_ Single Brit female
Trevor Johnston talks to Atlantic-hopping Used
People director Beeban Kidron.
Women ﬁlmmakers are a rare enough minority group in Hollywood. but when Beeban Kidron shot her first feature for Fox. she became the one and only Briton currently making up their number. Ten years ago. the National Film School graduate was camped at a US Airforce base shooting the documentary Carry (ireenhatn Home: now, with her debut US feature Used People. she’s working with Oscar winners Shirley Macl.aine. Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy. and even managed to persuade Marcello Mastroianni to make his first American film in his 4(l-odd year career.
All of which goes to show just how far an acclaimed series for the BBC will get you these days. While A Very British ('oup put Mick Jackson on the road to [A Story and The Bodyguard. and The Singing Detective has helped power Jon Amiel's career on towards the likes of .S'mnmershy. a Los Angeles screening of Kidron's Jeanette Winterson saga Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit put the Londoner firme on the map so far as Tinseltown‘s top talent-spotters were concerned. ‘Virtually the same week Antonia and Jane. the subsequent film i did for the
Beeb. was also shown at the 'l‘elluride Film Festival.’ she reflects with a wry smile. ‘and so it seemed like I'd had two hits in two minutes. They really love you out there if they think you’re prolific. so it wasn‘t very long before a couple of companies paid to have me ﬂown over so they could throw scripts at me.‘
Todd Graffs Used People. a Noo Yawk Jewish family portrait of no little eccentricity. was the first one that stuck. its story of second-chance amour between widowed Maclaine and spivvy sexagenerian Mastroianni standing out from the screeds of formula pap. ‘In so many of the screenplays I read. it was like buying a ticket for the bus. going round the block a bit. then getting off at the same place again. With this one I felt like you were actually going on a legitimate
journey. at the end of it you know that these characters are going to get up the next morning and have a new chapter to their life.‘
‘In so many of the screenplays I read, it was like buying a ticket for the bus, going round the block a bit, then getting off at the same place again. With this one I felt like you were actually going on a legitimate iourney.’
Appropriate words perhaps for someone whose life has been zipping through the chapters of late. Although she reckons she‘s had ‘a good experience‘ by Hollywood standards. she certainly confounded the powers-
that-bc. putting the newly green-lit Used People on hold for four months until all the cast she wanted was available. and later by heading straight back to England as soon as she'd finished. Braving her agent’s shock and chagrin and turning the received wisdom on its head. she returned pronto to the bosom of the BBC to at last make the piece they‘d spent three years turning down — a further collaboration with Winterson and producer Philippa Giles titled Great .l/Iotnents In Aviation.
‘lt's about a young girl who comes from Grenada to Britain in I957 with visions of becoming an aviatrix. and on board the ship she meets a diverse bunch of characters. There‘s Jonathan Pryce playing a very male charlatan. John Hurt as an obsessive art historian. and Dorothy Tutin and Vanessa Redgrave as a couple of missionaries. It‘s a story of how one person with a dream can affect people who have more in the way of worldly privileges. and how she helps them get to the truth of their own situations.‘
At this point. Kidron herself has probably achieved a good few of her own dreams. but for the future she‘s certainly keeping her options open with potential projects on each side of the Big Pond — one with Fisher King writer Richard La Gravenese over there. one with Jim Cartwright (who‘d previously scripted her ﬂawed Film on Four Vroom) over here. ‘1 think you learn more from the ones that aren't so successful. because you try to correct your mistakes as you go on.” she adds. rather modestly. ‘but if anyone's been responsible for the progress I‘ve made. it's Philippa at the BBC. Working on ()ranges. she gave me the confidence to believe I had my own vision. Prior to that. I'd always thought my work was rather ordinary.‘
Used People opens in Scotland on Friday 23 April. For review, see Screen lest
Water is the currency of Margaret Tait’s lyrical new film, Blue Black Permanent. It appears in seascapes in living rooms, as rain in Edinburyi, waves on a beach in Fife and crashing against the cliffs of Orkney. ller characters appear like pencil marks; defined, but all too easily washed away by this ever-present element.
Spanning three generations arriving at the present day, Barbara, a woman in her late 305 who lives in Edinburgh tries to come to terms with the tragic death of her mother, Greta. She, in turn, had been obsessed with the sea after her own mother drowned, and the film sets in motion an investigation into the acceptance of the past.
Margaret Tait is in her 70s and has a long and interesting back catalogue of short non-narrative films. She was born and lives in Orkney and has always used whatever came to hand as material for her work. This, her first feature-length film, shows that she has come from a very different
direction from many younger filmmakers. ‘ln my student days in the late 303 and 40s, I used to see films at the Film Guild in Edinburgh which never would have shown up in the big picture houses. They seemed to have a different approach from the Hollywood films I was used to. They were mostly
European, some Soviet, and there was always a discussion about them afterwards even though it wasn’t quite the thing to take cinema quite as seriously as the other arts. But the wide variety of films I was able to see in my youth is the background to my own impulse towards tilmmaking in the first place.’
Tait then spent three years in Home in the 50s and learned the craft of tilmmaking. When she returned to Scotland there was so little going on that she started making short films of her own.
‘These short films were trying to do in film terms what others might try to do in music, painting or writing, so my films took on a life of their own, so to speak. Because of that, half a dozen major funding bodies and TV companies decided to commission something from me. I realised I’d really have to work from a screenplay for a feature film and I had, over the decades, been writing screenplays, parallel to the short tilmmaking. In the early 80s I developed an idea which had been lurking in my mind for a while which could be produced with the backing.’
Blue Black Permanent is a
compelling yet sometimes puzzling film. It doesn’t offer any answers but instead summons up a vivid image of our own mortality. ‘If you don’t know what happened in an event, you never know,’ she says. ‘You can go over and over an over it and poor Barbara in her late 30s still is. The film shows that she eventually has to accept it and that grief is there and is part of ourselves.’
Penslve and populated with very different characters from those much over-used by the Bill Forsyth mould, the film speaks with a quiet but clear voice. Greta is drawn to the sea although she lives in the city and this conflict is reflected in her personality. While trying to express her creativity as a poet, she also has to look after the needs of her family.
Underplayed and above all human, it is a film which feels lnherently Scottish. ‘The sea Is something which stays with Greta and the film comes out of a place and a kind of attitude that is not uncommon in a place like Scotland with its coastlines and cities.’ (Beatrice Colin)
Blue Black Permanent opens at Glasgow Fllm Theatre on Sunday 25
The List 23 April—6 May 1993 27