviet Union, where a population dreaming of their country winning the technological marathon to the stars could see their hopes realised in darkened cinemas. The 1959 film Nebo zovyot (The Heavens Call) is an expensive Soviet drama about a group of Russian explorers making their first scientific expedition to Mars. The cosmonauts encouter Americans en route who are trying to beat their communist rivals, only to need their help when their mission gets into trouble. Except for the outerspace origins, it’s not a film likely to touch the hearts of farmers in Kansas…

In a 2003 issue of Kinoeye, Roger Corman told an interviewer that: ‘In the 1960s I bought the American rights to several Russian science fiction films. They were made with big budgets and tremendous special effects. They were, unfortunately, filled with anti-American propaganda. I said to the Russians, “I’m going to have to cut the anti-American propaganda out. I can’t show these pictures in America,” and they said that they totally understood.”

Remixing foreign sci-fi wasn’t a new idea, with 1954’s Gojira redubbed and new scenes featuring American actors added, and released in America as Godzilla (1956) to great success. Similarly, a bowdlerised version of 1959’s Swedish monster movie Rymdinvasion i Lappland (Invasion of the Animal People) did well at the box office under the more atmospheric title Terror in the Midnight Sun, with 18 minutes shorn from its running time. Corman though, unlike Godzilla producers Terry Turner and Joseph E. Levine, didn’t care about keeping the majority of the source material intact, as long as the special effects could be repurposed. So, out went the propaganda, with these scenes replaced (along with the Russian dialogue) by rubber monsters to keep fans of the genre happy. The Corman re-edit of Nebo zovyot, with new scenes directed by Francis Ford Coppola and shot by Jack Hill, was released in 1962 as Battle Beyond the Sun, and while the resulting mish-mash does few involved any favours, it has the dubious pleasure of being an early example of a walking carnivorous vagina dentata, later to inspire the likes of Alien (1979).

Watch the original trailer for Battle Beyond the Sun:

Emboldened by the success of Battle Beyond the Sun, Corman next produced a remix of Planeta Bur (Planet of Storms, 1962) with new scenes directed by Curtis Harrington and released as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965). Harrington was unhappy with the resulting film and asked his name to be taken off the credits. Not only did the producer comply, he decided to have another of his proteges take a stab at the Russian footage, with Peter Bogdanovich directing alternate new scenes that lead to a second remix, called Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968). By a strange coincidence, Bogdanovich also directed under a pseudonym.

I had the pleasure of catching the original Planeta Bur as part of the BFI’s season Red Skies: Soviet Science Fiction in 2011 and am happy to report the original is a fun, kitsch film about a Russian mission to Venus, which features rubbery prehistoric monsters and tin-foil robots quite similar to its American counterparts of the time. It’s telling that in this case, both of Corman’s remixes mainly took the opportunity to add scantily clad women rather than monsters to the mise-en-scene. Because of the film’s similarity to contemporaneous American B-movies, it’s mainly the soundtrack (and its subtitled translation) that is noticibly different, with speeches about the Motherland and loyality to one’s comrades, plus rousing militaristic music contrasting weirdly with the tentacled creatures that attack the cosmonauts. These strange juxtapositions make for a far more memorable experience than any American remix and it’s great that the original versions of these films are now seeing the light of day again.

Queen of Blood
Queen of Blood

Like Planeta Bur‘s twice-used footage, scenes from Nebo zovyot turned up again in 1966’s Queen of Blood, a film that Harrington was happy to keep his name on this time. This is a tour-de-force of the film remixer’s art, with the director using not one but two Russian sci-fi films for his smorgasbord. Nebo zovyot provides the spaceship footage, while Mechte navstrechu (A Dream Come True1964) supplies Queen of Blood with its famous imagery of an alien woman with sizable assets luring astronauts to their doom. While Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet saw a down-on-his-luck, elderly actor – Basil Rathbone – supply new linking footage with a touch of phoned-in gravitas, the actor’s second appearance in a Russian remix (shot the next day) sees the former Sherlock Holmes rub shoulders with Corman regulars Dennis Hopper and John Saxon. There’s also a cameo by horror-film afficiando Forrest J. Ackerman. Queen of Blood‘s resulting mash-up is so odd and off-kilter it somehow transcends the sum of its disjointed parts to make for a genuine cult classic.

Perhaps realising the recycled footage was starting to look a little ubiquitous, or perhaps because of the emergence of immediate sci-fi classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes and Night of the Living Dead in 1968, Corman moved away from sci-fi and fantasy and back to exploitation in the early 1970s. Elsewhere, American cult audiences continued to enjoyed dubbed imports (with a Godzilla sequel, for example, released approximately every year between 1962 and 1975). However, with the birth of his own film distribution company – New World Pictures – in 1970, Corman started treating foreign imports with respect. It’s ironic that, if not for the interest of this shameless huckster in releasing such films as Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972), René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet (1973), Federico Fellini’s Amarcord (1973), and Volker Schlöndorff’s The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975), American audiences might not have seen those films. That said, Corman’s company did still occassionally tinker, compressing, for example, a film and its sequel – Sword of Vengeance (Kozure &#332kami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru) and Baby Cart at the River Styx (Kozure &#332kami: Sanzu no kawa no ubaguruma), both 1972 – into one: Shogun Assassin (1980). After he left, New World Pictures produced one more strange remix, crafting scenes from Mamoru Oshii’s animated feature Angel’s Egg (Tenshi no Tamago, 1985) into dream sequences for the underwhelming live-action film In the Aftermath: Angels Never Sleep (1988). Their former CEO would have been proud.

Planet of storms and Battle Beyond the Sun are available on Region 1 DVD. Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, Queen of Blood and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women are available on Region 2 DVD.

When Corman himself found he was producing a film that went over budget, such as the strangely familiar sounding Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), he would strip-mine the footage for years to come, with scenes from this film turning up in Forbidden World (1982), Space Raiders (1983), Dead Space (1991) and Starquest II (1997). Music from the soundtrack also turns up in Raptor (2001), a film that already contains recycled footage from The Nest (1988)! This thin joblot of endless copies and stitched-together clips may have somewhat tarnished Roger Corman’s reputation in recent years, but his first round of recycling in the mid-20th century is an interesting sequence of cultural exchange, early directing experiences from great filmmakers to be, and exposure to fantastic scenes from another part of the world. For that, the spend-thrift producer can only be congratulated.

