Category Archives: At home

Why Werner Herzog’s Invincible Deserves A Comeback

Buried deep in Werner Herzog’s rich and varied curriculum vitae, winking at the millennium celebrations behind it and trailing his remarkable lone air crash survivor documentary Wings of Hope, his unhinged turn in Harmony Korine’s Julian Donkey Boy and periods directing opera in Genoa and Houston lies the neglected and significant biographical drama Invincible.

Ostensibly about Polish Jewish blacksmith turned variety act strongman Siegmund Breitbart (Jouko Ahola) whose swift rise and fall predated the dangerous march of Hitler and the National Socialists by only a matter of weeks, Invincible is a film about the mania of hatred, dissatisfaction and blame that heralds any genocide. Invincible was released in cinemas in 2001 and garnered good reviews but slipped from screens all too quickly and remains little seen, and yet what Invincible can tell us about the direction of both Germany in the early 1930s and Herzog’s career in general is fascinating.

DVD Cover of Invincible

As with Fitzcarraldo before it, Herzog was determined to bring the opera to bear on this tale of mysticism and eccentricity. By its very nature Breitbart’s sorry tale lends itself to Wagnerian analogy and yet at its heart there is something more intricate and intriguing about this disarming film. With it’s pared down sensibility, raw acting and skewed morality the film Invincible can most easily be compared to is Louis Malle’s queasy tale of collaboration and oppression in wartime France – Lacombe Lucien. Yet Malle’s film, as good as it is, is about the seduction of power, Invincible is about the survival of power’s universal essence.

Real life celebrity Erik Jan Hanussen – the Austrian-Jewish clairvoyant, publicist, hypnotist, mentalist, occultist and owner of the occult cabaret where Breitbart finds employment and fame, represents that essence. As played by Tim Roth, Hanussen is equal parts Caligari and Rasputin. Having been immortalized on screen already by Klaus Maria Brandauer in István Szabó’s underrated biopic Hanussen in 1988, Roth keeps the villainy light and the delusion heavy. Hanussen’s role as Hitler’s spiritual advisor and later possible victim is well documented but it is the existence of this eccentric that gives Breitbart’s trajectory its heart and moral equivalence.

The story of Hanussen and Breitbart has long since fascinated those obsessed with the occultist ley lines that cut through time and culture. Indeed in 2001 Mike Mignola’s brilliant Hellboy graphic novel series was finally getting the recognition it deserved thanks to a sustained assault of soft back reprints, and Breitbart and Hanussen’s influence haunt Hellboy like a stinking green undead mist. Squint and it is easy to see Breitbart resurrected as a demonic investigator for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence, Hanussen’s influence is there in both the Nazi occultists Hellboy frequently fights and even in the passing kindness of Hellboy’s surrogate father Professor Bruttenholm.

Aesthetically Invincible’s most noticeable influence however is the pre-World War II Yiddish cinema, the best known of which – Michael Waszynski’s The Dybbuk and Joseph Green’s Yiddle with a Fiddle tread that fine line between melodrama and empathy with a rootsy base charm that asks little of the audience but patience and understanding. Visually simple and sonically charged by composer Hans Zimmer, Invincible is an all too modern paean to these wonderful films. The rise of the Nazis and the subsequent Holocaust put an end to this cinematic tradition much as it did to the careers of Breitbart and Hanussen and all those involved in occult cabaret but Invincible survives.

Like Aguirre, The Wrath of God, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Fitzcarraldo and even Rescue Dawn, Invincible is about that place where madness, talent and the human spirit leads us all when everything is going to hell around us.

Invincible is available to buy now on DVD.


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Hotel Splendide: The Island Resort Of No Return

Daniel Craig in Hotel Splendide

How odd is Terence Gross’ solo directorial effort Hotel Splendide? It’s about as eccentric as modern British cinema gets. Imagine Michael Powell’s marvelous St Kilda drama The Edge of The World had been bred with Peter Greenaway’s Drowning By Numbers and then hand- reared by Bill Forsyth on a diet of Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. The resulting offspring would possibly resemble this scatological tale of family, isolation, romance, decay and digestion.

As Daniel Craig gears up for his third outing as James Bond in Skyfall, it’s good to remind oneself of where he came from. Hotel Splendide boasts one of his earliest screen performances of note as the frustrated, eternally angry, lovelorn chef of remote resort The Hotel Splendide. The film also features one of the last major performances from the great British actress Katrin Cartlidge, who died two years later, as his phobia-beset sister.

