Glasgow on Film: An Update

New Look

If you’ve visited this blog before you’ll notice a bit of a change. After putting off for ages what I thought would be a long and complex task, a few clicks on the WordPress control panel gave Glasgow on Film a bit of a makeover. I think it looks a tiny bit more stylish now, but more importantly I think it will be easier on the reader’s eye (the previous all-orange background was maybe a bit much).

Summer’s Here (Kind of)

My posts have again become less frequent than I’d like them to be, but that’s something I aim to work on as there is plenty more of Glasgow’s film story to tell. In fact, it’s a story that keeps growing arms and legs so I really should keep up!

While I’ve got a significant catalogue of well established Glasgow-set films waiting to be written about (God Help the Girl and That Sinking Feeling among those I have viewed and prepared notes on), lots of things that set our great city apart from many of its peers have been popping up so far this summer…

pacinoI like to keep a tally on here of the big Hollywood names to visit Glasgow (another seemingly endless list with plenty more tales to be told) and this roll of honour added a big hitter in May when the legendary Al Pacino appeared at the Clyde Auditorium. This wasn’t a highly guarded film shoot or a private getaway, but an up close and personal opportunity for a Glaswegian audience to hear the star talk to them about his career.

Last month also saw the cinema release of Spooks: The Greater Good, the unexpected spin-off from one of my favourite television series. This wasn’t so big a story for Glasgow but – you know me – I like a good mention of our town on the big screen and this movie delivered that more than once in a dramatic scene.

Look out in future for full “Glasgow’s Global Visitors” and “Cameo Appearance” posts on these two snippets. I wanted to finish by looking in more detail at a couple of bigger recent stories relating to Glasgow and film…

The Legend of Barney Thomson

Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut opened the Edinburgh International Film Festival last week, and this is a movie I am very much looking forward to seeing. With an impressive cast that includes Carlyle himself, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Martin Compston, Tom Courtenay and Stephen McCole, the dark comedy looks fun and riotous. As you will see in the trailer below it wears Glasgow distinctly on its sleeve too. A review post will follow at a later date, including my own experience as an extra for a day on the film. (We’ll soon find out if I made the final cut – no barber pun intended).

Florence Foster Jenkins

This was one that came out of the blue on Friday night. I’d actually gone to bed and was just scrolling through Twitter when Daily Record journalist Bev Lyons’ Tweet about a Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant movie filming in Glasgow caught my eye. After initially resisting curiosity I was soon fully dressed again and in the car to Hillhead’s Kersland Street, which had been transformed into 1940s New York.

Bev Lyons’ article confirmed that Stephen Frears’ latest biopic – about American socialite Florence Foster Jenkins – had relocated from its main Liverpool base for the day to shoot some scenes in the Dear Green Place. Whether Streep was present in Glasgow or not is unconfirmed, but press photography showed Hugh Grant in Hillhead and earlier at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – reportedly doubling for Carnegie Hall. It would appear that this day and night shoot was a flying visit as no further filming in Glasgow has been reported. I did take a couple of pictures on Kersland Street – not the sharpest as I had flash off for obvious reasons, but you get the general idea…

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Stunt Double: Beautiful Creatures

beautiful creaturesI’ve classed this 2000 film under the “Stunt Double” category as – despite no location being named on screen and some of the backdrops clearly being Glasgow – I got the impression that the city is not the intended setting for the story. Instead there are references to the generic “Eastern Infirmary” and “Eastern and District” police, although at one point “Corstorphine” – the Edinburgh suburb – can be glimpsed on an address written on an envelope. Wherever Beautiful Creatures is meant to be located, the film-makers have set out to portray a rather dismal environment – sets such as offices and train carriages looking dated for the turn of the millennium and ominous “Curfew After Dark” posters are displayed around town.

beautiful creatures 2Glasgow locations that appear in the film include the Red Road flats and the Robert Biggar pawnbrokers shop on Argyle Street, while the city’s skyline can also be seen in the distance from the Erskine Bridge at one point.