Watch the original trailer for Battle Beyond the Stars:

Alex Fitch

Monsters from the Id – The Music of Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet
Forbidden Planet

With the placing of a small silver pellet into what looks like a small lava lamp, a softly modulating drone strikes up. A high-pitched swoop joins, introducing the opening riff of a bassline like bubbles bursting. Shimmering echoes float into space. ‘That recording,’ Dr. Morbius sternly informs us, ‘was made by Krell musicians a half a million years ago.’ Xenomusicology.

The story goes that producers of Forbidden Planet tried to get Harry Partch to compose the Krell music (Partch denies it) and you can understand why. Partch, perhaps more than almost any other composer of the 20th century, seemed to have tried to establish an entirely fresh basis for music. Not just bye bye diatonic harmony; bye bye the twelve-note octave, bye bye the instruments of the orchestra and hello a whole newly-invented band of ‘cloud chamber bowls’, ‘eucal blossoms’ and a ‘chromelodeon’.

But even Partch might not have come with anything quite as genuinely alien sounding, quite as pregnant with the future, as did Louis and Bebe Barron. In any other film, this short burst of alien sonics would have stuck out as thrillingly weird and exotic, but the whole film sounds like this. Everything whirls, and gurgles, and bubbles with the strange ‘electronic tonalities’ the Barrons devised with their home-made circuits.

The Barrons were among the first people in America to own a tape recorder, a wedding gift from a German friend who had imported it himself at the end of the second world war; the very same model used by Adolf Hitler to record his speeches. They immediately realised, however, that their new machine offered far more possibilities than the faithful reproduction of the human voice. Their early experiments in slowing tapes down and speeding them up, creating loops and adding echo, resulted in their first substantial composition, already implying a kind of artificial life by its title, Heavenly Menagerie.

It was around this time, at the beginning of the 1950s, that the couple first met John Cage at an artists’ club in Greenwich Village, and they soon agreed to collaborate on a series of works for tape, which would include Cage’s Williams Mix, as well as their own For an Electronic Nervous System. Louis’s recent discovery of Norbert Wiener’s writing had encouraged the pair to view their circuits by analogy with organic life or the neural pathways in the brain. They copied cybernetic circuits from Wiener’s books and adapted them for sound production, with complex feedback routes and unpredictable, ‘capricious’ natures, prone to self-destruction. ‘Those circuits were really alive,’ Bebe claimed, ‘they would shriek and coo and have little life spans of their own.’

The Barrons’ brief career as Hollywood film composers began when they accosted MGM president Dore Schary at the opening of a gallery exhibition of his wife’s paintings. Before long, the couple had persuaded him of the novelty of their ideas about electronically produced music, and Schary agreed to give them a chance to create some sounds for his new production, Forbidden Planet. From the start, MGM had only anticipated that the Barrons would contribute a small amount of special sound effects to accompany a standard orchestral score by an established composer, but having persuaded Schary to give them access to a print of the film, the Barrons came back six weeks later with a complete electronic soundtrack.

They created quasi-Wagnerian leitmotivs for the alien creatures that beset the astronauts on the planet of Altair IV by building different circuits based on the cybernetic principles outlined in Wiener’s book, Cybernetics. Their idea was to create electronic circuits that would act as though they were alive, like ‘organic’ entities, based on the feedback principles of self-organising cybernetic systems. In the original draft of Forbidden Planet’s screenplay, the idea had been that the aliens – ‘monsters from the id’ as they are called – would never be seen, so in a very real sense, the Barrons’ ‘organic’ circuits were the alien monsters; their only phenomenal manifestation. But what the Barrons found was that these circuits were actually enormously unstable and tended to breakdown in rather dramatic fashion – and it was these sounds, what Bebe Barron would later describe as the sound of a machine having a ‘nervous breakdown’, that formed most of the soundtrack to the film.

Robert Barry

Ripley’s Game: The Cinematic Identities of Patricia Highsmith’s Seductive Sociopath

Plein Soleil
Plein Soleil

Format: Cinema

Release date: 30 August 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal / ICO

Director: René Clément

Writers: René Clément, Paul Gégauff

Based on the novel: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Cast: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, Marie Lafor&#234t

France, Italy 1960

113 mins

The iconic poster art for René Clément’s Plein Soleil (1960) depicts Alain Delon, the quintessential romantic leading man of French cinema, clutching the wheel of a sailing boat, stripped to the waist, sweating under the blazing heat of the Mediterranean sun. It is a glamorous image of wealth and toned masculinity, yet there is a steely determination in Delon’s eyes that hints at something dark and devious beneath the attractive surface. This is because Plein Soleil finds Delon portraying Tom Ripley, the coldly charismatic anti-hero of five existential literary thrillers by Patricia Highsmith, and a man whose amoral actions are committed entirely free of conscience.

The character of Ripley, a conman whose desire to live vicariously through others often entails manipulative mind games and murder, has appealed to filmmakers as diverse as Clément, Wim Wenders and Anthony Minghella because of his ability to continuously reinvent himself, adopting new guises and absorbing the traits and nuances of others into his own ever evolving persona. Much as directors jump between genres, experimenting with alternative stylistic sensibilities as a means of avoiding being pigeonholed by critics and second-guessed by audiences, Ripley is always reinventing himself, leading cinematic interpretations to vary from Dennis Hopper’s aggressive alpha male in cowboy gear in Wenders’s The American Friend (1977) to Barry Pepper’s flamboyant drama student in Roger Spottiswoode’s sadly little seen Ripley Under Ground (2005). The fact that Ripley not only emerges unscathed, but also advances economically from each adventure, only makes him a more alluring prospect for directors seeking a suitable vehicle with which to explore moral ambiguity within the framework of the contemporary thriller. Highsmith’s novels may be written in the third person, but they offer a speculative insight into the psyche of the sociopath, and the urgency with which the author outlines Ripley’s thought process serves to emphasise the extent of his criminal cunning. Highsmith once stated that she had the feeling that Ripley himself was actually writing, and that she was merely typing; Plein Soleil captures the unique quality of her prose by keeping Delon’s scheming sociopath centre stage, with every detail, no matter how seemingly insignificant, being incorporated into his master plan, with everything slowly but surely conforming to his self-involved world view.