Turning on a theme of the returning avenger, albeit a beautiful elfin one in the shape of Toni Collette as Kath, Hotel Splendide is about the undoing of tradition, the cutting of the ties that bind and the chaos of old sewerage systems. Engagingly played by a young cast that includes Stephen Tompkinson, Toby Jones and Hugh O’Conor alongside Craig and Cartlidge, Hotel Splendide really is an ensemble one-off.  Deliberately paced and prone to outbursts of slapstick, action and other general weirdness, it’s hard to think of another British film from the last decade more surprising or deserving of investigation.  One of its many charms is Hungarian cinematographer and director Gyula Pados’ richly satisfying use and lighting of the hotel set, a style he would go on to hone in Fateless and The Duchess.

This dark, surreal and comic independent film was made by Film Four under a Tory government soon to be usurped by a New Labour one. The film itself feels like a redress of old school, regressive values in pursuit of something more freeing. Wherever the journey away from that desolate resort took the main characters, it may be worth a visit one last time.

You can buy Hotel Splendide here.

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Charlotte Rampling on The Look at BFI

The Look

Peter Lindbergh and Charlotte Rampling – Role Reversal

On 27 April this year Charlotte Rampling attended the BFI in London to give a Q&A with journalist Mark Lawson. Angelina Maccarone’s film The Look was the screening, a film on Charlotte Rampling that has the alternative title, A Self Portrait Through Others.

The Look screened as part of Cannes Classics, at the French Film Festival UK and was recently released on DVD by Park Circus. An intriguing and insightful work, The Look is divided into a series of chapters chosen by Rampling and discussed with friends and colleagues across locations such as New York and Paris.

The Look has already been discussed on our blog but here we provide the Q&A session with Charlotte Rampling at the BFI. Let us know your thoughts in our comment section below and enjoy!

The Look is available on DVD now (Park Circus).

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The Look – A Self-Portrait Through Others

Charlotte Rampling in The Look

Charlotte Rampling in The Look

One of the greatest film critics of all time, André Bazin, posed the question in the title of one of his books, ‘Qu’est-ce que le cinéma ?’ – ‘What is cinema?’ I believe that this question can be furthered in relation to an evergreen star of cinema; ‘What is cinema without actors like Charlotte Rampling?’

The actress in question may not be the greatest or most recognised over her period yet cinema would be a far less interesting place without her presence and uniqueness.

With that in mind, it brings great excitement to see the upcoming DVD release of Angelina Maccarone’s biopic, The Look. This is an extraordinary work which was warmly received at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and will be out on DVD release in the UK on Monday 30 April.

It centres on the aforementioned Charlotte Rampling, an actress the French label as La Légende. Now 65, this Essex-born actress remains an intriguing and fascinating on-screen presence, the most recent example being in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. It is Rampling’s evocative facial expression that has influenced the documentary’s title; The Look – a term originally coined in reference to Rampling by two-time co-star, Dirk Bogarde.

Bogarde was once quoted as saying, “I have seen the Look under many different circumstances…the glowing emerald eyes turn to steel within a second, [and] fade gently to the softest, tenderist, most doe-eyed bracken-brown”. The duality of Rampling’s gaze, seen over several decades now, has been one of the great cinematic looks to appear on-screen.

The Look is not the most conventional of biographical documentaries, in part mainly due to Rampling’s influence and final say over all aspects of the project. The structure of the work is separated by eight themes chosen by the director and subject (Rampling): Exposure, Age, Resonance, Taboo, Desire, Demons, Death and Love.

Each section sees Rampling discuss an individual theme with people such as photographer Peter Lindbergh and author Paul Auster. Rampling travels the globe in search of friends and colleagues, going from London to New York to Paris, stopping off in cafés, hotel rooms and a houseboat.

She has clearly led an interesting life, much of which stems from her father’s decision (an army colonel who worked abroad) to place his two daughters in a French school when Rampling was only nine years old. The obvious language barrier made this experience a lonely one where it took her nine months before she could communicate with her fellow pupils.