The story itself focuses on two abused women – Dorothy (Susan Lynch) and Petula (Rachel Weisz) – who find themselves teaming up and carrying out an elaborate ransom plot after Dorothy saves Petula from an attack by her boyfriend Brian (Tom Mannion) and accidentally kills the man in the process.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the film has a not very subtle “all men are bastards” subtext to it – as well as dealing with their evil and twisted boyfriends, Dorothy and Petula have to contend with Alex Norton as a pervy and corrupt detective inspector that’s a million miles from his straight laced Taggart character and Maurice Roëves in typical menacing form as Brian’s older brother. Even minor characters – the old man giving weird chat to a child on the beach and the garage attendant who spends his days looking at porn – are flawed individuals.

Even as a male viewer though I did manage to appreciate some genuinely funny lines which, combined with the bleak surroundings and plenty of blood and violence, successfully earn Beautiful Creatures its dark comedy tag.

 

 

Stunt Double: The Decoy Bride

This 2011 film has two settings, but a number of different filming locations. The opening scene is meant to be in Paris, but the majority of the film is set in the fictional Outer Hebrides island of Hegg.

Locations used included Dumfries, Argyll and the Isle of Man – the latter due to funding from Isle of Man Film. Filming also took place in and around Glasgow, with Film City Glasgow used for part of the production. In terms of external filming I personally could only identify one Glasgow location clearly – this was the cloisters of the University of Glasgow in a scene near the beginning, when Alice Eve’s character chases a paparazzo from her Parisian wedding.

Eve features as Hollywood A-lister Lara Tyler, whose marriage to David Tennant’s author James Arber the world’s media are desperate to cover. After a series of failed attempts at a private ceremony, Lara chooses remote Hegg – the setting of James’ best-selling book – as the perfect location for a wedding that no-one will find. Needless to say all does not go to plan and after a tip off the couple and Lara’s P.As (Michael Urie and Sally Phillips) are having to contend with hordes of journalists and eccentric locals. Local girl Katie – played by Kelly Macdonald – is drafted in as a “decoy bride” to throw the media off the scent of the actual nuptials, but after a series of mishaps and some bonding time between James and Katie the lead characters start to re-evaluate their lives.

The Decoy Bride is not a film I would have set out to watch were it not for the Glasgow connections, and it didn’t exactly win me over by the end. Some of it seems to drag on a bit and I felt that the storyline would have been better suited to a Sunday night three-parter on BBC One. That said, it was not without its rays of light – Sally Phillips co-wrote the film as well as appearing in it, and her strong comedy credentials do shine through with some genuinely funny lines and a couple of other amusing moments. For me the moment I started to relax and enjoy the film just a little bit was when a couple of the local old ladies reveal the souvenirs they have made – pebbles with faces crudely drawn on them, retailing at £1 or £1.50 “with hair”; Kelly Macdonald also raises a smile with her attempt to deliver wedding vows in a false American accent.

The UK premiere for The Decoy Bride took place at the 2012 Glasgow Film Festival.

Stunt Double: Filth

A few days ago I posted here about the picture postcard moments of Sunshine on LeithFilth – also released in 2013 – turns that image of Edinburgh on its head, all thanks to the mind of Irvine Welsh – from whose book the movie was adapted.

But once again “Edinburgh” isn’t all that it seems, as Glasgow stood in for the capital in filming of a number of scenes. We will come to the Glasgow locations in a moment, but what of the film itself?

The story follows James McAvoy’s Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson in the run up to Christmas – he’s vying for a promotion, has to handle the case of a murdered Japanese student… and appears to have lost the plot. For anyone, like me, who hadn’t read the book the trailers suggested an extra sweary tale of a bent cop but this is far more than that. There are persistent moments of madness – most of them coming from DS Robertson – throughout. Not so much of the rock and roll, but plenty of sex and drugs.

I think the main talking point of Filth however has to be the cast. Had the Better Together politicians been able to get this lot on board for its campaign, then the outcome of September’s independence referendum may well have been a foregone conclusion – for it is a “Best of British” ensemble that works incredibly well together. McAvoy is joined by many of Scotland’s finest, including Martin Compston, Iain De Caestecker, Kate Dickie, Emun Elliott, Shirley Henderson, Gary Lewis, John Sessions, Jonathan Watson and Jordan Young. Yet on top of that list there is still room for some of the most respected English names in acting today – Jamie Bell (now no stranger to shooting in Glasgow), Jim Broadbent, Joanne Froggatt, Eddie Marsan and Imogen Poots. Oh… and there’s an American for good measure too – David Soul in one brief and bizarre sequence.