Following its theatrical run, the new uncut, digitally remastered version of Plein Soleil will be released in the UK by Studiocanal on Blu-ray and DVD, on 16 September 2013.

Plein Soleil is adapted from Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, the first entry in her ‘Ripliad’, which would later be filmed under its original title by Minghella. Ripley has left a life of poverty in San Francisco to relocate to Italy to reside with Philippe Greenleaf, the heir to a fortune who has absconded to Europe with his girlfriend Marge, an aspiring writer, to enjoy a life of leisure at the expense of his industrialist father. Having been mistaken for a former childhood friend of Philippe’s, Ripley has been sent to Italy by the playboy’s father to convince the wayward son to return to the United States, only for Ripley to be entirely open with Philippe about his assignment, and accepted into a clique of young and affluent expatriates. Philippe has no recollection of their earlier ‘friendship’, but does not perceive Ripley to be dangerous, instead dismissing him as a fantasist and finding amusement in his abilities with mimicry and forgery. During a yachting trip, Ripley causes a rift in the rocky relationship between Philippe and his girlfriend, which results in Marge departing the vessel, leaving Ripley to stab Philippe to death and dump his body into the water. After returning to port, Ripley travels to Rome and assumes Philippe’s identity, perfecting his signature, affecting his mannerisms, and becoming comfortable in his clothes, whilst also evading the attentions of the local police. Ripley immerses himself in his victim’s life to such an extent that, rather than simply impersonating Philippe, he actually becomes him.

Clément’s adaptation succeeds as an emotionally detached study of a sociopath in action, and his immersion into an alternative identity. Clément dispenses with the first act of the novel, which was set in the United States and detailed how Ripley came to be employed as an emissary by the Greenleaf family, instead plunging into Philippe’s opulent lifestyle, with Ripley already established as part of his social circle. Highsmith’s novels are acute social satires of the American class system, but Clément is less interested in the complacency of the idle offspring of the nouveaux riches than he is in the manner in which Ripley takes on Philippe’s life. Ripley is too in control to have a multiple personality disorder, but exhibits the ability to shift from one identity to another at a moment’s notice, even within the confines of his own persona. Therefore, the naïve, innocent ‘Tom Ripley’ who plays the fool with a blind man’s cane for Philippe’s amusement, comforts the deeply distressed Marge, and is interviewed about Philippe’s disappearance by an Italian police detective, is an entirely different psychological construct from the Tom Ripley who has committed cold-blooded murder, and is able to persuasively insist that he has been touring the Swiss Alps in his car, in the absence of a more substantial alibi. In the novel, Ripley adopts the rigorous techniques of a method actor, actually spending a night in a car in order to authentically capture the feeling of the experience so that his alibi will sound more convincing when he uses it. An early scene in Plein Soleil, which is all the more chilling for the relaxed manner in which it is performed, shows Ripley testing his impersonation of Philippe in front of a mirror, changing his clothes, then his hair, then his voice, as he puts together an alternate identity, layer by layer.

In the final pages of Highsmith’s novel, Ripley is travelling to Greece, having unjustly inherited part of the Greenleaf fortune, but is contemplating how to best manage his new-found wealth in order to avoid suspicion, still anxious that the police may be waiting for him in Athens with a warrant for his arrest, and unable to enjoy his freedom. It is Clément’s ability to encapsulate this self-contained tension that makes Plein Soleil so suspenseful; Ripley is constantly planning, yet adapting, working every scenario to his advantage and going to elaborate lengths to keep Philippe ‘alive’ for as long as he needs him to be, checking into a hotel under his identity, writing letters with his typewriter, contacting Marge by phone whilst ‘in character’, faking a trip back to Mongibello, and making it appear to everyone, with the exception of the suspicious Freddie, that he is Philippe’s trusted friend and the only one who is still in contact with the ‘missing’ playboy. By trading his previously gauche manner for Philippe’s more assertive attitude – perhaps the true triumph of his transformation – he is able to seduce Marge, although it is not entirely clear whether Ripley actually desires Marge, or simply sees her as an another aspect of Philippe’s life that he needs to assimilate.

The same story would form the basis for Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), a handsomely mounted melodrama, which cast Matt Damon in the title role and was positioned between a prestige period picture and the first instalment in a possible franchise. In Plein Soleil, Ripley is already comfortable with his criminal instincts, calmly explaining to Philippe how he intends to steal his money before murdering him, but Minghella seeks to explain and, to an extent, justify the actions of Highsmith’s anti-hero by delving into his background. In both Plein Soleil and The Talented Mr. Ripley, the central character is portrayed by a young leading man on the verge of major stardom; Alain Delon had only appeared in five films prior to Plein Soleil, while Matt Damon was looking to capitalise on his Oscar-nominated performance as a troubled maths genius in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting (1997). However, there are distinct differences beneath the superficial similarities.

With his bland all-American good looks and well-mannered demeanour, Damon fits Highsmith’s description of Ripley as a ‘vaguely handsome young man who has at the same time the most ordinary, forgettable face in the world’ (quoted by Andrew Wilson in Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith), and his performance suggests that Ripley’s actions stem from social marginalisation, and from his sexual attraction to Dickie (Jude Law), as Philippe was originally named. Minghella’s emphasis on Ripley’s sexuality, which is a subtext in the novel, adds to the character’s awkwardness, exemplified by a scene in which he attempts to make advances towards Dickie while the latter is taking a bath. Although Delon does play Ripley as being inexperienced and insecure, this is mostly a façade, and it is simply Philippe’s life which he desires, not the playboy himself. Murder is a last resort for Damon’s Ripley, who attacks Dickie when his true feelings are rebuffed, and kills out of self-defence when the object of his desire fights back; Delon’s Ripley views such acts as means to an end, and actually has an appetite for murder, as suggested when he takes a bite out of an apple following his murder of Philippe, and devours a roast chicken after another killing.