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How Boudu Can Save Us All From Drowning

Poster Artwork for Boudu Saved From Drowning

Whatever you’ve heard about the French cinema’s New Wave, the truth is that the real Golden Age of French cinema was a period between 1929 and 1939. It was bookended by the advent of sound at the cinema and the outbreak of World War II. The men (for they were always men) who heralded this age were Jean Vigo, Marcel Carné and Jean Renoir whose magnificent 1937 war satire La Grande Illusion is out this year for its 75th anniversary (one month before ITV/Park Circus’ timely rerelease of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, its closest British equivalent). But for every pompous general there should always be an anarchic tramp and for Renoir, this benighted incarnation came years before in his remarkable 1932 class war comedy Boudu Saved From Drowning.

Set in and around Paris, Boudu Saved From Drowning tells the story of a Parisian tramp Boudu (played by the physically gifted Michel Simon), who is pulled out of the Seine by a bourgeois bookseller Edouard Lestingois (Charles Granval) after a suicidal plunge. Boudu is brought into Lestingois’ home, a rambling maze-like Left Bank apartment, which overlooks the river. Lestingois, his wife and maid/mistress (Séverine) adopt Boudu as their underprivileged pet in an attempt to reform him from his scruffiness and social ineptitude. However, his gratitude for this sees him shake the household to its foundations, challenging their meaningless principles from conventional society and then seducing both women with his anarchic charm.

Boudu is a defiant farce, one driven by the ferocity of Simon’s characterisation and Renoir’s mise-en-scène. Simon was given free reign for his character’s portrayal and the result is pure chaos. Boudu is someone who does not belong in the city, especially not within the confines of a book-filled apartment (one scene portrays Boudu spitting into a book by legendary French novelist Balzac, epitomising the difference between his values and those of the bourgeois Lestingois – this was also a previously lost scene restored in Park Circus’ DVD and Blu-ray issue). Renoir’s skills lie best in his eye for detail and depth of field when using the camera. There are scenes within scenes here and a layering that engrosses you as a spectator and in this case, brilliantly demonstrates Boudu’s claustrophobia as someone who should be out in the open.

There is a great contrast in the way Renoir films his central character in Lestingois’ narrow apartment or in the bustling streets of Paris to when Boudu traipses around parks and the countryside seemingly freer and more content. Similarly to the recently praised Le Quattro Volte (2010), this is a spiritual film about a man more at ease surrounded by water, pastures and animals, not humans and an ironically disruptive city atmosphere.

There can be little doubt that Renoir was influenced by his impressionist painter father Pierre-Auguste in creating films where actors and objects were placed with precision. In a film with such a vivacious actor as Michel Simon, the blend of this measured approach to one that is unpredictable marries fantastically well.

Much copied but never bettered Boudu Saved From Drowning remains an early gem from Renoir’s esteemed oeuvre and offers light relief to his other more dramatic works from the period (Renoir did though always maintain a tone of optimism in his films). On its 80th anniversary, this is one title worth storing in your collection or one to watch out for in cinemas near you this year.

Boudu Saved From Drowning is now available to download from iTunes and is available on both DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.

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Jean Vigo – A Passion for Life Undimmed

“Jean Vigo opened my eyes to the cinema. In telling my version of his story, I hope in some way to repay my debt to him, and encourage others to find inspiration in his films.” – Julian Temple

James Frain as Jean Vigo

Cinema’s current climate is undoubtedly at the mercy of new and exciting technologies, yet the international success of The Artist and Hugo bears witness to a dynamic nostalgia in audiences and filmmakers. Fascination with the magic found in early cinema is nothing new and there is no one more magical than Jean Vigo. His 1934 masterwork L’Atalante has just been re-released by the British Film Institute. Having made a grand total of four films, any self- respecting cineaste knows that Vigo is still, and always will be, one of greatest filmmakers of all time, with both L’Atalante and Zéro de conduite, in particular, standing out as exceptional examples of the craft. It wasn’t for nothing that legendary film preservationist and archivist Henri Langlois went on record to state: ‘Vigo is cinema incarnate in one man.’

It is with this in mind that Park Circus wishes to reintroduce you to Julien Temple’s 1998 biopic Vigo – Passion for Life. What makes Vigo’s frustratingly limited filmography intriguing is the tragic backdrop of his life. Temple’s passion for Vigo the man and his art shine through.

