:— Home truths
Andrew Pulver talks to Les Blair, director of Bad Behaviour.
Les Blair is annoyed: ‘London Transport refused to have the word ‘gobshite‘ on their illustrious walls. I mean, do they ever look at the visuals on their posters? What have they got against language. anyway‘?‘ He's talking about the ad-line for his new ﬁlm Bad Behaviour. the posters for which have been adorning the London Tube for the past few weeks. The mellifluous phrase dreamed up by the PR department to sell the ﬁlm has fallen foul ofthe censors. ‘lt's supposed to be “The Mother, The Planner. The Gobshite." It‘s a quote. Then I got a phone call saying I had ten minutes to think of something else. So we used ‘sleazeball‘ in the end. which isn‘t quite the same.‘
Bad Behaviour is Les Blair's third feature. an intimate ensemble piece set entirely in the London Borough of Camden. starring current hot property Stephen Rea (fresh from The Crying Game triumph) and fellow Irish screen star Sinead Cusack. ‘What I started with.‘ explains Blair, ‘was a simple notion about the sort of permanent crises that seem to assail the domestic lives of particular characters at a certain time in their life. I wanted to do something about the mid-life crisis that didn't descend into the cliches of extra- marital sex — ternpestuous love scenes with an improper stranger. or whatever.‘
Emanating the sort of upright morality you don't normally associate with cinema. Blair is the kind of director
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u $‘i‘1.\\. 4.x ~~ , v who likes to play everybody a straight hand. The tendemess revealed in Bad Behaviour is that of self-restraint and responsibility to others — something Blair is keen to stress carries over into his working methods. ‘In the end. the ﬁlm is about true love winning through. I couldn't have a steamy love scene anyway. because the actors had created the characters with me. and they just wouldn‘t have stood for it. Besides. it would bore me to distraction. I ﬁnd the tension. the edginess of doubt. far more interesting.‘
In common with a clutch of BBC- trained directors (Mike Leigh springs immediately to mind). Blair employs an improvised. group creativity in the details of his story, with the actors offering their own suggestions as to
casting led to the parts of Gerry and Ellie McAllister being played by Rea and Cusack — themselves two of the hosts of Irish ex-patriates living in the English captial. ‘I talked to Stephen and Sinead.’ adds Blair. ‘and I thought. “Why not?“ Lots of Irish people live in London. Then we got more speciﬁc — she's from Dublin. kind of Irish aristocracy; he's from Belfast, working class. So we got to these relationships which are universally interesting. only they‘re explained in Irish terms.‘
The London environment of the ﬁlm remains more than just a tasty backdrop for the ﬁlm‘s narrative, shifting as it does between different groups of characters linked tenuously by the McAllister marriage. Blair is trying to
come to grips with a vision of the way at least part of London functions. ‘There are a few ﬁlms that describe accurately the village life of London. We all laugh at those American ﬁlms that do impossible journeys in London. like having a car drive down The Mall and turn straight left into Regent‘s Park. It was a nice challenge to get it right.‘
With a quiet conﬁdence characteristic of the Wednesday Play generation of ﬁlmmakers from which he emerged. Blair's ﬁlms are utterly typical of the downbeat, satirical style that underpins the most distinctive British cinema — the likes of Ken Loach (whose Parallax company produced Bad Behaviour). Richard Eyre or Lindsay Anderson. Previous award-winning TV (News/rounds and The Accountant) means that projects are becoming progressively easier to contemplate. ‘When I ﬁrst started making ﬁlms.‘ he confesses, ‘there were a lot of brown underpants involved. I was very cautious with the camera. I didn‘t want to take risks. I‘m taking more chances now. though; still, in a ﬁlm like this. it's the performances the audience is looking at. so I need to keep that absolutely clean.‘
In an age when British ﬁlmrnaking is ever closer to grinding to a halt. and most ﬁlms that do make it to the screen are laden with behind-the-scenes stories of desperate ﬁnancial ingenuity. it’s refreshing to ﬁnd that Blair is a no- nonsense ﬁlmmaker. ever conscious of a desire to establish contact with the audience. ‘For me,’ he concludes. ‘ﬁlm is always to do with the real world. I‘m not saying ﬁlms shouldn't be highly arched or stylised. but that content is the most important thing. It should be something that people can connect with.‘
Bad Behaviour opens in Scotland on Friday 4 June. See review.
_ Take a look at me now
He’s a good bloke, our Phil. The cheeky chappie who was a natural to play train-robber-tumed-flower-seIler Buster Edwards. The familiar voice that pours out of CD players and car stereos across the country. He’s a man at pains to persuade us that his latest screen role, as a blackmalling Insurance agent in Aussie comedy Frauds, is nothing like cuddly Phil at all. ‘I was acting,’ he maintains. ‘It was there on paper and was very easy to do. I like rattling my cage, trying to convince people that maybe I’m not such a nice person. People are asking me if this is the other side of me; but, no, I’m only trying to act.’
So, does Frauds allow Collins membership to that exclusive club of singers with genuine thespian talent (Cher, Streisand) or is he left sitting on the kerb outside with Bowie, Sting, Madonna et al? It’s probably too early to tell, as he only has Buster, cameos in Miami Vice and Hook, and a 25- year-old Children’s Film Foundation movie behind him. llp ahead, however,
Is a small part in And The Band Played On, which examines the Reagan administration’s covenup of the discovery of the AIDS virus. The film has ruffled more than a few political feathers already, with HBO - the American cable company behind it - locking director Roger Spottiswoode out oi the editing room in order to do some tinkering themselves. ‘All the actors did it for very little and, what we did get, went to charity,’ adds Collins, ‘but if it comes out and it’s not what it should be, all hell will
Phil Collins in Fund:
break loose.’ Given the strength of the extracts shown recently at the Cannes Film Festival, however, And The Band Played 0n will still make a considerable impact.
But for the time being there is Frauds. It has been termed a black comedy, but all too often this simply means malicious and unfunny, rather than dark and challenging. Collins Is Roland Capping, a man whose cruel sense of humour defines his life and relationships. ‘lIe’s not really a dangerous person in a lethal sense,’
the 42-yeanold actor explains, ‘he’s really looking for a playmate. When he uncovers anybody who is trying to commit fraud, he blackmails them with a series of practical jokes rather than violence or terrorism.’ There is certainly something childisth bizarre in the character, but Collins veers more towards over-playing than giving the film a much-needed edge of comic menace. Maybe there’s still conflict between audience expectations of the Phil we see on the album covers and the one we see on-screen.
‘In music, to get on the front page of magazines, everybody cultivates an image,’ he counters. ‘When you start making movies you have to shed that image because you want people to forget you’re a musician and take you as the part you’re playing. I’ve never really had an image - certainly not like Jagger or Bowie or Sting - so hopefully this works to my advantage. Film is very different from music. ; When you’re playing on stage, you’re ; projecting - it’s all very large. With i film It’s very small, you've got to keep everything inside because it’s on a huge screen. I find the challenge exhilarating, to see if I can push myself into doing that.’ (Alan Morrison)
Frauds opens In Scotland on Friday 4 June.
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