BLUE LIGHT ZONE
maker Nicola Black has a
distinctive visual style which is demonstrated in two films shown as part of Channel 4’s new TV cop season, reports Eddie Gibb.
Working on the favoured television me. that if I something's worth doing. it's worth repeating. Channel 4 is following up its controversial Red Light Zone about sex and prostitution with another season oftherned programmes devoted entirely to TV cops. including classic episodes of The .S‘weenei. It is. of course. called the Blue Light Zone and has Stuart
Cosgrove’s dabs all over it.
Like RLZ. this is largely a repackaging exercise; a neat way of turning reruns into a television event. which is fine. though the danger is that new work tends to get buried. One example of this was Scottish director Nicola Black‘s retnarkable film White Jazz about weirdo American crime writer James Ellroy. Securing Ellroy‘s co-operation was something of a scoop for Black. who nipped in ahead ofa BBC production team which had been chasing the writer. The result was an excellent documentary filmed in Los Angeles which traced the obsession with sex and death in Ellroy's books back to the brutal murder of
Now in the BLZ there will be another chance to see W/rire Jazz. along with Black's new half-hour documentay Tribal Cops about policing on a Native American reservation in New Mexico. While While Jazz gave Black full rein to indulge the hair inﬂuences on her filmmaking style. Tribal Caps uses the breathtaking desert landscape to make a kind of
‘spaghetti documentary" with feature film production values. This. she believes. is the result of her determination to blur the distinction between drama and factual television. ‘Whether you‘re making features or documentaries you are telling a story.‘ she says. ‘l)ocumentary makers tend to take a realist. lowest common denominator approach. but there's no need to be like that. There are ways of telling a story using a number of visual styles.‘
Black graduated from Glasgow University in l983 and immediately began pursuing a career in television. After finishing the Scottish Film Council‘s technician training scheme she worked on a number of productions as an assistant editor in Scotland and fate. it will star Kelly MacDonald who is currently then in London. Stuart Cosgrove. then co-founder of independent production company Big Star In A Wee Picture. gave Black her first chance to direct on the youth show Hal/way '12) Paradise.
Returning to Glasgow to live. Black has worked extensively for BBC Scotland including an [ﬁr-S documentary about Glasgow-trained artist Jenny Saville. but she grew increasineg frustrated at the regional programming policy. ‘l chose to make my base in Scotland and my political perspective is Scottish but why should my work only reﬂect a Scottish subject‘?‘ she asks.
Tribal Cops: llicala Black (inset) goes Native American
Enter Cosgrove again. who was now head of independent film and TV at Channel 4 with a special brief to develop Scottish production. Cosgrove has said the last thing he wanted to make was ‘down your way' programming which looked inward on a small nation. He told producers to get out and about a bit more — which Black duly did with White Jazz.
Although Black is anxious that her documentary films are not regarded simply as a warm-up for making drama. she harbours an ambition to direct features. In March. shooting begins on a short called Dead [:‘ye Dirk scripted by long-time collaborator Paul Gallagher. Described as a black comedy about
getting her kit off as Diane in 'li'ains/miring. ‘The climate has improved enormously for filmmakers in my position with a number ofopportunities to make shorts emerging.‘ she says. "Ii-aiiis/mrring has helped. with people prepared to take Scottish filmmaking teams more seriously.‘
Gallagher is now working on a feature script; ifthe story can match the cinematic flair of Black‘s documentaries. it shouldn’t be too long before the pair make their first movie.
The Blue liq/II Zane star/s on Sat 9 Mar an Channel 4. Tribal Caps is (m Sal 23 Mai:
BLUE LIGHT ZONE
Someone is talking. lle could be a friend of your father’s. ‘They’re cold and dead and no longer people. That’s what I’ve learned, I think. That they’re no longer people. That once they’ve
reached the stage of being In here and
being in a fridge, they are, literally, only a carcme.’
Without dwelling on the procedural details of life at Edinburgh City Mortuary, Mortuary Man, part of Channel 4’s Blue light lone series, presents a character study of a man whose daily routine is unthinkable for most of us. Surrounded by death every
' Mortuary Man: memories of murder
day as a matter of course, Bill emerges as having an almost Zen-like air, and has developed a surreal psycho-geographical relationship with the city. llis Edinburgh is one where bodies plummet from llorth Bridge, and streets are landmarked not by corner pubs or post-boxes, but memories of murder scenes and sites for suicide.
In these post-Silence Of The Lambs and Seven days, titillating mortuary scenes are de rlgeur, and at first the director seems to be teasing the viewer with brief, peripheral glimpses of yellowing, plasticky cadavers. However, when a shot lingers for more than a second on lifeless bodies disappearing around corners on trolleys, or being slid into the
I darkness of the filing-cabinet styled
fridges, one is thankful when the out comes. There’s nothing sensationalist in the film, even harrowing shots of the mortuary attendant holding spiny red arrnfuls of someone’s insides slip by without seeming forced.
As the programme progresses, the mild existentialism of the Mortuary Man unfolds. People dying simply for being in ‘the wrong place at the wrong time’; picking up the body of a friend, and the unending list of suicides and alcohol related deaths are all accepted. After all, he’s been there for years. And before that? The answer is as poignant as ironic. Before that he was a suicidal alcoholic. (Ill) Mortuary Man is on Sat 6 April on Channel 4.
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