He's made award-winning adverts for Guinness and music videos for Radiohead. Now director JONATHAN GLAZER has made his film debut with Sexy Beast. It's another British gangster film. But guess what? It's not crap. Words: Miles Fielder
Though Jonathan Glazer‘s credited with what‘s widely considered to be the finest advert ever made — Guinness‘ The Surfer - it seems like he’s taken a big gamble with Sexy Beast. You can just hear the critics: 'xlttnlllc’t' British gangster lilm!‘ Working from a wordy. theatrical script by writing partners Louis Mellis and David Scinto. Glazer has made a very good film. one that avoids cliches and prioritises character over glossy style.
‘These writers write within a genre rather than about a genre.‘ says Glazer. ‘That’s why Sexy Beast avoids being a gangster film: the same story could take place in the court of King Arthur. It’s about the behaviour of people. the textures and nuances of the characters. the minutia.‘
And yet if the plot of Sexy Beast was whispered in your shell-like. you‘d be forgiven for assuming the worst: Retired criminal Gary Dove (Ray Winstone) is living in the lap of luxury in his villa in Spain. until East End hard nut Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) pays him a visit to persuade Dove to do one last job. ‘Here we go.‘ you‘re thinking. ‘and then he does it and it goes wrong and he’s double crossed and the police are after him and out come the shooters.‘ But no. the 'job‘ is tacked on towards the end of the film. almost a footnote to the psychological (psychotic might be a better word) drama that unfolds as a battle of wills
38 THE llST Slam—18 Jan 2001
'People fire words at each other like bullets. All the brutality comes through the words.’
More psychological drama than gangster movie
between Dove and Logan. Interesting that. Glazer choosing a dialogue rather than visuals-driven lilm. ‘People lire words at each other like bullets.‘ says Glazer. ‘All the brutality comes through the words. and the movement. You‘re told more than you're shown. That made it hard for me to flourish stylistically. but it made me concentrate on constructing this dual between Ray and Ben. And that was what the lilm required. I needed to be painterly
and quite simple and not get involved in loads of
redundant camera moves.‘
Glazer‘s choice of material is likely to surprise critics expecting another style-over—content debut from a pop video director (see McG‘s Charlie's Angels for an example of that). He‘s also likely to wrong-foot audiences expecting a stereotypically heavyweight turn from Winstone. and Gandhi revisited from Kingsley.
‘You expect Ray to play Don Logan.‘ says Glazer. ‘In fact. Ray expected to be playing Don Logan. but we cast very much against type. I didn't set out to cast Kingsley. it just made sense that Kingsley played Logan. We needed that character to be a puritanical roundhead. a traffic warden - he's just an ofl'icious little man. Kingsley loved that. He got hold of the comedy and the tragedy and did it as if he were doing Shakespeare. Logan’s an alien in the film and we needed the casting to be alien as well. almost anonymous.‘
Glazer‘s at the forefront of a new generation of
British advert/music video directors turning their cameras towards film. Jamie Thraves‘ debut The Low Down is also released this month: it‘s followed in February by Simon Monjack's Two Days. Nine Lives. Glazer. meanwhile. is developing a film with French writer Jean-Claude Carriere (Belle (le Jaar. The Discreet Charm ()f The Bautgeasie. The Tin Drum) and an adaptation of a science fiction novel by Michelle Faber called Under The Skin. First up. though. is another collaboration with Mellis and Scinto. Alligator Bland. It‘s a poker player drama set in Las Vegas. There are no gangsters in it.
GFT, Glasgow; Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 12 Jan. See review.
lights, camera, action. . .
FORGET THE OSCARS, last month’s European Film Awards put the quality back into film's glamorous celebrations with Lars von Trier and Bjork's much hated by the critics but loved by the people musical Dancer In The Dark winning the top prizes. The European Film Academy was set up in 1988 by Ingmar Bergman and Wim Wenders, among other filmmakers to showcase arthouse cinema. Other award-winners at the ceremony in Paris included the Hitchcockian thriller Harry, He’s Here To Help, but, surprisingly, nothing for Billy Elliot (which has conquered America). Nevertheless, the above films are being screened at Edinburgh's Lumiere this month together with previews of the charming Italian comedy Pane e Tulipani (Bread And Tulips) and Trolsa (Faithless), Liv Ullmann's film based on a script by her mentor, none other than Ingmar Bergman.
DEAD BY DAWN is back for April Fools' weekend at Edinburgh’s Filthuse The splatterfest of cult and classic horror movres includes premieres, specral guests and the infamous all-night screening session. Initial terror treats have been announced new Spanish title Nameless, Spanish classic Vampyres plus two Japanese films (the Far East’s where the genre's at) HypnOS/S and Uzumaki.
MY TOWN YOUR LOCATION is a competition organised by industry charity Film Education, the aim of which is to give students an opportunity to become the Location Managers of the future. Location manager you say? Wazzat? Location managers oversee the provision of local services for film crews filming outside the studio — a town for Billy Elliot, for example. Students need to work with their teachers to organise themselves into competing groups. Deadline is 18 March, for further information contact Cathy Preece on 0207 976 2291 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
SCOTLAND‘S !N TRANSITION, according to Glasgow producer/ director/Cinematographer Andy Ivlackinnon, who explores his CIIy and c0untry in a feature length docomentary shot over five years land edited by sometime List critic DaVid Archibald). Transrt/on IS on toor beginning 9 January at the Filmhouse
Award winner: Faithless