The film begins in a tuberculosis sanatorium surrounded by a beautiful mountainous landscape in the south of France. The son of a neglectful mother and a Catalan anarchist father (named Almereyda, an anagram of ‘y’a la merde’, literally meaning ‘there is shit’) Vigo’s lonely childhood is laid bare in Temple’s film as we witness the early stages of an illness that will become a fatal condition that ultimately affected his filmmaking. What follows is an intense, romantic and energetic account of Vigo and of those around him. From his brittle yet passionate relationship and marriage with the wonderfully named Lydu (pronounced lee-doo) to his collaborators Boris Kaufman (cinematographer who later won an Oscar for On the Waterfront and who is the brother of Dziga Vertov who made the influential Man with a Movie Camera) and composer Maurice Jaubert, the film’s evocation of the bohemian existence is both romantic, nostalgic and immensely fitting.

The magic behind the camera

Vigo’s life was fraught with the difficulties of containing and treating his disease yet during this film and his life there was an unerring passion that can only inspire cinephiles and filmmakers alike. Lindsay Anderson, Bernardo Bertolucci, François Truffaut and Jean Renoir (whose work Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932) stars the anarchic and effervescent Michel Simon that later starred in Vigo’s L’Atalante) have all been influenced by Jean Vigo. More precisely, Vigo was the main precursor to poetic realism and had a posthumous influence on France’s New Wave cinema, as themes of rebellion and youth were picked up again.

There are many reasons to fall in love with the cinema of Jean Vigo and ultimately it is his slim oeuvre that stands as his true testaments. Where Temple’s work succeeds is in his warm portrayal of the director and his life’s story and in his representation of the magic Vigo created behind the camera, and in the editing suite. Take one scene from Zéro de conduite, a film set in a boarding school where authority is challenged and youthful playfulness is wonderfully personified by children Vigo hand-picked from the streets of Paris. The scene has the boys start a pillow fight in their dormitory. Kaufman then plays back the film in order to create a dream-like sequence that stays with you forever. Composer Jaubert accentuates the trance-like scene by playing the music backwards at the same time. This fun, innovative and influential scene in cinema history is wisely represented by Temple in the film.

Jean Vigo died from rheumatic septicemia at the age of just 29 on 5 October 1934. He leaves a legacy of films that reflect a young imagination full of ideas and innovation. There are not many who managed to bring so much magic to the screen and through such a personal yet immediately relatable message. Vigo – Passion for Life stands as an excellent reminder of a very individual talent whose passion for the magic of cinema is what we at Park Circus remain dedicated to.

Vigo – Passion for Life is available to book theatrically and is available on DVD from Amazon.

The links in this article relate to titles available for theatrical booking through Park Circus.

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Scottish Opera’s Derek Clark on Der Rosenkavalier

Inspired by the recent DVD and Blu-ray release of Paul Czinner’s 1962 adaptation of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, Derek Clark, Head of Music at Scottish Opera, looks at how the filmmakers went about adapting stage performances for the big screen.

This is an absolute treat; a live performance of Strauss’ best-loved opera from the Salzburg Festival conducted by Herbert von Karajan and featuring some of the finest singers of the day, in a production (by Rudolph Hartmann) faithful to the spirit of the piece with sumptuous sets and costumes which match the opulence of the score, played with great elan and polish by an orchestra at the peak of its form.

Sung in the original German, the film is subtitled and the recorded sound is very good, considering the age of the film, with plenty of orchestral detail, though the singers are never overwhelmed.

Sometimes, though, the recording levels seem to have been evened out, resulting in a certain similarity of volume, but this is a small price to pay in view of the quality of the overall performance. In particular it is good to see Elisabeth Schwarzkopf performing the Marschallin, her singing more natural and less mannered than in the famous studio recording she made with Karajan in the late 1950’s.

The Ochs from that recording, Otto Edelmann, also sings here, and his larger than life portrayal of the role is a real tour de force, complete with thick Viennese accent, which only rarely interferes with his singing.

The Octavian is Sena Jurinac, who made the role very much her own in the 1950s and it is good to have her interpretation preserved, even though she looks very feminine throughout. Her vocal partnership with the Sophie of Anneliese Rothenberger, another artist experienced in her role, is one of the musical highlights of the performance.

One of the impressive sets from Der Rosenkavalier

One of the impressive sets from Der Rosenkavalier

With all the subsidiary roles well-sung (particularly the Italian tenor in Act 1) there are no weak links in the casting and the whole performance makes light of the immense difficulty of much of the music. The production is ‘traditional’ in the best sense of that word.