Many of the above play distinctly against type – McAvoy in particular excels as the twisted mess that is Robertson. Gary Lewis is oafish and Iain De Caestecker is a million miles from his studious characters in Young James Herriot and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. And I may be alone in this, but usually I find Jim Broadbent’s performances a bit “samey” – it’s amazing what putting on an Australian accent can do though.

So what about Glasgow’s role in Filth?

Among the locations we see are Park Circus, where Robertson’s house is located, and James Watt Street – where he is taken into the building that houses GTW Storage. The flat in which De Caestecker’s character Ocky stays is portrayed on the outside by a large Cardonald block of flats, but on the inside by the atrium of Sauchiehall Street’s Beresford building.

Stunt Double: Sunshine on Leith

You don’t have to like musicals to enjoy Sunshine on Leith… and I’m not even going to add “…but it helps” to that, because it genuinely is good fun whatever your usual tastes are. It is not show tunes and jazz hands; it is not an oddly chosen historical or biblical subject (for example Evita or Jesus Christ Superstar) translated into song – adapted from Stephen Greenhorn’s stage musical of the same name, it is a tale of ordinary folk featuring the songs of The Proclaimers. And who doesn’t like The Proclaimers?

Revolving mainly around the love lives of friends Davy and Ally, their girlfriends Yvonne and Liz (also Davy’s sister) and Davy and Liz’ parents Rab and Jean, we follow the characters’ ups and downs as the boys return from army duty in Afghanistan, Rab and Jean prepare for their silver wedding anniversary and Liz considers making a big change to her life. Some of the dialogue can be a little cheesy in places and a couple of arguments that the younger couples have are a bit on the soap opera side of melodramatic – but one could say the same about the likes of Grease and West Side Story, and they have justifiably cemented themselves as classics of the genre.

The characters are all very likeable and portrayed as such by George MacKay (Davy), Kevin Guthrie (Ally), Antonia Thomas (Yvonne), Freya Mavor (Liz), Peter Mullan (Rab) and Jane Horrocks (Jean). Mullan in particular impresses – more commonly associated with grittier films and roles, he seems comfortable in this setting and has a good chemistry with Horrocks.

Without wanting to get all sentimental though, both songs and cast are pipped at the post for the title of star of the show – that has to go to Scotland. The country has a rich and varied film history, but more often than not features are about swinging claymores, gang warfare or – thanks to another famous son of Leith – drug culture. Sunshine on Leith is upbeat and while we may not spend our days singing and dancing on the streets it portrays a more familiar representation of the society many of us are used to than some well known Scottish features. This is particularly evident in the final scene, where a crowd joins Davy and Yvonne outside Edinburgh’s National Gallery of Scotland for a rendition of I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – where shop assistants, office workers, builders, police officers, schoolchildren, skaters, tourists, pensioners and… er… a living statue join in the fun.

The National Gallery finale is just one of the moments where Edinburgh looks great in this film. The capital’s streets have never looked so good in cinema and there are some sweeping aerial shots – of both daytime and night-time – that would have VisitScotland salivating.

So did the producers come to Glasgow to shoot rougher edges of town? No – the lights of both Cresswell Lane and Candleriggs twinkle elegantly as the young couples go on dates in what is meant to be Edinburgh. Jean works in the aforementioned National Gallery of Scotland, but the interior used for filming is actually that of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Sunshine on Leith uses more Glasgow locations than many films – including those actually set in the city – and other places we see include The Griffin (on Bath Street, just across from The King’s Theatre – which was one of the first venues to host the stage version of the musical) and Saracen’s Head (on Gallowgate) pubs, and Woodside Hall (which doubles as Leith Dockers Social Club).

There is also a cheeky little acknowledgement of Glasgow in the film. In one scene where Liz and Yvonne are helping Jean to find a dress (in another city location – Halo on Dumbarton Road) for her anniversary party, the latter asks Yvonne where she normally goes for shopping. Yvonne says “Glasgow”, to which Jean replies “That’s a bit desperate!”

Stunt Double: Clive Barker’s Book Of Blood

As has occasionally been the case before, this is a movie I would not have heard of were it not for my researching for this blog. I would say it is a curious contribution to Scottish film though, and one that succeeded in keeping me on the edge of my seat on a dark and rainy night.