Later Ripley novels, and Liliana Cavani’s adaptation of Ripley’s Game (2002), would find the character living comfortably on his French estate, cultivating civilised interests, sufficiently settled in his own skin that he could pursue twisted pleasure by playing with the lives of others rather than actually adopting them. Plein Soleil, with its gorgeous cinematography by Henri Deca&#235 almost allowing its thrillingly cynical narrative to masquerade as a sun-drenched travelogue, explores a criminal so audacious in his ambition that he successfully steals that which should be intangible: personal identity.

This article was first published in the summer 09 print issue of Electric Sheep Magazine.

John Berra

Watcher the trailer for Plein Soleil:

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2013


Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

28 June – 6 July 2013

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

KVIFF website

Although the programme of the 48th edition of the KVIFF was packed and looked as exciting as ever, unfortunately there was only time for a fleeting visit this year. The always judicious picks of festival favourites from the Berlinale and Cannes included The Congress, The Great Beauty, Behind the Candelabra, Frances Ha, A Touch of Sin and Harmony Lessons to name a few, in addition to the premiere of A Field in England, a day before it became the first film to be released simultaneously in cinemas, on home entertainment formats and free TV in the UK. There was also a long-overdue Jerry Schatzberg retrospective, including the 1970s New York-set heroin romance Panic in Needle Park alongside the newly digitally remastered Scarecrow, not to mention the wealth of new offerings from Central and Eastern Europe. And even with only four days there, the small selection of highlights below proves that Karlovy Vary remains a great hunting ground for the unexpected.

Read our previous KVIFF coverage.

Halley (Sebastián Hofmann, 2012)
By far the most striking and original film I saw, Mexican filmmaker Sebastián Hoffman’s debut feature is essentially a zombie film wrapped in awkwardly stylish, realistic yet surreal art-house trappings. The horror comes in the form of an unnamed, seemingly terminal illness that has taken control of the body of lonely security guard Beto (Alberto Trujillo), who meticulously observes the strange wounds spreading from head to toe all over his skin. Ashamed and desperate when he can no longer hide his disease, Beto goes to extremes to keep the deterioration at bay, but he soon realises that hope is vain and eventually holes up in his flat, surrendering to his disturbing physical condition.

Driven by a keen sense of the grotesque, Hofmann has crafted an increasingly outlandish film that skilfully utilises and subverts genre conventions without ever failing to approach his troubled protagonist with genuine respect rather than mere compassion or exploitation. Watching Beto quietly wasting away is painful, but seeing the hint of a friendship developing with the woman who runs the gym where he works before witnessing the events that follow his last desperate attempt to cling to life is nearly heart-breaking. Halley is an intelligent, haunting and melancholy tale of the deep, unrewarding human desire for love, intimacy and acceptance, and the weird dreams that often come with it.

Watch the trailer for Halley:

Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler, 2013)
Fruitvale Station, which premiered at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section earlier this year, is one of those films that you watch not so much for its artistic refinement as for the political urgency it radiates. Nonetheless, debut filmmaker Ryan Googler shows a remarkably steady and not too heavy hand as he takes the audience through the real-life events of New Year’s morning 2009, when 22-year-old Oscar Grant was killed in a senseless police shooting at Fruitvale rapid transit stop in Oakland, California.

Fruitvale Station is released in UK cinemas on 6 June 2014.

The super-low-budget drama chronicles the last hours in the life of the young black man (intensely played by Michael B. Jordan) who, newly out of prison, is all set to make big changes in the year ahead: no more drug dealing, no more trouble, being a better son to his doting mother, a better partner to his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) and, most importantly, a more reliable father to his own daughter, starting off by taking Sophina out to see the Bay Area fireworks that night. But despite his best intentions, plans change when the police line him and his friends down on the ground against a concrete wall on the subway platform for all the wrong reasons. The real-life shaky cell phone clip at the beginning of the film, recorded in the station just before Grant’s death, not only gives a sense of foreboding to the events, but adds to the film’s aim to make Oscar human – a real person, far from being perfect, but utterly undeserving of the destiny thrust upon him. Powerful, angry and sad, Fruitvale Station exerts a subtly gripping tension that is abruptly energised as the fatal gunshot is fired, leaving the film lingering in the mind for some time after the credits roll.

Watch the trailer for Fruitvale Station:

My Dog Killer (Mira Fornay, 2012)
One would have thought that, by now, the appetite for bleak, stark East European social dramas with non-professional actors, had waned, but Mira Fornay’s Slovak-Czech film My Dog Killer, one of the three Tiger Award winners at Rotterdam earlier this year, proves that the formula still appeals to some. After setting her debut feature, Foxes (2009), in Dublin, this time the director works on her home turf as she follows the apathetic 18-year-old Marek (Adam Mihal) and his dog, Killer, through their daily struggles in a dead-end village near the Slovak–Moravian border, where all-embracing anger, dodgy dealings and open, anti-Roma racism are the order of the day. When Marek finds out that he has a half-brother with gypsy blood in his veins, he doesn’t think twice before taking drastic action. But although Mihal delivers a convincing lead performance, in the end, the only thing that one really cares about is Killer. This is a drab, hate-filled film that might well tick all the right boxes to become a strong presence on this year’s festival circuit, but anyone looking for some fresh, less formulaic and more inventive drama may want to look elsewhere.