Some of the more intimate scenes seem a little lost on the vast expanses of the Festspielhaus stage, and present-day audiences may find it a little static and superficial. The Marschallin’s lovemaking with Octavian, for example, so graphically depicted in the music, is extremely demure, but this is a matter of changing tastes, and it certainly never gets in the way of the music.

More modern productions tend to get closer to the characters’ emotional cores, but production values nowadays are different. Although the humour of the piece is not neglected (Strauss called it ‘a comedy for music’ after all) there is a marked lack of audience reaction throughout, though they applaud generously enough at the end of each act, and maybe for repeated listening and viewing, it’s not a bad idea that you can concentrate on the music without any distracting laughter.

Perhaps Karajan’s unsmiling demeanour as he enters to conduct each act put a damper on the audience’s natural enthusiasm, but though nowadays we might expect a more unbending and ‘human’, not to say humorous, approach to this opera, there is no denying his mastery and understanding of the score.

The film is above all a testament to him and the standards he was able to achieve, and should be seen by every lover of this fascinating opera.

Der Rosenkavalier is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Derek Clark was born in Glasgow and studied at the RSAMD and Durham University. He began his career at Welsh National Opera, but since 1997 has been Head of Music at Scottish Opera where he has conducted a wide variety of repertoire from Handel to James MacMillan. He is also active as a coach, accompanist and composer/arranger, and was Assistant Conductor on David McVicar’s production of ‘Der Rosenkavalier’ for Scottish Opera. He is currently conducting Rory Bremner’s new version of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’.

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Charlie Chaplin blogathon and review round-up

Following last week’s UK release of our new Charlie Chaplin: The Collection DVD box set, we’ve been scouring the web to see what the Little Tramp’s fans have had to say about it.

As part of our latest blogathon, Martyn Conterio at Cinemart composed an article entitled Charles Chaplin & The Greatest Cocaine Gag In Cinema History, in which he challenged the myth that silent era comedies aren’t funny.

Martyn chose a scene from 1936’s Modern Times, in which Charlie mistakes a batch of cocaine for salt, explaining that “the set up and execution are perfect”. We have to agree:

Meanwhile, over on the Kitty Packard Pictorial, Carly Johnson looked at Charlie’s love/hate relationship with sound in the fascinating Charlie Chaplin and the Sound of Silence.

Carly explained that the silent star couldn’t read or write music, even though it had been a major part of his early life in London. Quite how Charlie managed to become so well-known for his film scores is something you’ll discover over on the blog.

DVD reviewers have been discovering (and rediscovering) Charlie’s work through the box set, superlatives such as “stone-cold classics” and “cult masterpiece” used to describe his films.

Mike Chapman on Front Row Reviews describes Charlie’s influence on filmmakers such as Woody Allen and Jackie Chan in Charlie Chaplin: A Retrospective, going on to nominate The Great Dictator as his favourite of the collection.

CineVue’s John Nugent focuses on A King in New York and Monsieur Verdoux in his five-star review, describing the 12-disc set as “an ideal place to start” for newcomers to the star’s work.

Finally, what better way to celebrate Charlie Chaplin’s career than with a clip of him in action? We uploaded the following excerpt from A King in New York to our YouTube channel and we’ll let Charlie play us out…

Charlie Chaplin: The Collection is out now on DVD from

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Ian Hoey on Taking Off: “A wandering mishmash that is never far from brilliance”

Linnea Heacock in Taking Off

Linnea Heacock in Taking Off

Taking Off is director Milos Forman’s (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) first US feature, a coming-of-age story with a difference. Lynn Carlin and Buck Henry are the parents searching for their runaway teenager who find their own lost youth.

With Taking Off out now on DVD and Blu-ray, Ian Hoey, discovers a film that deserves reassessment 40 years after its release.

A huge amount of life seems to be about auditioning these days, which is one reason why the opening to Taking Off is so interesting, alarming and amusing. It’s 1971 and quite what this wildly varied collection of young women and girls are auditioning for is never explained, even though the action repeatedly cuts back to it.