With little knowledge of what was to come in the film, the opening scene did not fill me with confidence. It was a trivial detail that had me concerned – the setting is a rural roadside cafe, where principal character Simon (Jonas Armstrong) is sitting; an older waitress appears with a jug of black coffee to offer him a refill and I found myself thinking “what am I about to watch?!”. Was this effectively going to be an American horror movie clumsily transplanted into Scotland without any cultural adaptations? I’m pressing this coffee refill thing a lot I know, but it just seemed like a very out of place American trope – like a corrupt sheriff or a local crazy who “saw things in ‘Nam”.

Thankfully when the story moves retrospectively to Edinburgh – where paranormal researcher Mary (Sophie Ward) is investigating an old house along with Simon and Paul Blair’s Reg – the film becomes a lot more comfortable in its surroundings. That said, the movie is certainly more American than Scottish – or indeed British – in its overall style. Scotland is no stranger to horror films, but I can’t recall any features set in the country that are so deeply dark and supernatural in equal measures – Dog Soldiers, for example, has a lot of black comedy in it; in The Wicker Man the horror is delivered by living, breathing humans. There are touches of many Hollywood horrors in Clive Barker’s Book of Blood, from Poltergeist to A Nightmare On Elm Street, and some exceedingly gory and violent moments.

As mentioned above, Edinburgh is the setting for the majority of the film and with some heavy rain and ominous skies the familiar streets and skyline become an excellent backdrop to the macabre story. The University of Glasgow appears throughout the film as Mary’s place of work, although it is implied that the building is in the capital. When Simon is first introduced to Mary at a lecture he tells her that he has “just transferred from Strathclyde”.

Stunt Double: World War Z

Back in June 2013 I reviewed World War Z here immediately after viewing it in the cinema, however it has always been my intention to give the film its own “Stunt Double” post on the blog in line with other such productions.

There’s not a huge amount to add to what I already wrote about the movie in my review, but to summarise Glasgow’s screen presence in World War Z: As has been well documented, the city doubles for Philadelphia and while CGI is employed to increase some building heights to American standards, landmarks like City Chambers and the Cenotaph remain untouched and instantly recognisable; What starts as a seemingly innocent case of traffic congestion on Cochrane Street descends in to chaos – reeling from an explosion in the direction of Buchanan Street, Brad Pitt’s Gerry rarely has time to draw breath before an out of control bin lorry violently clears the road of vehicles before coming to an abrupt halt at the corner of George Square; Gerry drives his petrified family through the path that has been cleared by the truck, swerving into the square where a moment of distraction leads to their Volvo’s collision with an ambulance; the family evacuate the car and see first-hand the carnage of people being attacked by the undead; Gerry commandeers an RV on George Street and the family make their break for freedom; as the military declares that Philadelphia has fallen we see a final, striking, aerial shot of George Square teeming with running figures.

Two updates that I do have to provide about World War Z from my perspective are:

–          My review was not particularly positive – largely due to very high expectations and some disappointment about the stark difference between the film and the book. However I have watched the movie again – more than once – and it has grown on me. While the main set pieces perhaps don’t sit too comfortably alongside each other, they do in the main each possess good individual qualities – from the classic American action of Philadelphia to the family drama on the aircraft carrier and the edge of the seat tension in the World Health Organisation facility.

–          I attended a Glasgow Film Festival 2014 event entitled “Film/TV Locations: Scotland on Your Screen” at the Centre for Contemporary Arts. The discussion, chaired by Nicola Balkind, covered many productions from both the small and big screen but due to its so far unsurpassed scale World War Z was naturally a key talking point – particularly with panellists Jennifer Reynolds (film commissioner at Glasgow Film Office) and Brodie Pringle (locations manager at Creative Scotland). Ms Reynolds introduced a Glasgow Film Office video about World War Z – now used to help sell the city as a filming location – which highlighted the numbers associated with the production’s spell in the city: 12 filming days, 94 local crew employed, over 500 extras employed, over 100 action vehicles, 14 city centre streets closed, 8,500 bed nights, £3.6 million spent locally. Furthermore it was stated that a subsequent survey of businesses in the area affected saw the majority report a positive impact on trade, while only five complaints regarding inconvenience were received. And the Glasgow World War Z experience was also credited as directly influencing the Fast & Furious 6 team to film in the city.