Sources of Life (Oskar Roehler, 2013)
Oskar Roehler’s last film, Jew Suss – Rise and Fall (Jud Süss – Film ohne Gewissen, 2010), which reimagines the story of the making of Veit Harlan’s 1940 Nazi propaganda film Jud Süss, was a dead loss to say the least. So it was a relief to see him back on form with Sources of Life (Quellen des Lebens), an adaptation of his semi-autobiographical novel Herkunft. In its ambitious 174 minutes, the film recounts the story of a German family spanning three generations as they face up to the country’s post-war experience. Setting off in the late 1940s, we first meet Erich (Jürgen Vogel), a soldier devoted to Nazism, who returns home several years after the war to win back his estranged wife and make a new start by establishing the first garden gnome factory in Germany. The business flourishes, but his son Klaus (Moritz Bleibtreu) doesn’t share his fine commercial acumen and instead sets out to become an aspiring author, only to realise with jealousy that the woman he loves is a far more gifted writer than he is, but equally useless when it comes to raising their child. The latter part of the film follows their son Robert as he tries to find love and, more importantly, ‘himself’ during Germany’s eventful 1970s, when the Baader-Meinhof Group rocked the country’s democracy with a series of increasingly violent terrorist attacks. Building on his notably odd sense of humour and the three love stories at the heart of the film, Roehler manages to weave an interesting ironic commentary into his portray of West Germany, but how much that will appeal to an international audience less familiar with the detail of the country’s bumpy post-war period is anyone’s guess.

Pamela Jahn

East End Film Festival 2013

smash and grab
Smash & Grab

East End Film Festival

25 June – 10 July 2013

London, UK

EEFF website

This year’s East End Film Festival provided an eclectic mix of films, opening with the world premiere of The UK Gold and ending with a special performance by Karl Hyde, who delivered a mesmerising live soundtrack to Kieran Evans’s The Outer Edges. Audiences were given a peek at Ben Wheatley’s astounding A Field in England, the charming Frances Ha, and eco-thriller The East, while the Best Feature award went to Halley, an intriguing Mexican film about a physically deteriorating security guard. The festival also presented a terrific opportunity to revisit the stunning and innovative La Antena.

Electric Sheep was pleased to co-host Secret Societies, a day of screenings in the opulent and ornate surroundings of the Masonic Lodge, the perfect venue for Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Sante Sangre.

Below, Electric Sheep takes a look at a few more hits and misses of this year’s line-up.

The Outer Edges (Kieran Evans, 2013)

‘It’s not about the geographic route you take, it’s about the people who show you the way.’

The Outer Edges is an endearing and heartfelt collaboration between musician Karl Hyde (Underworld) and filmmaker Kieran Evans (Finnisterre) as they take us on a journey from the River Roding to the docks of the Thames, an area that Hyde refers to as ‘Edgeland’ and that forms London’s invisible borders. It’s an intriguing and somewhat neglected area of the British landscape – where the rural beauty constantly collides with industrial desolation – which Hyde and Evans manage to capture and celebrate with a visual vibrancy. Among the people interviewed along the way are an allotment gardener, a tour guide, members of a boxing club, a cabaret singer, a hot dog vender, bird watchers, and an all female bagpipe marching band from Dagenham, all of whom add poignant insight to the lyrical imagery.

Hyde’s own musings that form the narration are a bit hard to take at times. But they’re never too preachy, pretentious or whimsical, as he poetically reflects on the rarely addressed historical significance of the area, the importance of having a pastime in order to survive modern life, and how this overlooked terrain has shaped his own life. Much like the environment it’s depicting, The Outer Edges isn’t without its flaws, but it’s very rare that these hidden spaces are ever celebrated on film in such an understated and sincere way, which above all makes it a trip worth taking. RM

Watch the trailer for The Outer Edges:

Soldatte Jeanette (Daniel Hoesl, 2013)

Drawing from a tradition of European arthouse fare, Soldatte Jeanetteis one of those films where little is explained, nothing much is said, and it’s up to everyone’s willingness and imagination to make something of the slow-paced, fragmented and moody drama that unfolds on screen. In a scene that is unashamedly stylised and wooden, but intriguingly grotesque at the same time, we meet Fanny (Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg) as she tries on a dress in a chic boutique in Vienna, ensnared by its persuasive salesman, who is dishing out his best lines in order to convince her to make the purchase. And Fanny does buy the dress, only to through it in the bin as soon as she leaves the shop. Not that she has plenty of money to waste – soon after, she is evicted from her spacious apartment after having lived there for 20 years, forced to change her way of life. Swapping her extravagant city existence for a tough hike through the Austrian forest, Fanni then meets Anna (Christina Reichsthaler), who works on a farm, with little to look forward to but years of drudgery ahead. It would be a shame to reveal much more here but, on the other hand, apart from the sharp cinematography and the maverick attitudes of the characters, not much direction is given as to where all this is heading. Shot with no script, on a tiny budget, and with actors conspicuously happy to develop their characters as the sparse action goes along, Soldatte Jeanetteoverindulges in the freedom of being a formal rather than comprehensible cinematic experiment, bordering on pretentious in places, but never losing control. PJ

Leones (Jazmín López, 2010)

Five teenagers wander through a secluded forest looking for a mysterious house. Waifish Isa, the film’s protagonist, is troubled by the cold, hunger and fatigue; the forest appears to be watching them; a strange recording of their voices hints at a terrible truth. The atmosphere is infected by foreboding and anticipation. And so we wait, and we wait, and we wait for something to happen. They play a banal game based on Hemingway’s six-word story. They go swimming. They play a game of invisible volleyball, which is as awful as it sounds. Isa eats a lot of fruit. There is a pointless sex scene. Isa sings Sonic Youth’s ‘Rapture’ for no apparent reason. Tension rapidly gives way to boredom. Aside from some pretentious dialogue and far too many shots of the backs of characters’ heads, nothing happens. When it does, it’s a big shrug-inducing meh. Sure, the whole thing looks nice, but as a meditation on time, mortality and metaphysics it’s a fail. There’s an interesting idea nestled at the heart of this film, and told well, it could have made a decent short. Unfortunately, those going to watch Leones will have to settle for a dull feature. SK

Smash &#38 Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers (Havana Marking, 2013)

Using genuine surveillance footage and animated re-enactments of secret interviews, Smash &#38 Grab tells the true story of one of the world’s most successful gangs of international diamond thieves, in a visually spectacular and compelling documentary that’s as gripping as any fictionalised equivalent.

Meticulously edited with as much attention to detail as one of the gang’s criminal operations, what initially feels like a flashy glamorisation of the criminal underworld soon develops into something far more significant. Each detailed account, from the criminals themselves to the Interpol detectives on their trail, gives amazing insight into the techniques used to perform a perfect heist and the dark network of global crime that it supports. We also get personal reflections on what motivates the criminal mind, the allure of a such a life, and how the pursuit of freedom through illegal means can lead to a loss of identity, alienation and a psychological prison of constant paranoia.

