Trevor Johnston meets the mad, bad Man Bites Dog
Expanded from their graduation piece by a trio of young Brussels film students. Man Bites Dog is a real chin-dropper ofa film ifever there was one. A put-on documentary style diary of a charismatic slayer's penchant for poetry amidst a burgeoning body count and chamber
music between motiveless slayings. it
seems to inhabit a hitherto unexplored cinematic hinterland
' somewhere between Henry: Portrait
of a Serial Killer and This Is Spinal Tap. As such. it has been a key title in the current media debate about the extremities of the so-called ‘new violence‘ ofa forthcoming slew of blood-splattered arthouse ﬂicks — Quentin Tarantino’s bravura Reservoir Dogs and Carl Franklin‘s taut crime picture ()ne False More among them.
Shooting and editing Man Bites Dog over a two-year period before its high-profile debut at last year‘s Cannes Film Festival. the cash-strapped filmmakers couldn‘t afford any real actors so they put themselves and their family and
friends in the picture instead.
Sharing the writing and directing chores between them. it‘s Benoit Poelvoorde who steals the show as
the extrovert mass-killer. while his
| collaborators Remy Belvaux (who came up with the whole idea in the
first place) and Andre Bonzel are in there as the director and cameraman
who record his nefarious activities
and eventually find themselves participating in horrific acts themselves.
‘People talk a lot about the film in relation to these ‘reality shows‘ on
TV.‘ reﬂects Bonzel. the only ﬂuent
English speaker in the creative triumvirate. ‘but when we started shooting in 1989, those programmes weren‘t quite in fashion then. We really took our inspiration from documentarists like Fred Wiseman and watched a lot of those films so we‘d be able to reproduce the style.
on his side. To offset all the murders we made him a poet, so it‘s not all black and white. Some pCOple are not very pleased with this.‘ Maintaining that Man Bites Dog’s sundry acts of graphic carnage are justified by the film’s over-riding moral perspective. Bonzel explains that the moviemakers' intentions were to challenge and provoke rather than simply to shock, a view shared by the British Board of Film Classification who’ve passed the film uncut. While last year‘s similarly explicit and equally controversial
. , Henry seems to have been deemed
Apart from scenes with Remy‘s parents. who weren‘t exactly told the real reason they were being filmed. the movie is a sort of scripted documentary. Everything was written line by line, but we used the camera so that it was always following the acrion. never anticipating it.
‘We knew early on that Ben was going to play the central character. and he is in life a little bit like he is on screen. crazy and exuberant. The entire film is carried on his shoulders; ifthe audience didn‘t like him. then we weren‘t going to be able to hold their interest for an hour and a half. He’s full ofdumb ideas. yet stillsympathetique. He‘s a killer. but for the first halfofthe film you‘re
too undemonstrative in tone to give the audience clear thematic guidance — causing it to suffer a number of softening deletions in the process— the Belgian offering's scenes of comedic slaughter have been left
shockingly intact. Just don‘t say you
haven‘t been warned.
‘We wrote it so that initially it would be a big laugh. yet the more the crew gets involved with the murders. the more things degenerate.‘ Bonzel points out in defence ofthe film‘s copious mayhem. ‘In the end, we wanted the child murder and the horrible rape scene to turn the audience off, so it’s not funny any more. The humour is a counterpoint. If it wasn’t there, you couldn‘t bear it and you wouldn’t stick with this character. After the rape there‘s no counterpoint, no more humour. so it disturbs you into thinking about what you‘ve just been laughing at. The whole idea is to say to the viewer “Look, how can you accept this?"
Man Bites Dog opens at the Edinburgh Film/rouse on Sun I7Jan and at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sun 7 Feb.
‘It wasn’t so much about fangs and bats : and cloaks, but much more about the
. melancholia of eternity, the despair of Q unrequited love, the atmosphere of
; repose.’ So don’t expectJulian Sands
to undergo eye-boggling special
, effects transformations in Shimako
t Sato’s Tale of a Vampire, the latest 3 bloodsucker movie to hit our screens.
But where Francis Coppola’s Dracula is a loud and lavish Wagnerian blast, this
* UK production is, by contrast, a
perfectly balanced adagio, finely played by a trio consisting of Sands, Suzanna Hamilton and Kenneth Cranham.
Sands is Alex, a vampire in the Anne Rice mould, wandering the centuries in search of his lost love. With his classically handsome features, cooly detached screen presence and intelligent bearing, he is a natural choice fora vampire role and, unsurprisingly, this is not the first time he has been offered such a script. ‘The reason why I haven’t taken them,‘ explains the 34-year-old actor, ‘is that they’ve always been a little bit schlocky and a little bit stupid. Shimako brought
3 in elements which seemed to me to be very poetic and very beautiful. It was vampire as victim without being
kitschy, vampire as beast, his instincts very much like a lone wolf’s. And yet he’s more than a wild animal because
he seems so human. The confluence of
sexuality and feeding, lonliness and
desire was so potently intermixed.’ Sands is no stranger to fans of the
horror genre, although he chooses his
roles with care. ‘I am drawn, i suppose, Q
to material that has a dramatic premise. In Gothic I was playing the poet Shelley, which was fascinating material. Arachnophobia was mad scientist stuff: it’s fun to do those cartoony performances which are about definition ratherthan depth. Warlock was close to almost Restoration comedy.’ He has already
completed Warlock 2 - ’it has more of a High Noon, Sergio Leone, spaghetti
feel’ —and Boxing Helena, the directorial debut of Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David — ‘a pretty intense film with some astonishing things in it.’ For someone who, in recent years, has worked with James Ivory, the Taviani brothers and David Cronenberg, the prospect of teaming
means that my working life is more interesting. It’s possible then to dip into the odd commercial thing to balance the books.’ (Alan Morrison)
purely out of their own energy, enthusiasm and passion for the material, was very refreshing. In
independent cinema, the material
up with a young, Japanese, first-time director might not be too appealing, but ‘ Sands is full of praise for Shimako Sato ' and the rest of the crew. ’Working with tends to be more interesting, which Tale of a Vampire opens on Fri 15 Jan , a youthful group of people - my own . means that the people feSDOHSible l0! at the MGM Sauchiehall Street, ? peer group-who were making this film ! it are more interesting, which in turn | Glasgow, and the Cannon, Edinburgh.
The List 15 — Zh‘January 199319