Keep an eye on the auditionees and you’ll see Carly Simon vocalising as to the merits of smoking marijuana, despite the fact that “the long term physical effects are not yet known”. She’s certainly not too worried as “the short term physical effects are so groovy”. She’s clearly not alone in her appreciation of getting high, as the collected female talent ranges from the innocent and naive to the stoned and hysterical.

The standout musical performance, despite an incidental appearance from Ike and Tina Turner blasting out ‘Goodbye, So Long’ complete with the sort of dancing that makes you glad to be alive, has to be from a young Kathy Bates.

Taking Off is out now on DVD and Blu-ray

Taking Off is out now on DVD and Blu-ray

Making her debut film appearance, she performs her own composition, ‘And Even The Horses Had Wings’, under the remarkable name of Bobo Bates. It’s a show stopping turn that has everyone in the room staring in silence at her, though they may all be trying to figure out what the Bobo was all about.

Trying to figure things out is the key theme to the picture as the narrative really kicks off when a middle-aged couple discover their teenage daughter has disappeared. She’s ostensibly gone to the audition but the parents are unaware of this.

The Tynes are the couple in question and, like so many people in movies of that era, they have a magnificent inability to understand the younger generation. This incomprehension is shared by almost everyone aged beyond their early twenties that we come across.

At the root, so the olds think, of this chasm between the young blood and the established society is the smoking of weed and there is much hilarity to be found in the ordered fashion with which the members of the SPLC (Society for the Parents of Lost Children) attempt to understand this alien substance and the faux educational way that they indulge in it.

Of course, the vices of the parents are ever-present with booze, lust and nicotine but they delude themselves that what their kids are looking for is so far removed from their own understanding that they best seek enlightenment from similarly afflicted parents or a dork with a drug habit.

The whole thing is a wandering mishmash that is never far from brilliance. The parents are idiots but likeable idiots and none of the people they cross paths with during the hunt are particularly nasty either, whether they be fellow parents, thieving hippies or lusty frauds. It’s a film with a gloriously simple premise rolled in the same skin as a social commentary and gleefully highlights the funny side of it all.

Taking Off could refer to the runaway, the drug hits or even the drunken strip poker that occurs near the end.

The unfortunate fact is that it couldn’t refer to the success of its initial release. It’s a mystery how a film as good as this could have been all but forgotten by the majority of movie fans but there’s no reason why it can’t still attain the popular cult status it deserves.

Taking Off is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon and all good retailers.

Ian Hoey was General Manager of the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh, Scotland, for over five years. Born in Poughkeepsie, USA and raised in Greenock, he has lived in Edinburgh since the late eighties. Among his all-time favourite viewing pleasures are the film Theatre of Blood and the original episodes of The Twilight Zone.

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Interview: composer Craig Armstrong discusses Orphans

Douglas Henshall and Stephen McCole in Orphans

Douglas Henshall and Stephen McCole in Orphans

BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning composer, Craig Armstrong, has worked on films as diverse as Moulin Rouge, Love Actually and The Incredible Hulk alongside a string of critically acclaimed solo albums.

Armstrong is also a longtime collaborator with filmmaker Peter Mullan, providing scores for all of his short and feature films since the early 1990s. With Mullan’s 1998 film, Orphans, now released on DVD and Blu-ray, Jonathan Melville spoke to Armstrong about his work with the director and his memories of the film.

Jonathan Melville: How did you first come to meet Peter Mullan?

Craig Armstrong: The first time I met Peter was on a production called Losing Alec at the Tron Theatre in 1988. It was directed by Michael Boyd and I provided the music. We were both then involved in a production of Macbeth at the Tron.

Peter started making short films, the first one being Close and he asked me to do the music for that. Then he did A Good Day for the Bad Guys and another short called Fridge. Orphans was his first feature film and since then I’ve done all of his films, most recently The Magdalene Sisters and NEDS.

Orphans is very personal for Peter, it definitely comes from the heart.

How would you describe your relationship with Mullan?

It’s one of those relationships that has endured over the decades and I see him quite a lot, he’s actually a neighbour of mine here in Glasgow.

Generally, a director picks a composer whose style they like. With Peter, even before we did the first film, we had years of working together, so in those days at the Tron the music for the plays was pretty big, with live musicians. I’d already done some quite big movies like Romeo + Juliet and I was building up a lot of experience at that point.

