Wednesday, 15 September 2010

We Can Be Heroes


A few weeks ago I wrote and directed a short comic film dealing with a character who makes porno films on his council estate. When we screened the short, reaction was a lot of laughter as well as general discomfort and displeasure at what is, admittedly, a very brutal kind of comedy. Although nothing ‘naughty’ was shown – the film was perceived as strong in laying bare the anti-glamour of this subject.
The DP and I intended to force a reaction from a viewer, as an ‘in-yer-face’ trailer for a longer comedy series idea about the current UK delusion of the entrepreneurs dream; otherwise known as ‘rich people taking money off stupid poor people by pretending their desperate ideas have value’.

Leaving aside the curious question that seemed to be asked of me: why hadn’t I made a more glamorous film about pornography – (or whether the world really needed this short) I faced a familiar criticism of not making my characters ‘likeable’.


The thing is: I liked these characters. Admittedly, the short came out of a much longer screenplay where they are explored more thoroughly but essentially the main guy is a man who makes his living making no-budget, seedy porno films.

I’d like to use a better word: heroic. After all, the Kray Twins were probably ‘likeable’. At first.
And I think the main man in my story is heroic. He lives in dire poverty. Along with everyone else he knows, he has never left his South London estate and perceives the world only through a haze of alcohol, bad drugs, junk food, internet porn and squalid television. Abandoned to and castigated for living in a benefit culture, devoid of education, my hero does what he can for his family without resorting to drug dealing, violence or crime.
The character’s virtue is his determination to succeed and his talent. Had he been born in Notting Hill and gone to a good school he would have been making adverts for useless products, or directing awful pretentious movies, or managing pointless marketing events or working in wine or something equally as important. Instead, he uses what he knows and what he has been programmed to know.

To tell the truth, I think some people didn’t like my film because it was ugly. Sorry. That’s my aesthetic. In this film.
Or they just thought it was talentless crap. Fair enough. Nothing I can do about that.


The subject of the heroic protagonist is something I’ve often chatted about, drunk, in pubs – so a blog is the perfect place to continue.

I’d like to get this straight – I’m not in love with Bad Boy characters; who quite often don’t turn out to be that bad or, and this is quite usual in film, characters who are essentially stupid wish-fulfilment sadistic fantasies for geeky morons.

I guess we’re really talking about good/bad characters versus real/unreal characters. At one end of the spectrum: Superman, Conan and at the other, well – I would say Flashman, or McNulty in The Wire.

Let’s say ‘The Incredibles’. A cartoon for Christ’s sake. I remember rooting for the villain, that ginger-haired geeky kid whom fate had decreed had nothing special about him.
To take on these perfect types who had done nothing to earn their powers, this villain had to work for it; build everything from scratch. I wanted him to succeed; to make the Incredibles suffer. Okay, he went loony and tried to blow up the world or something, but that was only because the ‘goodies’ wouldn’t let him play.
Don’t give me some tortured teenage arse ‘cursed’ with super-strength or water-breathing or cool vampirism or great fighting skills. Some people get cancer, you nob.


Of course, the more 3D you make a character the more audience you’re going to lose (except, oh er remember Jaws – with its famous endless rehearsal time for its three main actors to, y’know, develop their roles). Give ‘em a simple thuggish Van Damme or an Arnie and you’re gonna get a large slice of the pie. Complicate it a bit?
Maybe a Western or Historical with Clint or Russell (increasingly rather bizarrely: James Purefoy) okay, we’re still all there if the star can carry tortured – as long as he succeeds and kills everyone.
You’ve got Rom-com heroes next – can be a bit tortured and even a bit rotten, as long as they look good and come round in the end.
Moving up we throw in some 70s now – Warren Beatty in almost anything he did. Badlands. The Last Detail. The mighty Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Now we’re talking some big failures at the box office.
Next thing to go is looks: get rid of glamour and we’re left with Sweet Smell of Success and Foreign World Cinema and ordinary people in situations way out of their control… and now we’re into arthouse and nobody watching.


As in the films of my ultimate hero: Alexander Mackendrick,
my heroes are essentially characters capable of good or bad, depending on what life throws at them, without any real control over their surroundings and little hope of reward. And if they are good, quite often they know in advance that goodness will destroy them. That bad people will profit from their goodness. It’s probably a 70s thing (see earlier blog re: disaster movies).

Maybe that’s why it’s comedy for me. Ash in Evil Dead 2? A perfect movie. This guy tries everything, deserves his redemption and ends up on a mountain in 1300AD crying about how unfair it all is. That’s a hero.
The Ladykillers. Kind Hearts and Coronets. Even Day of the Dead. Watch them now.

Does this make any sense? Is there a point to this rambling? Am I going crazy? Thanks for reading. I’m stopping now.

1 comment:

  1. I reckon that a lot of people only really 'like' characters that they either want to be or want to meet.
    Therefore a character who makes porno films on his council estate is unlikely to tick either of those boxes, but it shouldn’t make the film any less watchable - it just means that it's a tougher challenge to make the protagonist realistic/ believable because many viewers will decide early on that the characters are not 'likeable'.
    Kind of agreeing with your points above anyway - just thought I should actually post a comment on a blog instead of just reading them :)