The disintegration of former Yugoslavia and its devastating repercussions are seen as a major catalyst for turning the Serbian members of The Pink Panthers onto a life of crime, with petty robberies soon escalating towards more elaborate forms of thievery on an epic scale. This tragic political climate certainly gives strong reasoning behind their illegal activities, though I did feel the film lacked any testimonials from the many witnesses who often found themselves at gunpoint while the robberies took place, who were no doubt left traumatised. Nevertheless, Smash &#38 Grab is a thrilling and entertaining watch with enough cinematic aspirations to make it stand out. RM

Watch the trailer for Smash &#38 Grab :

Festival report by Robert Makin, Stephanie King and Pamela Jahn

Roly Porter’s Film Jukebox

Roly Porter
Roly Porter

Roly Porter began his career as one half of Vex’d, releasing a series of singles on the Subtext label before moving to Planet Mu to release Degenerate and Cloud Seed. His solo work fuses his background in soundsystem music with contemporary classical composition and focused sound design, resulting in a unique and often harrowing sound. 2011 saw the release of the critically acclaimed LP Aftertime, followed in 2012 by the Alderburgh Festival-commissioned Fall Back, a collaboration with renowned Ondiste Cynthia Millar. 2013 will see the release of his most ambitious project to date, Life Cycle of a Massive Star.

As a composer and sound designer, Roly has produced original soundtracks for Big Talk/Film 4’s In Fear, which premiered at this year’s Sundance festival, and dystopian thriller Interferenz. Below, Roly discusses his ten favourite movies.

1. Dune (David Lynch, 1984)
I saw this film long before reading the books, and that is probably for the best. So much of this film has dated terribly, and a lot of it was terrible in the first place. The costumes, special effects – it’s all pretty bad but I can’t help loving it, even the warty, floating Baron. When I was younger it felt like the most epic thing ever, the shield fights blew me away and somehow that epic feeling has survived – apart from Sting, he looks totally lame in his pants. The soundtrack is suitably epic, which is lucky as Toto seem a baffling choice when listening to their other records. I don’t know whether there was any cross over between them and Eno or whether he just added the ‘Prophecy Theme’, but either way it’s pretty epic. I had a brief listen to the official soundtrack and it contains some complete turds, which I don’t remember being in the movie, but I’d avoid listening to it if possible.

2. Into Eternity (Michael Madsen, 2010)
Fascinating documentary about a nuclear storage facility. The thing I love about the film is that it gives you some idea of how long 100,000 years actually is. The narrator is pretty annoying, but there is some great sound design and some terrifying ideas.

3. Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
When I first watched this I found it completely engrossing in a way I have rarely experienced sober. I watched it on my laptop, which could have ruined it, but the film is so powerful it didn’t matter, although I would love to see it in the cinema. It’s basically the perfect film for me. I think it was badly marketed as some kind of Gladiator-style Viking romp instead of the doom laden, dark ambient masterpiece it actually is. I tried to rent it from an amazing shop in Bristol called 20th Century Flicks, whose recommendations are always spot on, and the guy there spent some time trying to dissuade me, so they must have had a few complaints. The music is good but scoring this film would have been my dream job. The timing of everything in this film matches some part of my brain that I can’t identify. I could watch it again and again.

4. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
Perfect in every way. Slow, beautiful, heartbreaking, funny – it has every part of life somehow squeezed in. An unbeatable classic.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
If I have enjoyed a book I will make sure that I never see the film of the book. It’s always a disappointment, if not always bad. No Country for Old Men is supposed to be great, but why bother – the book was great and I don’t want the characters in my head altered. 2001 is the one exception to this rule. I saw the film first and spent many years watching it in a haze, not understanding it but loving it. The book and the film are the perfect accompaniment to each other, they each make the other more enjoyable. Knowing what is actually happening in the film totally transformed it for me. This film is older than I am and it still looks better than anything since.

6. Nuts in May (Mike Leigh, 1976)
This is a pretty painful watch. It’s directed by Mike Leigh, and I expect it’s either love or hate for this. Keith is a legend. If you’ve been camping give it a go.

7. Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
I know very little about the IRA but I found this film disturbing and fascinating. It is by no means the most violent film I have seen, but the violence towards the prisoners is so effectively portrayed that it genuinely upset me. Beautifully made, but I suspect that if I had a better grasp of the history, I would have found it harder to enjoy this film.

8. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
Just an absolute classic. Every time I come back to this film I am surprised by how good it is.

9. Upstream Colour (Shane Carruth, 2013)
The strange thing about this film is that you can say it makes no sense, or that the plot is ridiculous, but that doesn’t detract from how great it is at all. The pig thing comes close to being rubbish, especially when they are all reunited, but somehow the film fights past it to become meaningful. It is almost as though Carruth has chosen the most absurd plot as a challenge to overcome. As I have only recently seen this and Primer, I can’t say they are my favourite films, however Upstream Colour is certainly one of the most original and enjoyable films I have seen in some time.

10. Caddyshack (Harold Ramis, 1980)
‘Skinny skiing, bullfights on acid’.

Daniel H. Wilson is Dave Lister from Red Dwarf

Red Dwarf
Red Dwarf

Robotics engineer Daniel H. Wilson is the author of eight books, including How to Survive a Robot Uprising, and Where’s My Jet Pack. His novel Robopocalypse was bought by DreamWorks and is being adapted for the screen by Steven Spielberg. His new book, Amped, is set in a scary near-future world, where humanity and technology clash in superhuman ways. Daniel H. Wilson’s filmic alter ego is Dave Lister from Red Dwarf. Eithne Farry

Amped is out as paperback (£7.99) in the UK from 12 September 2013, published by Simon & Schuster.

Look, choosing an alter ego is an exercise in wish fulfilment. So isn’t it natural to choose a person who indulges in all the things that you don’t? Maybe someone who represents a version of yourself that you could never actually allow yourself to be? It’s an alter ego, after all, right?

