when the notion of a subsidised movie industry became anathema.
The half-hour ﬁlm The Ring Of Truth is based on a script Douglas wrote during his year at Strathclyde. Originally Scottish Television was to fund its production, but after the lTV company pulled out the project appeared to be dead. Then when BBC Scotland director Richard Downes was researching a documentary about Douglas shortly after his death, Noble handed him a copy of the forgotten script. Although Downes has shortened the film and made some minor alterations to the narrative structure, it has been shot pretty much as Douglas wrote it.
Though a much slighter and more light- hearted work than the childhood trilogy on which Douglas’s reputation was founded, The Ring Of Truth has some of the same themes of childhood innocence corrupted by adults. The film unites on screen Scottish variety actor Jimmy Logan and his jazz singer sister Annie Ross, last seen in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. It is set in Glasgow’s Necropolis and is seen
It is ironic that such a brash enterprise as the National Lottery should support the kind of art film that Douglas struggled so vainly to make during the Thatcher years, when the notion of a subsidised movie industry became anathema.
through the eyes of a young boy trying to make sense of the mysteries of existence. ‘Can Jesus see me now,’ he asks his grumpy grandfather (Jimmy Logan), the graveyard’s gardener.
Meanwhile a raddled Hollywood star (Annie Ross) returns to her native Glasgow where she lost a diamond ring - and, we surmise, her virignity — on one of the gravestones some 30 years before. In the church itself a funeral is being conducted; in Douglas’s script the mourners were to be dressed up as Hollywood actors grieving the death of cinema. Downes has chosen to play down this symbolism in favour of the more personal storyline, but it offers a clue to the filmmaker’s state of mind a year before his own premature death. ‘Yes, they are to attend the death of the Cinema,’ Douglas wrote in a letter to Noble in June 1990. ‘but don’t ask me who is in the coffin.’
Bill Douglas was born and grew up in Newcraighall, a small, dour mining settlement on Edinburgh’s outskirts. Another of the bitter ironies of Douglas’s life is that the cottages where he spent his boyhood were torn down and a UCl multiplex built on almost exactly the same spot. From an early age he loved watching movies, either sneaking in through a side entrance at the local fleapit or offering up a couple of money-back jam jars in lieu of the admission charge as was allowed in those days. The young boy Jamie, subject of the autobiographical trilogy he made between 1972—78, does the same thing in the first film, called simply My Childhood.
After leaving Scotland during his National Service when he served time in Egypt (covered in the ﬁnal part of the trilogy, My Way Home), Douglas settled in London and started working as a bit-part actor. Then in the early 605 a friend gave him a complete 8mm ﬁlm kit, including a camera and editing equipment, and Douglas was on his way as a ﬁlmmaker. After
graduating from the National Film School in 1969 he sought funding for a movie about a young boy growing up in Scotland. It was
called Jamie, but under the guidance of
Mamoun Hassan, then head of production at the British Film Institute which funded the Trilogy, the autobiographical elements of the story were strengthened and it became My Childhood.
The first two films in the trilogy (the second was called My Ain Folk) paint a deeply depressing picture of a childhood spent in grinding poverty among grown-ups embittered by their own depressing circumstances and unable to show any warmth of emotion. The Bill Douglas character, still called Jamie. was brought up by first one grandmother, and then the other, after his mother is committed to a mental institution at the end of the war. When Douglas shot the scene where Jamie is taken to visit his mother, the filmmaker’s own mother was lying in a neighbouring hospital ward.
Most of the film was shot in Newcraighall using local people instead of actors. When it was first screened in Edinburgh some of those in it felt Douglas had betrayed their community. which is shown as hard-faced and uncaring. Douglas said many years later that his memories were of even harsher times than those depicted in the film. ‘l don’t think 1 have the talent to make it as black as the reality.’ he said. But despite the unrelenting grimness of the film, shot in contrasty black and white. there is an austere beauty in each coal dust- smeared frame.
Accounts of the filming of the Trilogy, and in particular his only other film Comrades, completed in 1987, suggest that Douglas was not an easy man to work for. The actors didn’t see a complete script and were therefore at the mercy of the director, the only person with an overall vision, when playing their scenes. Members of the film crew were also expected simply to do their job, and nothing more — this was not a team effort. Bill Douglas was
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Bing Oi Truth: the salvaging ot Douglas’s lost script unites on screen Jimmy Logan and his jazz singer sister Annie ﬂoss
BILL DOUGLAS FEATURE
undoubtedly a European-style auteur, an unfashionable thing to be in British film circles which tended to favour the ensemble approach of theatre.
It’s a sign of just how far out of the mainstream Douglas was swimming that, despite the m'erwhelmingly positive critical response to the Trilogy. it was another nine years after the last part was completed that another of his films opened in the cinema. Comrades told the true story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. a group of farm labourers who revolted against pay cuts in Dorset in the l83()s. Douglas first started work on the film in I979 as Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister on an anti-union ticket. Making a film
A bitter irony of Douglas’s life is that the cottages where he spent his boyhood were torn down and a UCI multiplex built on almost exactly the same spot.
about organised labour pitted against feudal bosses was not a subject in keeping with the times. and it was a bruising experience for everyone involved — especially Douglas. He didn’t make another film.
While The Ring Of Trth was a side project written during his spell at Strathclyde, Douglas’s burning desire was to film James Hog g’s Confessions ofA Justified Sinner based on his own script. Mamoun Hassan of the BFI said in 1992 that he believed the film would be made. but there has been no sign of backers prepared to put money into the project. The Ring Of Truth may be the closest we will come to another Bill Douglas, though as director Richard Downes says: ‘l never thought for a minute “how would Bill make this?” That would have been foolhardy. But when you read the script. you do see the images — he wrote in a very poetic, visionary way.’
The Ring Of Truth is on Saturday 30 Marc/2 at 9.50pm on BBCZ.
The List 22 Mar-4 Apr 1996 17