Starring Role: Death Watch

death watch 6I can’t believe that it’s only in the past few weeks I’ve seen Death Watch for the first time. I’ve had various opportunities to catch the film previously, but I’ve somehow always managed to miss them – much to my frustration. But missing screenings isn’t really a decent excuse, as Glasgow’s own Park Circus released the film on DVD back in 2012.

death watch 5I first heard about it in the late 1990s, when Glasgow’s film-making scene was gathering pace: when the Glasgow Film Office was established and when The House of Mirth brought the likes of Gillian Anderson and Dan Aykroyd to town the newspapers naturally spoke of the city’s cinematic past and 1980’s Death Watch was often mentioned. In such articles it stood out in particular due to its main star being a big American name – and in the late 1990s Harvey Keitel’s stock was high with the likes of Pulp Fiction and From Dusk Till Dawn under his belt. Of course, a lot has happened since then and the papers now tend to make a beeline for a certain zombie movie when summarising Glasgow’s relationship with the big screen.

Keitel is television company employee Roddy, who has a camera implanted in his eye and is tasked with befriending and documenting – without her knowledge – the day to day life of terminally ill Katherine, played by Romy Schneider.

death watch 4His output is for the television show Death Watch, an extreme of reality television. Despite the relatively unaltered setting of late 1970s Glasgow, the show is a nod to a slightly dystopian future. Other subtle touches that take the story beyond 1980 include the out of place looking videophone in an otherwise old fashioned doctor’s office, and the mention by Roddy’s ex wife of a “Saturday market card” – implying that citizens are allotted certain days on which they can buy their groceries.

death watch 3Another thing notable about the unusual world of Death Watch is the semi-anonymity of the setting. As with a film previously featured here – Unleashed – there is a near absence of Scottish accents. American, English, French, German and Irish voices pop up with Paul Young’s police officer the only distinctly Scottish character to appear. The company behind the television show, NTV, seems to be a global affair, with American boss Vincent Ferriman (Harry Dean Stanton) referring to audience share in Germany. Yet NTV’s exterior is Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and its interior City Chambers – surprisingly old world locations to represent a global television network creating cutting edge programming.

death watch 2Glasgow and Scotland are by no means drowned out in Death Watch however – in fact at one point we hear children singing “Coulter’s Candy”. Glasgow buses, a branch of Clydesdale Bank and road signs for places like Dumbarton are visible, and in a moment of contrast we see Ferriman’s American car drive past The Wee Mann’s pub – an establishment to have carried a number of names over the years, most recently The Clutha.

death watchOther Glasgow locations to appear include the Necropolis (which, accompanied by a dramatic overture, provides a fitting opening to the film and its subject matter), Glasgow Cathedral, the Royal Infirmary, West George Street, Charing Cross, Bothwell Street, the University of Glasgow and even the Makro cash and carry. A particularly striking setting is Stobcross Quay as a kind of psychedelic riverside version of The Barras. But it’s not so much the weird and wonderful market that’s striking, but the Clyde backdrop of a big ship, multiple cranes and the imposing Meadowside Granary. 

If Death Watch has passed you by too then I would recommend checking it out – I found the last third of the film a little slow in pace, but it is an interesting and original movie worthy of its cult status.

Movie Glaswegians: Billy Connolly

billy connollyWhere does one begin with this guy? Well, the most appropriate place tonight would be with a review of the BAFTA event – A Life In Pictures: Billy Connolly, which Glasgow on Film had the pleasure of attending this evening in Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket.

Writer, critic and broadcaster Francine Stock, who presents BBC Radio 4’s The Film Programme, welcomed the large audience (which included actors Sanjeev Kohli and Paul Young) and introduced Billy Connolly before sitting down to interview him.

As we will come to, Connolly has had a rich and varied life with a cultural career including folk music, television presenting and of course stand up comedy however tonight was all about his film career. To hers and the audience’s amusement, Ms Stock could barely get a word in edgeways at times as the former shipyard welder recounted some extremely funny anecdotes throughout the approximately 90 minute interview. The interview was laced with clips from his film career, specifically appearances in Absolution, Mrs Brown, The Man Who Sued God, Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, Still Crazy and his latest, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet.

These titles put into context some of his tales, for example: while playing a dead body half submerged in soil in Absolution, the legendary Richard Burton’s priest character was to be leaning over the corpse and praying – in the film we see Burton from behind, but in reality Connolly was having to play dead while Burton mischievously sang I Belong To Glasgow in his face; he also described his fondness for a snake that he worked with in Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events and recalled a recent interaction with a journalist from the Foreign Press Association, the body responsible for the Golden Globe awards. The woman, who from his impersonation appeared to be of Germanic background, had apparently said in all seriousness “You are so funny and making us all laugh – have you ever considered stand up comedy?” His response was “Have you ever considered a career in journalism”.

The evening finished with Connolly answering questions asked by audience members, before Clydebank-born comedian Kevin Bridges came on stage to present him with an Outstanding Contribution to Television and Film Award.

So, what else to say about arguably Glasgow’s most famous son? To give a very concise history of the man, he was born in the city on 24th November 1942 and during the 1960s worked on the Clyde shipyards like many of his fellow citizens at the time. Towards the mid 1960s he formed the folk band The Humblebums with Tam Harvey and Gerry Rafferty, and then in the 1970s – after the band had split up – he made a name for himself in stand up comedy, with exposure through Michael Parkinson’s Parkinson chat show propelling him to become a UK household name and ultimately someone recognised and admired around the world.

The movies to have featured Connolly mentioned above only scratch the surface – other roles include those in The Last Samurai and The X Files: I Want To Believe, while he has played Kings in both Gulliver’s Travels and Brave. Glasgow-linked films in which he has appeared are The Big Man and The Debt Collector.

While the father of five now lives in New York with his second wife (of over 20 years), actress and psychologist Pamela Stephenson, he retains strong ties with Glasgow. In 2006 he was given an honorary degree by the city’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and four years later was awarded the freedom of the city of Glasgow. He is a well documented fan of Celtic Football Club, with a seat for life at Celtic Park.