What I’m trying to say is, ‘Please don’t judge me.’ Because if I could be any sci-fi character, I’d be Dave Lister from the television sitcom Red Dwarf.

As the sole survivor of a radiation leak on board of the Red Dwarf mining ship, Dave is like the only kid in a deep-space candy store. Unlike his rather more accomplished colleagues in the sci-fi canon – from Captain Jean Luc Picard to Commander William Adama – Dave gives not the slightest pretence of being a space hero.

Instead, he’s just a guy who really appreciates Indian food and a tall boy of cheap beer. Dave has got no deadlines, no responsibilities, and free access to all the Better-than-Life video games you could ever hope to play.

Beer and video games forever? Ah, now that’s a space hero after my own heart.

Granted, having been in stasis for three million years means that everyone who Dave has ever known is now long dead. You’d think things could get pretty lonely, but don’t forget that the demented ship-board AI provides solid conversation; there is a hologram generator that can recreate a single (arbitrarily annoying) human companion at a time; plenty of incredibly long-lived androids and skutters are there to pick up after you; and a new race of very self-absorbed cat people has evolved.

How could you ever get bored?

Depending on your perspective, Dave Lister is living in either heaven or hell. I have a mortgage, a wife and two small children, and I haven’t finished a video game in years. The Red Dwarf mining vessel looks like heaven from where I’m standing.

More information on Daniel H. Wilson can be found here.

Daniel H. Wilson

Cine Books on Forgotten Curiosities, Evocative Objects and The Three Stooges in Hollywood


Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiousities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems
Edited By Julian Upton
Headpress 439pp. £15.99


Rosebud Sleds and Horses’ Heads: 50 of Film’s Most Evocative Objects
By Scott Jordan Harris
Intellect 111pp. £19.95

The Three Stooges

The Three Stooges: Hollywood Filming Locations
By Jim Pauley
Santa Monica Press 304pp. £24.99

As the long-awaited heat and sun of summer has finally reached the UK again after all these years, it is time to pack away all those scholarly and theoretical tomes on cinema and lie back and let some purely pleasurable texts flow over you. And it is in this spirit that the first recommendation for top leisurely reading is the unputdownable Julian Upton book, Offbeat. Now if – like me – you thanked the patron saint of forgotten British films for answering your prayers and delivering the BFI’s Flipside label, then you will feel doubly blessed with Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiousities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems. This book could well serve as the reference source for future Flipside releases, or indeed be the reference book of choice for anyone who is keen to venture beyond the 23 (so far) releases and track down some of the gems and oddities covered in Upton’s book. In the reviews of over 100 lost (to release, at least) British films, from the rise of the industry in the fifties to the backing of Hollywood in the sixties, to the laissez-faire of the seventies and finally to ‘the dying embers of popular domestic cinema in the early eighties’, a host of well-known contributors enthuse, castigate, advocate and denigrate a cornucopia of little known British cinematic trash and treasures. Expanded thematic essays are indicative of what the reader may expect, for example: ‘Swordplay: British Swashbuckler Films’, ‘Over the Cliff: British Rock and Roll Films’, ‘A Dangerous Madness: Opening the Door to Asylum Horror’, ‘Sullivan’s Travails: The Roldvale Sex Films’, ‘Seen But Not Heard Of: Children’s Film Foundation’, ‘Wings of Death: Demise of the Short as Supporting Feature’ and inevitably, ‘Baby Love: Underage Sex and Murder in British Cinema’. A total treat: who cares if the book’s graphic design and layout is distracting and looks like an over-worked web page, with those annoying spools of film pagination everywhere? This is the kind of must-have book that readers of ES will love.

Scott Jordan Harris’s book, Rosebud Sleds and Horses’ Heads: 50 of Film’s Most Evocative Objects is different in kind and format from the normally recognisable Intellect publishing format, which can be explained by its having first been published in the US under the auspices of the University of Chicago Press. With stylistically linked illustrations for each object discussed, Harris focusses three or four paragraphs of succinct and observant text on various key examples of material culture, which are intrinsic to the narrative and plot of the selected film. Semiotic-lite analyses of such ‘things’ as the discarded Coke bottle in The God’s Must Be Crazy, the chess set in The Seventh Seal, the letters of transit in Casablanca, Marty McFly’s hoverboard in Back to the Future Part II, ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ in Trainspotting and Dirk Diggler’s (prosthetic) penis in Boogie Nights make for eclectic and fascinating reading about a little-explored aspect of cinematic mise-en-scene. It’s one of those books that demand initial reading at one sitting, and then further reference and reflection subsequently. Delightfully engaging, entertaining and informative – and perfect for outdoor reading.

Finally, and in brief, an excellent exemplar of the dedicated cinephile: the completist fan-geek. And I mean that not as a pejorative statement but as a wide-mouthed admirer. Jim Pauley has tracked down, explored and documented the filming locations – then and now – of the most significant Three Stooges Columbia Picture shorts made in the Los Angeles area between 1934 and 1958. A labour of true Stoogology love, which must have taken years to assemble: there are some 500 archival photographs, 12 maps, and interviews with supporting actors, directors and family and friends of the beloved Moe, Curly, Larry, Shemp, Joe and Curly Joe. The Three Stooges: Hollywood Filming Locations is enjoyable to dip into, but is probably a tome for an American audience and hard-core fans only, although it is beautifully produced and ‘showing the love’.