By the time we got to Close he knew my style. When you build up a family there’s a lot of shorthand you don’t have to go through so I know what he likes. Colin Monie, Peter’s editor on Orphans, has also worked on all of his films. It’s a lot of fun working with Pete.

How did you approach the score for Orphans? Was it collaborative?

Stephen McCole as John in Orphans

Stephen McCole as John in Orphans

Orphans is unlike any other film really. Peter came to me a lot to try ideas out and I think we’re sort of on the same wavelength. It tends to be quite a natural collaboration and we’ll find something we like and work on it.

There was a lot of ensemble work on Orphans, a lot of music that was just a string quartet and it’s quite intimate. Orphans was the first film where there was a budget for a string orchestra, the Scottish Ensemble performed it, and it seemed to fit the movie.

It was an interesting score because a lot of Peter’s films are very story driven and you have to find an emotional counterpart. NEDS had a lot of room at the end to do extended pieces of music, but generally with Peter’s films you’re trying to enhance what’s on the screen, something you first saw in Orphans in the scene in the bedroom when the camera is going around the mother.

The script has a dark tone but there’s also a lot of humour in there. Was it difficult to convey those tonal changes in the music?

When you work on a film that’s quite sad or harrowing, your job isn’t to write incredibly harrowing music, it’s for the music to become one of the characters.

Peter’s films are under the category of drama and with that you sometimes need a bit of light relief. The humour is quite dark but you need to set up the more emotional parts. That happened with NEDS as well; it’s pretty harrowing but it’s always got humorous moments, which you need. It’s a dramatic technique so that when you go back to the drama it’s even more intense. His writing is really brilliant.

You can go against the drama, which can be really effective, go quite atmospheric rather than really emotional. I did that a lot in NEDS actually, I didn’t really go with the narrative, I went off on a different journey.

I was really happy with NEDS because of Glasgow and because we came from similar backgrounds, it took me back to being a kid, the good and the bad bits!

Is there a process that you follow on Mullan’s films?

The way we work is that I’ll go and write music for the film, and I might even do a rough for the entire film, and there’s maybe 25 pieces of music and he’ll tell me what he likes and doesn’t. Like a lot of directors he’ll maybe use scenes in different places and Colin has a lot of input as well. The editor starts playing with it you have to extend sequences or move it around.

Basically you try to immerse yourself in the film and you watch it day in, day out for weeks on end. Eventually you slip into it. Music is like being another actor, you’re almost part of the psychological make-up of the film and you get more into it and it’s exciting when you do the recording. With Orphans it was the first time he had a budget to record real people. It was exciting to hear the strings.

A lot of people ask about that piece of music, it seems to stick in people’s heads.

Michael (Douglas Henshall), Thomas (Gary Lewis) and a broken Mary

Michael (Douglas Henshall), Thomas (Gary Lewis) and a broken Mary

Do you do all your work from Glasgow or do you travel a lot?

I travel a lot. I’ve just finished a film in LA and Baz Luhrmann’s films tend to be in Australia. It’s nice working with Pete as we both work all over the world and it’s good to get back together. After we’ve done a session we usually go out and socialise and catch-up.

Do directors or producers mention your work with Mullan specifically?

Baz Luhrmann is a big fan of Peter Mullan. In America, directors don’t seem to know him so much as he’s a European director, but Baz Luhrmann has all his movies and really loves them.

What are you working on just now?

At the moment I’m doing a chamber opera for Scottish Opera. I try to work in Scotland as much as possible. I just did a film called In Time with Andrew Niccol, as I’ve always wanted to do a science fiction film. That’s stars Justin Timberlake and it’s out in November.

The main thing I’m working on is a new opera and we’re casting that. I’ve done one for Scottish Opera before, a series of short operas, and this is an hour long. It’s based on an Ibsen novel, The Lady from the Sea, turned into a libretto.

These days I’d say half the time I’m doing music for classical commissions and I recently did some work at the Glasgow-based festival Celtic Connections. I’m not doing quite as many movies as I used to, I just take the time to do really good ones.

Would you like to see your scores performed live in Glasgow?

I’ve done a lot of concerts for my film music in Europe, I don’t know why it doesn’t really happen here. Maybe it’s the old Glasgow thing, you’re often more appreciated abroad.

Peter has a lot of fans in France, I get asked a lot of in-depth Peter Mullan questions in France!

Visit Craig Armstrong’s website for more information on his work.

Orphans is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

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