James B. Evans

This section of my column pays homage to out-of-print and rare film books that link to one of the themes or books reviewed above, and in this installment I recommend seeking out a copy of Last of the Moe Haircuts by Bill Flanagan, ‘self-appointed Director of the American Stooge Synposium’. It’s a clever and hilarious book that mixes scholarship and expertise of the Three Stooges with a cheeky and very witty approach to ‘proper’ analysis of the films, with evidence provided by contextualising the film’s content. One great proof offered of the Stooges prescience is in their dealing with feminist issues, with the suggestion that various Stooges films established their avant-garde thinking in this sociological matter, while another section discusses their spreading of the gospel of Freud through living example. Great fun! JE

Casting Sound: Interview with Johnny Marshall

Upstream Colour1
Upstream Colour

Format: Cinema

Release date: 30 August 2013

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Shane Carruth

Writer: Shane Carruth

Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig

USA 2013

93 mins

Johnny Marshall is an awarding-winning, Texas-based sound designer with a background in music, who has worked in the industry for over three decades. His work on Upstream Colour won him the Special Jury Award for Sound Design at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The latest film from the director, actor and composer Shane Carruth, Upstream Colour joins Berberian Sound Studio as an ambitiously cinematic exploration of sound and vision with sound taking on a role as both an on-screen character and off-screen protagonist. The sense of a noise drawing characters on, sounds both heard and unheard and a beautifully hypnotic – and never has hypnotic been more literally applied – score make Upstream Colour one of the richest cinema experiences you’re likely to see this year.

John Bleasdale spoke with Johnny Marshall about what it was like to audition for Shane Carruth, and the process behind the creation of the film’s unique and remarkable sound design.

John Bleasdale: How did you first get involved in the project?

Johnny Marshall: The process of being hired for Upstream Colour was unlike any other project I had ever been involved with. I received a call from producer Casey Gooden who told me about a film he was producing with Shane Carruth. Although Shane and I had never met, I did know him by reputation and was very interested in the possibility of working with him on his second film. Casey proceeded to tell me they were looking for a sound designer for the film as well as a place for Shane to do some ADR, and were considering a number of sound designers and facilities. The unusual part of the process was, for lack of a better term, ’auditioning’ for the role. Casey asked if I’d be willing to take one scene from the film and sound design it in whatever way I deemed appropriate, non gratis. The scene that was shot had no dialogue, so it was wide open for a complete sound design treatment, including atmospheres, full foley coverage, hard effects, etc., as well as some sonic texture beds to underscore the scene. In addition he asked if I’d be willing to let Shane come by and ADR one scene to get a feel for working with me in my facility. I agreed and was told that once they had compiled the scene treatments from all those being considered they would make a decision. A week or so later I received another call from Casey with the news that they wanted me to be the sound designer. The ’audition’ scene treatments for the sound design and the ADR ended up being the actual elements used in the final mix of the film.

Read the review of Upstream Colour here.

Sound is a protagonist in the movie. Did it change your approach knowing that sound was going to be so foregrounded?

That’s a great question. When I began working on the film everyone involved was moving fast to complete a final picture lock, sound design, and temp mix for a Cannes submission. Since the final editing and the sound design were being done simultaneously at separate locations, I was receiving one reel at a time in sequence as each reel was locked. I never read a script and didn’t really know where the film was going when I first started working on it, but I knew there was something very special about Upstream Colour in that not only was the film very ’outside the box’, but also unlike any film I’d ever seen. Consequently I approached the sound design with that in mind. It was more like sound designing from an audience perspective, in that I would receive a reel and emotionally react to it with sound design, not knowing where the next reel would take me. I remember getting occasional calls from Casey saying a new reel was ready and words to the effect of ‘You won’t believe where this one goes!’ Perhaps it was one of those ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ but I don’t think I was ever really cognizant of the foregrounding of the sound until I sat in the Eccles Theatre and watched the film at the Sundance 2013 world premiere.

How did you work with the music? Was this something you had discussions about?

As a whole there were very few discussions about anything during the post audio process. As Shane was concentrating on the final edit and the score, I was left to my own devices to do my work. Although the score was ever evolving during post, I would always receive OMFs with Shane’s music cues, so I always had a sense of the sonic emotional content of each scene. I am very proud of Shane’s musical work on Upstream and think the score is not only phenomenal but proved to be very conducive to the style of sound design I brought to the table.

Did you use much live sound?

As far as location audio I’d say considerably less than in most films. There’s not a great deal of dialogue and a good amount of it was ADR. There were scenes in the hotel and on the trains that were just way too noisy to be cleaned up and used. From a sound design perspective we were able to utilize some great wild audio from the pig farm and the trains.

How did you deal with the dialogue? It seems to be intentionally behind the sound.

Although that’s more of a question for the re-recording mixer at Skywalker, Pete Horner, who did an incredible job on the mix, I know that the opening lines of dialogue in the film between the boys and the thief were intentionally pulled back in the mix as a creative decision. Shane didn’t feel that those lines needed to be as discernable as other dialogue in the film, and rather be just audible enough to give a sense of what is going on. Aside from that scene I never had a sense the dialogue was intentionally behind the sound per se. That said, I do feel there is a great deal of dynamic range being used in the film, which is one of the many elements of Pete Horner’s mix that I really love.

What was the nature of your collaboration with Shane Carruth?

Interesting that you would ask that, since overall there wasn’t a great deal of actual collaboration between Shane and me during the sound design process. I have a sense that after my ’audition’ scene Shane felt we were both on the same page as to the sonic direction of the film and subsequently left me to do my part unsupervised while he concentrated on his. He did, however, give me a bit of direction on one scene where the Sampler places speakers on the ground and plays a cassette tape to the worms. Shane asked me to create a low frequency, pulsating sound-design treatment that would be playing from the tape, through the speakers, and into the ground. With that I created something I thought worked for the scene, Shane approved it, and I moved on. In the final mix Pete added some reverb and delays into the surround channels which really brought that sound design element to life.

Could you say something about the character of the ‘Sampler’, who is in effect a sound designer? Was his practice informed by your own?

When I tell someone I was the sound designer for Upstream Colour I sometimes get this look like ’Wow, you look a lot taller and thinner on screen’ and I’m like ’No, wait, I’m the sound designer ‘on’ Upstream Colour, not the sound designer ‘in’ Upstream Colour!’

There are many days when what you see the Sampler doing is exactly what I do, that is, walk around with mics and a portable digital recorder to record sounds to use in the films I work on. It’s fun to think that somewhere down the road my grandkids could be watching Upstream Colour and during the scene where Kris (Amy Seimetz) returns to her home after her long ordeal, slowly pushes open the front door, it creaks, hits the wall and their mom or dad could say ’Hey kids, what you just heard was the creaky front door of the house we grew up in!

Interview by John Bleasdale